Are the Mariners willing to risk losing D.J. Peterson, their first-round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, to another club for $50,000?
The deadline for that decision is 5 p.m. Friday, when all clubs must submit their 40-man rosters in advance of the Rule 5 Draft, which takes place Dec. 8 at the conclusion of the Winter Meetings in Washington, D.C.
Peterson, 24, is among four draft-eligible players under consideration by the Mariners for protection, according to club officials.
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Discussions remain ongoing.
"We’re still undecided," general manager Jerry Dipoto said, "on a couple names."
The most notable omission from consideration might be infielder Tyler Smith, who spent this season at Triple-A Tacoma after rising steadily through the organization in his four professional seasons.
The Mariners apparently believe Mike Freeman, acquired Aug. 1 in a waiver claim from Arizona, fills the organization’s need for a backup utility infielder to Shawn O’Malley.
Players become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if they aren’t on an organization’s 40-man roster after four or five professional seasons — four years if the player was 19 or older when he signed his first contract; five for those who were younger.
Rule 5-eligible players left unprotected can by selected by other clubs for $50,000. The draft order is determined by a reverse order of the 2016 standings with the club with the worst record — Minnesota — choosing first.
But there’s a catch.
Any selected player can’t be sent to the minors throughout the ensuing year without first being offered back to his former club for $25,000.
The decision on whom to protect therefore generally hinges on whether a club believes a player it wishes to retain is sufficiently developed at this point to remain in the big leagues for an entire season.
As such, clubs generally protect pitchers (who might be able to occupy the final spot on a staff) or position players with at least one highly-developed skill, such as defense or base-running.
The draft is designed to prevent clubs from denying a major-league opportunity to players after four or five years of organizational development.
Vieira, 23, looms as the Mariners’ likeliest protection candidate because his fastball can top 100 mph, and he is coming off an impressive run in the Arizona Fall League after a strong season at Hi-A Bakersfield in the California League.
"He works at 96-97 (mph)," Dipoto said, "and he hits 102."
The Mariners signed Vieira, a Brazilian native, for $65,000 as a 17-year-old in 2010. He was 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA this season with eight saves in 34 games at Bakersfield. He also had 53 strikeouts and 18 walks in 44 1/3 innings.
Fry, 24, also seems a strong protection candidate since lefty relievers are a prized commodity. He was 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA this season in 48 games at Tacoma with 65 strikeouts and 31 walks in 55 innings.
The Mariners are less likely to protect Peterson and Marlette because each faces longer odds to justify a 25-man roster spot on any club for the entire 2017 season.
Marlette, 23, batted .277 with 15 homers and 59 RBIs in 98 games while spending most of the season at Bakersfield before jumping in mid-August to Double-A Jackson.
But clubs rarely carry three catchers on their 25-man roster, which means Marlette would likely need to start at least 40 games to justify a spot. That’s a lot to expect for a catcher with limited experience above A-ball.
They Mariners chose Peterson with the 12th overall pick in 2013 because of his right-handed power potential, and he responded in his first full pro season by batting .297 with 31 homers and 111 RBIs at Hi-A High Desert and Jackson.
But Peterson slumped badly in 2015 before rebounding somewhat this season by batting .264 with 19 homers and 78 RBIs in 119 games at Jackson and Tacoma. His problem is he has no clear path to the big leagues in the Mariners’ system.
Drafted as a third baseman, Peterson shifted primarily to first base over the last two years because Kyle Seager is a big-league fixture at third base. But first base is now blocked, too.
The Mariners view rookie Dan Vogelbach, acquired in a July trade from the Chicago Cubs, as a long-term fit at first base. Last week, they obtained veteran Danny Valencia in a trade from Oakland as a platoon partner/insurance policy.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners