By TJ Cotterill
The News Tribune
The Mariners selected first baseman Mike Ford of the New York Yankees organization in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft, concluding the MLB winter meetings.
This is the second first baseman the Mariners have acquired this offseason. They also traded for Ryon Healy from the Oakland Athletics.
Ford played at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre last season, combining for a triple-slash line of .270/.404/.471 with 24 doubles, 20 home runs, 86 RBI. He walked more often (94) than he struck out (72) and was an Eastern League Mid-Season All-Star for Trenton and an MiLB.com Organization All-Star.
The Mariners know him well, scouting director Tom Allison said. Ford, a 25-year-old left-handed hitter from New Jersey, played alongside manager Scott Servais’ son, Tyler Servais, at Princeton University.
“All he’s done is go out and control the zone and swing the bat both sides, versus left and right,” Allison told reporters in Orlando, Florida. “I would use the old Pat Gillick line: ‘A lot of times, you scout the player and acquire the person.’ This is a guy that we feel we know a lot about and we were able to fill in the blanks.”
That brought Seattle’s 40-man roster to 39 players, though that doesn’t include right-handed set-up man Juan Nicasio, who was reported by multiple outlets to have signed a two-year, $17 million deal on Wednesday, pending a physical.
But does Ford really fit on the 25-man roster?
The Rule 5 Draft is held annually during baseball’s winter meetings and each pick costs $100,000.
Here’s how the league’s second-most-famous annual draft works: Ford was selected in the Major League phase, so he must be kept on the Mariners’ 25-man roster for the entirety of next season, and the selected player has to remain active (not on the disabled list) for at least 90 days. So if Ford isn’t on the 25-man roster, he would be offered back to the Yankees for a $50,00 waiver fee.
But Healy has been clearly slotted to play first base and Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has said multiple times this week that the club is heading for a 13-man pitching staff, with a need for a backup catcher, shortstop and utility man to complement the nine starting position players.
Though, Dipoto said earlier this week that he would prefer his final bench spot be a left-handed bat.
“You start with the player first,” Allison said. “You acquire the talent, bring him in and let that kind of play itself out during spring training. The offense from the left side does have some fits depending on how the bullpen shakes out and with the rest of the position players.”
The Mariners could also agree to a trade with the Yankees to keep Ford in the organization and send him to the minor leagues.
Players eligible for the Rule 5 Draft can’t be on an organization’s 40-man roster, have been in the minor leagues for at least four years if signed after age 19, or has been in the minor leagues at least five years if signed before age 19.
Most of these draftees are marginal players, but some have made it big, such as Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente (drafted by the Pirates from the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955), former Cy Young winner Johan Santana (1999) and former AL MVP Josh Hamilton (2006).
In five minor league seasons, Ford has hit .272 with a .380 on-base percentage and has walked more times (272) than he has struck out (245).
The Mariners lost left-hander Lane Ratliff, who spent most of last year at Low-A Clinton, to the Diamondbacks in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft.
But they also picked up a couple of catchers, selecting Joe Odom from the Braves organization and Tyler Baker from the Diamondbacks.
Odom, 25, spent most of his time at Double-A Mississippi last season (25 games) and played three games at Triple-A Gwinnett, combining to hit .266 with a home run and eight RBI. He’s hit .242 (210-for-866) in five minor league seasons in the Braves’ organization with 23 home runs.
“We really like some of the framing things he does and his leadership skills,” Allison said. “It’s something that sticks out. He’s been a good player when he’s been on the field.”
Baker, 24, is a left-handed hitter out of Wichita State who hit .238 (51-for-214) last season between Low-A Midland and High-A Visalia in Arizona’s organization.
“He’s another guy that really stood out for his framing metrics and leadership skills,” Allison said.
Ratliff, 22, combined to go 3-2 with a 5.13 ERA in 401⁄3 innings with 33 strikeouts between Triple-A Tacoma, Low-A Clinton and Short-A Everett last season. He appeared in two games with the Rainiers but he spent most of last season with Clinton. He was Seattle’s sixth-round draft pick in 2014 out of Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi.