Mariners bringing Kendall Graveman back as reliever for 2021

Oct 29, 2020, 10:57 AM
Mariners Kendall Graveman...
Kendall Graveman transitioned to the bullpen with the Mariners in 2020. (Getty)

Kendall Graveman was not a free agent for long.

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One day after he was included on the list released by the MLBPA of 147 players who became free agents the day after the World Series ended, the Mariners have announced Graveman has been signed to an MLB contract for the 2021 season.

The team had declined an option for 2021 at $3.5 million but reworked a deal that will guarantee Graveman $1.25 million with an additional $2.5 million in performance bonuses.

Graveman was originally signed by the Mariners on Nov. 26, 2019 to be a member of the starting rotation. Coming off Tommy John surgery, his performance in spring training was encouraging as he appeared to have returned to pre-injury form. After the coronavirus shutdown, Graveman showed increased velocity in summer camp and threw an electric first inning in his season debut. It all went downhill from there.

He attempted one more start after which he was placed on the injury list with a neck issue that was later revealed to be a benign tumor on a bone in his spine. Surgery is not an option at this time.

The tumor itself is not dangerous but the pain it causes has limited what Graveman can do on the hill. Determined to continue pitching, Graveman accepted a role in the bullpen where the shorter outings have been more manageable. The Mariners were able to get a brief look at Graveman as a reliever in nine September outings where he limited opponents to a .182 batting average against in 10 innings pitched. It wasn’t a long look but he pitched in back-to-back outings twice in that time and also made three appearances in four days.

Then, of course, there was the stuff. Graveman is the owner of one of the better sinkers in the league, a pitch that as a starter he threw 93-95 mph. As a reliever, however, he lets it go. Coming out of the pen, the sinker sat closer to 97 mph.

Aside from what they get from Graveman on the hill, the Mariners value what he brought in 2020 off the field. He immediately stepped up as a leader on a team with few veterans, which was greatly appreciated by both general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais.

Ultimately this should prove to be a good deal for the Mariners. There is little risk with the low base salary. Top relievers earn in the $10-16 million range. In 2020 their were 89 relief pitchers who earned more than Graveman’s $1.5 million base salary. If the stuff proves elite, the Mariners can be credited with a steal, one which could either help them down the stretch in a playoff push or bring back a nice return by the trade deadline.

If Graveman can stay healthy, he can earn a $1.5 million bonus by finishing 40 games for the Mariners, and $500,000 each for both pitching 60 innings and being on the roster for 150 days, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.

With the signing, the Mariners’ 40-man roster is now at 32.

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Mariners bringing Kendall Graveman back as reliever for 2021