By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Veteran left-hander Randy Wolf exited the Seattle Mariners’ camp on Tuesday by buzzing a fastball under the collective chin of the club’s brass.
Wolf effectively charged the Mariners with negotiating in bad faith after they asked him to sign a 45-day clause that effectively put him, and his contract, under a probationary period for the season’s opening weeks.
“They told me I made the team,” he said, “but they wanted me to sign a 45-day advance-consent release. It, essentially, (let’s them) do anything with me in the first 45 days of the season.
“I principally objected to that because we negotiated in good faith in February on a very team-friendly contract.”
When Wolf refused to sign the clause, the Mariners released him, which makes him a free agent with less than a week remaining before the start of the regular season.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik characterized the clause as a “very common” practice and said it represented a reasonable precaution because Wolf missed the 2013 season while recovering from elbow surgery.
“All it does is give us a degree of protection,” Zduriencik said. “We didn’t have any fear of anything happening to Randy, but he hasn’t been on a mound in a major-league baseball game (since 2012).”
Zduriencik agreed the Mariners projected Wolf as the No. 5 starter in their rotation after a spring in which he yielded nine runs and 18 hits in 19 innings over five starts.
“We made it reasonably clear (Monday) that we would give him the opportunity to break with us,” Zduriencik said. “We also wanted him to sign the 45-day clause for that to happen, and he refused to do it.”
While Wolf was in line to open the season in the rotation, the Mariners expect to have three strong replacement candidates — Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer — by the end of April.
Manager Lloyd McClendon continues to insist nothing is set in the rotation behind staff ace Felix Hernandez, although he acknowledged Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton are positioned for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. Rookie lefty Roenis Elias, one of the camp’s top surprises, appears in line for the fourth spot.
The final opening now seems likely to fall to Blake Beavan or Hector Noesi.
Wolf, 37, signed a minor-league deal just prior to camp that included a $1 million guarantee if he made the big-league roster along with performance bonuses capable of adding another $750,000.
The 45-day clause would have permitted the Mariners to terminate the deal, on a pro-rated basis, at any point during that period for any reason except an injury.
“We weren’t concerned about his health,” Zduriencik said. “I don’t have any health concerns with Randy. It was just the fact of what would he be performance-wise?”
Several industry sources confirmed such clauses are common, but Wolf argued that he, as a 14-year veteran, should not have been asked to sign one because he had already agreed to a club-friendly contract.
“I was very uncomfortable with the fact we were renegotiating,” he said, “when, in February … I feel like you negotiate in good faith. When I sign a contract, I have a commitment to that team.”
Wolf admitted it was tough to walk away from a big-league job after working for the last 16 months to return from a second career Tommy John surgery.
“The fact that I essentially made the team, in theory,” he said. “I’m proud of that accomplishment. But I’m really disappointed in how it ended. The day should have started with a handshake and congratulations.
“Instead of a 24-hour feeling of licking a D-cell battery. So, it’s a really hard time.”
Other roster issues
The Mariners tightened their roster earlier in the day by declining to place outfielder Endy Chavez and catcher Humberto Quintero on their 40-man unit prior to the Rule XX (B) deadline.
The decision on Chavez seemingly cements Stefen Romero’s spot on the roster as the club’s fifth outfielder. Quintero was always viewed as a hedge against injuries to Mike Zunino and John Buck.
Chavez quickly agreed to terms with the Mariners on a minor-league contract and remained in big-league camp, although he will presumably report at some point to Class AAA Tacoma. The club also hopes to retain Quintero on a similar deal.
Rule XX (B) applies to major-league free agents who agree to minor-league contract. It allows those players to become free agents if not placed on the 40-man roster five days before the season starts.
The players receive a $100,000 retention bonus if sent to the minors, but clubs often release the player to avoid paying the bonus and — as the Mariners did with Chavez — seek to negotiate a standard minor-league deal.
The Mariners opened camp with three XX (B) qualifiers. Right-handed pitcher Scott Baker, on Monday, declined the offer of an assignment to Tacoma by asking for, and receiving, his release.
The latest moves leave 37 players on the camp roster, including four pitchers expected to open the season on the disabled list. The Mariners must get down to 25 players by noon Sunday.