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Drayer: Mariners offseason primer — roster status, important dates and what’s next

Mitch Haniger is arbitration eligible while Dee Strange-Gordon is unlikely to return. (Getty)

With the 2020 season coming to an end following the Dodgers’ 3-1 win over the Rays in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night, we have the official beginning of the not-so-offseason. Let’s do a quick rundown of what to look for with the Mariners in the coming days, weeks, and months.

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First order of business, comings and goings on the 40-man roster. As of 6 a.m. Pacific Wednesday, all eligible players have become free agents with their previous teams owning a five-day exclusive window to re-sign them if they so desire. After that, the players are free to sign with any team. The Mariners have just one free agent: reliever Yoshihisa Hirano.

All teams will also have to reinstate players from the 45-day injured list to their 40-man rosters. Mitch Haniger, Tom Murphy and pitcher Andrés Muñoz, who was acquired in the deadline-day trade with the Padres, will be added back to the 40-man, which should see at least one more subtraction shortly as the Mariners have until five days after the completion of the World Series to make decisions on the club options they hold on Dee Strange-Gordon and Kendall Graveman.

The team is sure to elect the $1 million buyout on Strange-Gordon’s contract, but there is a bit of intrigue concerning Graveman, who they can bring back for $3.5 million. Graveman was a starter at the time the contract was issued, but the pain associated with a benign tumor in a disk in his neck limited him to a relief role after he returned from an IL stint. While the 97 mph-plus sinker played well in relief, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto indicated during a session with the media at the end of the season hat there might be some concerns about his durability. How much can he pitch over the course of a longer season? How many days a week can he pitch?

While $3.5 million in a normal season (we don’t know what free agents will get following the shortened season where teams were not able to generate in stadium revenue) would be a steal for an elite bullpen arm, if baseball goes back to 26-man rosters next season, durability and availability will be important to the Mariners because they plan to run with a six-man rotation. They won’t be able to carry extra relievers. If they believe Graveman can carry the normal workload of a reliever, this would seem to be an easy call.

The Mariners have cleared a number of spots on the roster since the season has ended. Spots will be needed for players they wish to protect in the Rule 5 draft (more on that below) and for acquisitions made in the offseason. A quick look at the current roster, assuming Hirano and Strange-Gordon do not return:

Pitchers

Brandon Brennan
Justin Dunn
Aaron Fletcher
Joey Gerber
Marco Gonzales
Ian Hamilton
Yusei Kikcuhi
Walker Lockett*
Nick Margevicius
Anthony Misiewicz
Andrés Muñoz
Ljay Newsome
Yohan Ramirez
Casey Sadler*
Justus Sheffield
Erik Swanson
Domingo Tapia

Catchers

Tom Murphy
Luis Torrens*

Infielders

J.P. Crawford
Ty France
Sam Haggerty
Shed Long Jr.
Tim Lopes
José Marmolejos*
Dylan Moore
Kyle Seager
Donovan Walton
Evan White

Outfielders

Braden Bishop
Phillip Ervin*
Jake Fraley
Mitch Haniger
Kyle Lewis

*Indicates player is out of minor league options

Gone from the roster in a number of moves that were made after the season ended are: Joe Hudson, Matt Magill, Carl Edwards Jr., Nestor Cortes, and Brady Lail, all who elected free agency after being outrighted to the minors; waiver claims Art Warren (Texas) and Taylor Guilbeau (Arizona); Gerson Bautista, who cleared waivers and was outrighted to the minors; and Seth Frankoff and Joe Odom, who were outrighted and can now elect free agency if they choose.

So the 40-man roster stands at 34 with a decision looming on Graveman. This would leave five to six spots for Rule 5 protection, additional acquisitions and a possible Rule 5 pick. Not a lot of spots considering Dipoto plans on adding at a minimum multiple relievers and a starter, but it appears other moves could be made to create space if necessary.

The Mariners have until 5 p.m. on Nov. 20 to add Rule 5-eligible players to the 40-man roster for protection. Rule 5-eligible players include those who were drafted out of college in 2017, or those who were drafted out of high school or were international signings in 2016. Included in this group are five players from Baseball America’s top 30 Mariners prospect list: outfielder Taylor Trammell, starting pitcher Juan Then, relievers Sam Delaplane and Wyatt Mills, and infielder Joe Rizzo.

Last year the Mariners did not add any Rule 5 eligible players, which surprised a number of people who believed that Ljay Newsome would be protected. The reality is few players are permanently lost in the Rule 5 draft and it will be interesting to see who Dipoto protects.

Another deadline to watch for comes Dec. 2 when teams must decide whether or not to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. Mitch Haniger (second-year eligible), Tom Murphy (first-year eligible) and J.P. Crawford (first-year eligible) all fall into this category, and I would expect all three to be tendered contracts unless the Mariners believe Haniger will be unable to return from the injuries suffered in 2019. This seems unlikely as Dipoto said at the end of the season that Haniger is expected to be ready for spring training.

Teams and players must come to agreement on a contract or submit salary figures by Jan. 15 ahead of hearings that will be scheduled in February, with negotiations permitted to take place up until the hearing when a panel of independent arbiters will rule in favor of the player or the club.

These are all things that will happen this offseason that relate to the rosters for the 2021 season. While the rosters can be taken care of in relatively normal fashion, we still don’t know what that season will be. Spring training and opening day dates have been released but that means little in a season format that has yet to be determined. There are plans for a 162-game season but if and how that can be executed with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging remains to be seen.

Decisions on start dates, season length, player compensation (should a 162-game season not be possible), spring training and regular season health and safety protocols again will need to be made. Will fans be allowed in the stands? Roster size and rules, universal DH, extra innings format – do they go back to normal? A lot of work remains to be done.

Follow Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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