Mariners Insider Blog

Keeping Iwakuma is Mariners’ priority as free agency begins

Right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is one of three Mariners who, on Monday, officially became a free agent. The others are outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and lefty reliever Joe Beimel.
Right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is one of three Mariners who, on Monday, officially became a free agent. The others are outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and lefty reliever Joe Beimel. AP

SEATTLE — When Kansas City completed its magical postseason run Sunday, it triggered the start of baseball’s official off-season: Free agency started at 6 a.m. Monday.

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.

Here’s the complete list, courtesy of www.BaseballProspectus.com.

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 last 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 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.

Determining that value generally helps his former club, too, because it gives both sides a benchmark for serious negotiations. If both sides truly want to get a deal done, as seems the case here, it usually gets done.

"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.

A year ago, Nelson Cruz received a qualifying offer from Baltimore, but the Orioles refused to offer him more than three years on a new contract.

The Mariners stepped in and signed Cruz to a four-year deal but, in doing so, they also surrendered their first-round pick. (The Orioles, in compensation, got a pick between the first and second rounds.)

A year earlier, the Mariners took the same route in luring Robinson Cano away from the New York Yankees with a significantly sweeter offer.

Will some other club overspend this year to grab Iwakuma? The clock is now ticking.

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL’S KEY OFF-SEASON DATES

First day after completion of World Series: Eligible players automatically become free agents at 6 a.m. Pacific time.

Fifth day after completion of World Series: Last day for a club to tender a qualifying offer to a pending free agent. (Club must make a qualifying offer in order to receive a compensatory draft pick if the player signs elsewhere.)

Sixth day after completion of World Series: First day that free agents can sign with a new club.

12th day after completion of World Series: Last day for free agents to accept a qualifying offer from their former club.

Nov. 9-12: General managers’ meetings, Boca Raton, Fla.

Nov. 20: Deadline for submitting reserve lists (i.e., players eligible for Rule 5 Draft must be added to 40-man roster in order to be protected).

Dec. 2: Deadline for offering contracts to unsigned players on the 40-man roster. (This is the tender deadline; those players not offered contracts — i.e., non-tendered — become free agents.)

Dec. 7-10: Winter Meetings, Nashville, Tenn.

Dec. 10: Rule 5 Draft, Nashville, Tenn. 

2016 CONTRACT STATUS FOR MARINERS’ 40-MAN ROSTER

Under contract (6)

2B Robinson Cano (through 2023)

OF Nelson Cruz (through 2018)

RHP Felix Hernandez (through 2019)

LHP Danny Hultzen (through 2016)

3B Kyle Seager (through 2021 with option for 2022)

OF Seth Smith (through 2016 with option for 2017)

Free agents (3)

LHP Joe Beimel

OF Franklin Gutierrez

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Eligible for arbitration (4)

LHP Charlie Furbush (second of three years)

1B Logan Morrison (third of three years)

1B/OF Mark Trumbo (third of three years)

RHP Tom Wilhelmsen (second of three years)

Under club control (28)

C Steven Baron

LHP Roenis Elias

RHP Danny Farquhar

OF Ramon Flores

RHP Mayckol Guaipe

C John Hicks

OF James Jones

SS Ketel Marte

RHP Cody Martin

UTL Brad Miller

1B Jesus Montero

LHP Mike Montgomery

LHP Vidal Nuno

LHP Edgar Olmos

LHP Tyler Olson

UTL Shawn O’Malley

LHP James Paxton

RHP JC Ramirez

RHP Jose Ramirez

LHP Rob Rasmussen

LHP David Rollins

OF Stefen Romero

RHP Carson Smith

C Jesus Sucre

SS Chris Taylor

RHP Taijuan Walker

C Mike Zunino

RHP Tony Zych

Out of options for 2016 season (7)

OF Ramon Flores

LHP Danny Hultzen

1B Jesus Montero

LHP Mike Montgomery

LHP Edgar Olmos

RHP JC Ramirez

RHP Jose Ramirez

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