SEATTLE — Since the Mariners are looking to add at least one starting pitcher before next season, and since pending free agent Chris Young wants to return…well, it’s not quite that simple.
The Mariners, as their roster currently stands, can’t guarantee Young or any acquisition target, a spot in their rotation — not with the way right-hander Taijuan Walker, their top prospect, finished the season.
“We’ll see what happens,” Young said, “(and) if it’s beneficial for both parties. I understand this is a business, and that there’s a lot of very good talent with the Mariners.”
Walker’s late emergence means the Mariners already have their tentative five-man unit in place for next season with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and Roenis Elias.
(Don’t be surprised if manager Lloyd McClendon shifts Paxton to the No. 2 spot in the rotation, between Hernandez and Iwakuma, to set up a righty-lefty mix. That would position Elias and Walker at slots four and five.)
What the Mariners need are a couple of legitimate fall-back options for whatever injuries await. Young figures to be too costly to slot into that category after going 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA.
Young made $1.25 million this year in base salary but bolstered that by several million dollars because he triggered various performance bonuses based on innings, starts and time on the active roster.
For clubs seeking a reliable veteran arm, and there are many, Young looms as a reasonable gamble and (likely) an affordable fit. He might land a two-year deal.
The Mariners are unlikely to match what Young can get elsewhere— unless they package one of their arms in a deal to acquire a much-needed impact bat.
“I don’t know (what will happen) at this point,” Young said. “I feel I’ve put myself in a good position, but I’m not worried about that right now. That stuff will all play out in time.”
The Mariners appear inclined, at this point, to search for next year’s Young, i.e., a rebound candidate with upside. Their goal is to have eight rotation candidates.
“The guy we get,” one club official said, “might not be a guy who starts the season in the big leagues.”
For example: A year ago, the Mariners brought four veteran starters to camp on minor-league deals: Randy Wolf, Scott Baker, Matt Palmer and Mark Rogers.
Wolf won a spot in the rotation but failed to reach agreement with the Mariners on a big-league deal. When the Mariners released Wolf, they signed Young, who had been released by Washington.
The just-completed season underscored the need for reliable backups. Iwakuma and Walker opened the year on the disabled list, and Paxton missed nearly four months after making just two starts.
Lefty Danny Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, looms as a possible replacement after making a strong showing last month in the Instructional League following a year-long comeback from shoulder surgery.
But even if all goes well, Hultzen will be on a strict innings limit. He hasn’t pitched competitively since a two-inning outing on Sept. 1, 2013 and is likely to be eased into the season.
McClendon is disinclined to shift relievers Tom Wilhelmsen, who made two spot starts, or Brandon Maurer back to the rotation. Maurer struggled last season in seven starts before finding success in the bullpen.
“As things stand now,” McClendon said, “that would be really tough to do. Our bullpen was a big part of our success, and those two guys played a major role.”
While Young, 35, will automatically become a free agent the day after the World Series ends, like all eligible players, clubs hold exclusive negotiating rights with their former players for five additional days.
“Chris Young, that’s a tough one,” one club official said. “He did a great job for us, and he’s the kind of guy you want on your club…I just don’t know.”
Infielder Patrick Kivlehan shares the lead in the Arizona Fall League with four homers and 13 RBIs after hitting a two-run shot Thursday for Surprise in a 5-3 loss to Salt River.
Kivlehan, 25, is batting .313 in 12 games with a .411 on-base percentage and a .625 slugging percentage. He batted .295 this season with 20 homers and 103 RBIs in 138 games at Hi-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson.
*Right-hander Victor Sanchez, after two strong starts, gave up four runs and nine hits in four innings Thursday for Caracas but got a no-decision in an 8-5 victory over Margarita in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Sanchez, 19, allowed two runs in nine innings in two previous starts after going 7-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 23 starts at Double-A Jackson. He entered the season ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s No. 7 prospect.
*Left-hander James Gillheeney delivered a third straight strong start by pitching 5 2/3 scoreless innings Thursday for Hermosillo in a 5-0 victory at Los Mochis in the Mexican Pacific League.
Gillheeney, 26, is 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA in three starts after yielding two runs and 12 hits in 15 innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk. He was 4-11 with a 5.11 ERA in 27 games for Triple-A Tacoma and Jackson.
Here they are with 2014 base salary in parenthesis:
*Outfielder Austin Jackson: $8 million ($6 million).
*Third baseman Kyle Seager: $5 million ($540,100).
*First baseman Justin Smoak: $3 million ($2.7875 million). He is eligible for arbitration if the Mariners decline their $3.65 million option by exercising a $150,000 buyout.
*Outfielder Michael Saunders: $2.9 million ($2.3 million).
*Outfielder Dustin Ackley: $2.8 million ($1.7 million).
*First baseman Logan Morrison: $2.6 million ($1.75 million).
*Right-handed reliever Tom Wilhelmsen: $2.1 million ($528,800).
*Left-handed reliever Charlie Furbush: $1 million ($750,000).
Outfielder Alex Jackson, the sixth overall pick, drew high marks (paid link) from Baseball America in its post-season evaluation of the Mariners’ 2014 draft class.
“Jackson possesses 70-grade raw power (on a 20-80 scouting scale) from the right side,” the magazine raved, “with natural loft to his swing and the ability to drive the ball out of all parts of the ballpark.”
Jackson, 18, batted .280 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 23 games for Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League after reaching agreement on a $4.2 million signing bonus.
Baseball America cited Jackson as the “best pure hitter” and “best power hitter” in the Mariners’ draft class. It previously selected Jackson as the top prospect in the Arizona Rookie League.
Among the magazine’s other observations on the Mariners’ 2014 draft:
*Fastest runner: shortstop Nelson Ward, a 12th-round pick who batted .253 in 60 games at three low-level affiliates.
*Best defensive player: Outfielder Austin Cousino, a third-round pick who batted .266 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 66 games at Short-A Everett.
*Best fastball: Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, a fourth-round pick who had a 1.27 ERA in 42 2/3 innings at Rookie Pulaski and Everett.
*Best secondary pitch: Right-hander Dan Altavilla, a fifth-round pick whose “slider flashes plus potential.” He was 5-3 with a 4.36 ERA in 14 starts at Everett.