Seattle Mariners

Mariners retain Smith, pass on Iannetta and lose Aoki to Astros

Mariners outfielder Norichika Aoki was claimed by the Houston Astros on Thursday.
Mariners outfielder Norichika Aoki was claimed by the Houston Astros on Thursday. AP

Erase outfielder Seth Smith from the list of available free agents. Erase outfielder Nori Aoki from the Mariners’ roster. And it’s unlikely catcher Chris Iannetta will be back on the club in 2017.

It was a busy Thursday for the Mariners as free agency started throughout Major League Baseball — one day after the World Series concluded with the Chicago Cubs winning their first title in 108 years.

The Mariners had been expected to exercise their $7 million option to retain Smith and decline their $4.5 million option on Iannetta. Aoki is heading to Houston in a waiver claim that simultaneously clears a roster spot and frees up payroll.

Four other Mariners became free agents Thursday: first basemen Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee, relief pitcher Drew Storen and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez.

Smith, 34, batted .249 this season with 16 homers and a career-high 63 RBIs in 137 games while serving primarily as the left-handed portion of a platoon arrangement in right field with Gutierrez.

The Mariners chose to exercise their option on Smith rather than pay a $250,000 buyout that would have permitted him to become a free agent.

Club officials previously indicated they viewed Smith’s market value as being greater than $7 million, which makes him a viable trade chip if the opportunity arises.

Smith’s option and buyout were part of a contract extension that he signed in July 2014 while playing for San Diego. The Mariners inherited the contract when they acquired Smith in a Dec. 30, 2014, trade for pitcher Brandon Maurer.

The Mariners signed Iannetta and Aoki last winter as free agents.

Iannetta, 33, began this season as the club’s starting catcher but surrendered that duty over the closing months to Mike Zunino in part because of an extended slump. Iannetta batted just .210 with seven homers and 24 RBIs in 94 games.

Aoki, 34, batted .283 with four homers and 28 RBIs — and finished only 13 plate appearances shy of triggering a $5.5 million option for 2017. He will be eligible this winter for salary arbitration.

The series of moves also created space for the Mariners to reinstate right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns from the 60-day disabled list. He was 6-2 with a 5.15 ERA in 22 games, including 15 starts, before suffering a season-ending back injury in July.

The club’s 40-man roster now has 35 players.

The Mariners retain exclusive negotiating rights to their five free agents until 9:01 p.m. (PST) on Monday. Thereafter, those players (and all free agents) are permitted to sign with new clubs.

Before that, all clubs face a 2 p.m. (PST) deadline Monday to extend qualifying offers to their free agents in a bid to retain them or receive compensation if the player signs with a new team.

The Mariners are not expected to make qualifying offers to any of their free agents.

All qualifying offers this year are one-year contracts for $17.2 million, a figure that is determined by averaging the top 125 salaries from the 2016 season. Players who receive an offer must accept or reject it by 2 p.m. on Nov. 14.

If a player signs elsewhere after receiving a qualifying offer, his former club receives a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds of the 2017 MLB Draft.

The player’s new club also forfeits a high draft pick.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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