When Kansas City completed its magical postseason run Sunday, it triggered the start of baseball’s official offseason: Free agency started Monday at 6 a.m.
The Mariners saw three free agents come off their 40-man roster: right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and lefty reliever Joe Beimel.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto previously identified the effort to retain Iwakuma, 34, as a “priority,” but the club also figures to show some interest in keeping Gutierrez and Beimel.
Iwakuma, though, is the key. If the Mariners keep him, they will still look for rotation help, but they can do their shopping more at the margins for a back-end alternative.
But if Iwakuma departs, the Mariners must find a suitable replacement for his 47-25 record and 3.17 ERA over the past four seasons. He also posted an 8.6 WAR (wins above replacement) rating from 2013-15.
Acquiring such pitchers is difficult and, when available, they aren’t cheap in terms of years or dollars (or in personnel if obtained in a trade). So it will be surprising if the Mariners don’t extend a qualifying offer to Iwakuma.
Let’s reset here to review how the free-agent procedure works.
Once the World Series ends, clubs still have a five-day exclusive negotiating window with their free agents before the player can sign elsewhere.
By the end of the fifth day, clubs must decide whether to tender qualifying offers to those players.
All qualifying offers are uniform one-year guaranteed contracts with a dollar amount that is determined by averaging the salaries of the 125 highest-paid players.
That figure this year is $15.8 million (up from $15.3 million a year ago).
If a club extends a qualifying offer, it gets a compensatory draft pick next June if the player chooses to sign elsewhere. If a club does not tender a qualifying offer, it gets nothing.
If a player receives a qualifying offer, he has one week to determine whether to accept it. No player has ever accepted a qualifying offer since the format began; all have chosen to test the free-agent market.
That is Iwakuma’s likely course.
Even so, it’s not unusual for a player to remain with his former club after rejecting a qualifying offer. Rejecting the offer simply permits a player to gauge his market value by talking to other clubs.
“I made a lot of friends here,” Iwakuma said late in the season. “We have a lot of good teammates. I feel like I have a relationship here. All I can do now is wait.”
Extending a qualifying offer also aids a club’s negotiating position because it raises the cost for other clubs — any club that signs a player who received a qualifying offer loses a high draft pick.
Effectively, that means another club must not only out-bid the Mariners for Iwakuma — but it must out-bid them plus absorb the cost of losing a high draft pick.
This happens on occasion. The Mariners did just that in each of the last two years with Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano.
TWO FALL ALL-STARS
Two Mariners’ players, first baseman D.J. Peterson and lefty reliever David Rollins, will play Saturday for the West team in the Arizona Fall League’s All-Star Game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Peterson is participating for a second consecutive year and is seeking to put together a strong finish to a disappointing season. The game can be seen at 5 p.m. (PST) on MLB Network.
“I’m very excited to represent the Mariners,” Peterson told MLB.com. “Doing it two years in a row, I’m hoping I can get something more out of it. It’s great to get to interact with all the guys from other teams.”
Peterson, 23, was 0 for 2 in last year’s game and is currently mired in a 2-for-17 slump after a strong start for the Peoria Javelinas. He is 9 for 25 (.257) overall in 10 games with two homers and eight RBIs.
Rollins, 25, is also seeking to close out a rocky season that included an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test in spring training. In five games for Peoria, he has allowed two runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.
The Mariners selected Rollins last December from Houston in the Rule 5 Draft. He was 0-2 with a 7.56 ERA in 20 big-league games after returning from his suspension.
Peterson was the Mariners’ first-round pick in 2013 and entered this season ranked No. 2 on The News Tribune’s Top 10 list of the organization’s prospects after batting .297 in 2014 with 31 homers and 111 RBIs.
But he slumped badly this season while playing primarily at Double-A Jackson: hitting a .223 average with just seven homers and 44 RBIs.