By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Randy Wolf’s surprise walk-away decision Tuesday left the Mariners combing the free-agent lists a day later to find a possible alternative to either Blake Beavan or Hector Noesi as their No. 5 starter.
“There are still some things in the works,” manager Lloyd McClendon admitted in his morning briefing. “We’re starting to get clarity to the whole picture. Hopefully, by the end of the day, we’ll have more to tell you.”
Nothing yet … beyond confirmation that Erasmo Ramirez, after a strong camp, will open the season as the No. 2 starter behind staff ace Felix Hernandez.
“He’s a strike-thrower,” McClendon said after Ramirez limited the Rangers to one run and five hits over five-plus innings Wednesday in a 5-3 loss in nearby Surprise.
“It’s never been an issue of whether he could throw strikes. It’s been an issue of whether he could throw quality strikes, and throw the ball outside of the zone when he needs to throw it outside of the zone.”
Asked if he had a No. 3 starter, McClendon responded: “I do. I’ll let you know. I’ve got a No. 4 and a No. 5, too. I’ll let you know (Thursday).”
The Mariners had Wolf ticketed for their No. 5 slot, at least to open the season, until he balked at their request to sign a 45-day clause granting the club the power to release him in that span at a pro-rated portion of his salary.
“I’m really disappointed in how it ended,” Wolf said. “I can rest my head easy on my pillow and understand I did the right thing. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I know I did the right thing.”
Industry sources say advance-consent clauses are not unusual, but the Mariners took a skewering from many fans and others after releasing Wolf, whose contract called for a $1 million guarantee if he made the roster.
“Randy felt strongly that he’s come in and pitched his way onto the club,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “and he had every right to pitch the entire year and be paid his salary accordingly.
“We just saw it a little bit differently.”
The need for a fifth starter (and, likely, a fourth) should be short term. The Mariners expect Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer to return from injuries at some point in April. Even so, Wolf’s decision put the Mariners in an unexpected bind.
It came one day after the Mariners informed veteran Scott Baker that he would not make the roster. The club wanted him to go to Class AAA Tacoma, but Baker requested, and was granted, his release.
Baker signed a minor-league deal Wednesday with Texas and appears likely to open the season at Class AAA Round Rock.
While McClendon continues to hedge on his rotation, the staff’s work cycle in the final week points to rookie left-handers James Paxton and Roenis Elias in the third and fourth slots.
Other than Wolf and Baker, the only other healthy pitcher to start a spring game is Beavan, who has allowed 19 runs and 28 hits in 232/3 innings. (Maurer started one game before back pain put him on the shelf.)
Noesi started 18 big-league games in 2012 and spent much of last season as a starter at Tacoma. He has allowed four runs and nine hits over 13 spring innings in six relief appearances.
Unlike Beavan, Noesi does not have any options remaining, which means he can’t be sent to the minors unless he clears waivers — a process by which any other club can claim him if it is willing to keep him in the majors.
Quintero is back
Veteran catcher Humberto Quintero returned to big-league camp after agreeing to terms on a minor-league contract one day after being released by the Mariners when they opted not to pay a $100,000 retention bonus.
Quintero was entitled to the bonus as a major-league free agent who agreed to a minor-league contract when not placed on the 40-man roster prior to Tuesday’s deadline.
The Mariners released Quintero, which made him a free agent, rather than pay the bonus. The club reached a similar agreement Tuesday with outfielder Endy Chavez, also a Rule XX (B) qualifier.
Quintero and Chavez are both expected to open the season at Tacoma.
Second baseman Robinson Cano and right-handed pitcher Felix Hernandez are among the best, if not the best, at their position. Good thing, too. Their salaries comprise 51.6 percent of the Mariners’ 2014 projected payroll.
Cano is making $24 million, while Hernandez will make $23,557,143. Projections for the rest of the roster, according to salaries obtained by The Associated Press, totals $44,524,800.
The Mariners’ projected payroll of $92,081,943 ranks 18th among the 30 clubs. The Los Angeles Dodgers rank first at $235,295,219, while the New York Yankees are second $202,812,506.
The lowest club payroll is the Houston Astros at $44,544,174.
The Mariners’ projected payroll would be an increase of $7,882,300 over 2013 (an increase of roughly 9.4 percent). It would be the club’s highest payroll since $94,623,191 in 2001. The club record is $117,666,482 in 2008.
The Mariners are worth $710 million, according to the annual report by Forbes magazine that crunches numbers to determine the value of all Major League franchises.
That value represents a 10-percent increase over last year for the Mariners and ranks 12th among baseball’s 30 clubs. The New York Yankees lead the list at $2.5 billion, followed by the Los Angeles Dodgers at $2 billion.
The Tampa Bay Rays rank last at $485 million.
Major League Baseball has long disputed the Forbes calculations, which the magazine contends is the “value of team based on current stadium deal (unless new stadium is pending), without deduction for debt (other than stadium debt).”
Forbes praised the Mariners’ acquisition of controlling interest in Root Sports.
“In April 2013, the Mariners bought a controlling stake in the Root Sports Northwest television network, which broadcasts the team’s games as well as many other regional sports events.
“The crux of the deal is that Root Sports will televise Mariners baseball through the 2030 season, and the team now owns 71 percent of Root Sports Northwest RSN and DirecTV owns 29 percent and will continue to oversee its operations.
“Beginning with the with the 2014 season the rights fee for Mariners will average $103 million over 18 years with the total value of the deal, including the team’s equity stake, worth an estimated $2.5 billion.
“No wonder the Mariners made the biggest free agent splash of the offseason by inking second baseman Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal.”