PEORIA, Ariz. — Veteran lefty Joe Saunders is back with the Mariners as a bullpen candidate after agreeing to terms on a minor-league deal that includes an invitation to big-league camp.
The deal became official Friday when Saunders passed a physical examination, and he is expected to take part Saturday when the Mariners open spring drills for pitchers and catchers.
Saunders, 33, was 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA for the Mariners in 2013 before departing as a free agent. He spent last year with three organizations and closed the season by making six relief appearances for Baltimore.
Those were the first bullpen outings of his major-league career after 229 consecutive starts over 10 seasons with five clubs. He is 89-86 in his career with a 4.37 ERA.
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“He’s experienced,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “and when you look at his numbers, he’s been a pretty effective pitcher against left-handed hitters. That’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
Saunders’ career left/right splits are encouraging. Left-handed hitters have a .241/.288/.329 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). Right-handed hitters are .296/.353/.483.
The Mariners are seeking a replacement for Joe Beimel to serve as the bullpen’s second lefty alongside Charlie Furbush. Other candidates include Lucas Luetge, Rafael Perez and David Rollins.
Beimel remains a free agent. While Zduriencik didn't rule out a return, he suggested it's not likely.
"You never say never to anything," Zduriencik said, "but at this moment in time, he isn’t here. We don’t have any discussions going on."
Outfielder Alex Jackson, the organization’s top prospect in the TNT rankings, heads a list of 41 minor-league players who report Sunday for a mini-camp that runs through March 8.
The mini-camp includes seven other players on the TNT’s Top 10 and Watch List, including outfielders Gabby Guerrero (No. 4) and Austin Wilson (5) and pitchers Edwin Diaz (6) and Luiz Gohara (8).
The other five prospects on the TNT’s Top 10 are in big-league camp.
The Watch List prospects in the mini-camp are outfielders Austin Cousino and Gareth Morgan and pitcher Ryan Yarbrough.
TWO PROSPECTS CITED
Jackson and infielder D.J. Peterson placed at No. 20 and No. 85 in Baseball America’s just-released ranking of the Top 100 prospects.
The Chicago Cubs grabbed two of the top three spots with third baseman Kris Bryant at No. 1 and shortstop Addison Russell at No. 3.
Jackson, 19, and Peterson, 23, were the Mariners’ top draft picks in 2014 and 2013 and placed one-two in the recent TNT Top 10 rankings. Peterson will be in big-league camp as a non-roster invite.
Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen and the Mariners took part Friday in a salary-arbitration hearing in Florida. A ruling from the three-judge panel is expected Saturday. Wilhelmsen is seeking $2.2 million, while the Mariners offered $1.4 million. He made $528,800 in 2014…All pitchers and catchers, with one exception, reported Friday and passed their physical examinations. The one exception was Wilhelmsen…Right-handed pitching prospect Victor Sanchez, who remains in an induced coma, was transferred to a hospital in Caracas, Venezuela. Sanchez, 20, was struck in the head by a boat’s propeller Feb. 13 while swimming at Carupano off the country’s central coast…The Mariners’ workouts at the Peoria Sports Complex are open to the public. On-field activities generally start at 9:30 a.m. Mountain time…One new rule is in place for games this spring at Peoria Stadium. Balls that clear the yellow line in center field will now be a home run.
Minor-league mini-camp roster
Starting pitchers (12): Eddie Campbell, Scott DeCecco, Edwin Diaz, Luiz Gohara, Herb Tyler, Daniel Missaki, Carlos Misell, Tyler Pike, Lukas Schiraldi, Misael Siverio, Ryan Yarbrough and Jacob Zokan.
Relief pitchers (9): Dan Altavilla, Matt Anderson, Ramire Cleto, Try Cochran-Gill, Paul Fry, Kody Kerski, Jochi Ogando, Emilio Pagan and Richard Vargas.
Catchers (5): Marcus Littlewood, Juan Camacho, Adam Martin, Yojhan Quevedo and Daniel Torres.
Infielders (9): Dan Paolini, Timmy Lopes, Nelson Ward, Chris Mariscal, Jack Reinheimer, Tyler Smith, Joe DeCarlo, Jay Baum and Gianfranco Wawoe.
Outfielders (6): Gareth Morgan, Austin Cousino, Gabby Guerrero, Alex Jackson, Estarlyn Morales and Austin Wilson.