With the World Series over and the Washington Nationals in the midst of a championship celebration that could last until Thanksgiving, the business of Major League Baseball’s offseason officially began Thursday morning.
At 6 a.m., three Mariners automatically became free agents under Rule XX(B) of the collective bargaining agreement: right-handed pitchers Felix Hernandez and Arodys Vizcaino and left-hander Tommy Milone. All served the entirety of their MLB contracts.
Other players, such as Ryon Healy and Keon Broxton, who opted out of their outright assignments, can file for free agency as minor-league players.
In an expected move, the Mariners declined to exercise left-hander Wade LeBlanc’s $5 million club option, making him a free agent as well. He was paid a $450,000 buyout.
The Mariners’ 40-man roster now sits at 34 players.
After being locked up in a seven-year, $175 million contract since before the 2013 season, Hernandez, 33, enters free agency for the first time and at the lowest point of his decorated career. He finished last season with 1-8 record and a 6.40 ERA in 15 starts. He missed 87 games because of a strained lat muscle.
When he returned in September to finish out his tenure with the Mariners, including an emotional final start at T-Mobile Park, Hernandez was adamant that he wanted to play next season and beyond. But with his injury history and poor results the past four seasons, it’s possible that no team will offer him a major-league contract of even one year. He may have to sign a minor-league contract and try to make a team in spring training.
Milone, 32, was a minor-league signing before last season. With Hernandez’s injury, he joined the Mariners in late May. He went 4-10 with a 4.76 ERA in six starts and 17 extended relief appearances.
Vizcaino never pitched for the Mariners. He was on the injured list when he was acquired from the Braves along with lefty Jesse Biddle as a salary offset in a deal that sent veteran reliever Anthony Swarzak to Atlanta.
The decision not to exercise LeBlanc’s $5 million club option for the 2020 season was logical and became apparent in the final months of the season. The veteran lefty posted a 6-7 record with a 5.71 ERA in eight starts and 18 extended relief appearances. He was less than pleased with the organization’s decision to use an opener for him. A strained oblique didn’t allow him to reach the 160 innings that would’ve made the club option automatically vest. It’s likely the Mariners would have made sure he didn’t reach that total.
The Mariners have three lefties penciled in to its starting rotation: Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi and Justus Sheffield. Heralded prospect Justin Dunn will compete for a spot and the team is expected to bring in at least one, but possibly two, mid-level starting pitchers on a short-term deal to fill a spot. The Mariners will likely sign a handful of veteran pitchers to minor league contracts with invites to spring training to have them audition for roster spots.