What is the free agency situation with Hisashi Iwakuma? I'm confused by why he's different than the other Mariners free agents.
-- Zach M. , Bellingham, Wash.
Iwakuma had a stipulation in his one-year contract last year that made him property of the Mariners through this Saturday, instead of becoming a free agent the fifth day after the World Series ended, like most other players.
But there's one catch with Iwakuma: If he and the Mariners don't reach an agreement by Saturday, he will be granted his release and become a free agent. But if Seattle were to then re-sign him after that, he wouldn't be eligible to play until May 15, which means he'd miss the first six weeks of the regular season.
So if the Mariners are going to keep Iwakuma, they'll likely get a deal done by Saturday. Other teams could sign him as a free agent after that and have him available immediately. Thus Seattle's negotiating window is short, though they do have the first crack, and presumably are making a pretty good push after he pitched very well in the second half after moving into the rotation.
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Seattle's other free agents are relievers Oliver Perez and George Sherrill, starter Kevin Millwood and catcher Miguel Olivo. The Mariners have an exclusive window until 9 p.m. PT Thursday to re-sign those players, then they become free to sign with any team. Of that group, Perez seems the most likely to return, but he may choose to test the open market, as well.
Can you clear up the options for Chone Figgins in 2013? What is a vesting option? Do you think he will be released, either before the season or sometime during the season? Any possibility of a trade?
-- Bob H., Spokane, Wash.
Figgins is under contract for one more season at $8 million, then has a "vesting option" of $9 million for 2014 that would become guaranteed only if he reaches 600 plate appearances in 2013.
I've seen speculation about whether the Mariners would be on the hook for that '14 salary if they released Figgins prior to this year and then he reached 600 plate appearances with another club. The answer is no. If he were released, the vesting option would be voided.
Given that Figgins has failed to take advantage of opportunities provided by manager Eric Wedge the past two springs, it's hard to imagine him still being with the team this coming year. But trading him with the large contract is difficult, so it's more likely he'll be released this offseason and another team can then pick him up and pay the minimum salary of $490,000, with the Mariners responsible for the remainder of the $8 million for 2013.
Since [general manager] Jack Zduriencik has cleared some of his payroll issues, do you think that he will go after someone like Josh Hamilton or Melky Cabrera this winter?
-- Scott B., Ogden, Utah
I don't know exactly who the Mariners will target in free agency, but it is safe to say they're in position to be far more aggressive this offseason, thanks to some payroll flexibility. The club intends to increase its payroll from 2012, when the player budget was set at about $91 million and then actually came in closer to $83 million after midseason trades of veterans Ichiro Suzuki and Brandon League.
With only about $50 million accounted for by veterans on the roster and expected arbitration negotiations, that leaves upward of $40 million available for free agency or adding veterans through trades. Certainly the outfield will be the most logical place to add, with Ichiro now gone after 12 seasons in right field.
Tops on Wedge's wish list is an impact veteran who can be a run producer in the middle of his young lineup. Hamilton and Cabrera certainly fill that bill, but come with questions, so it'll be interesting to see how their situations play out. B.J. Upton and Nick Swisher would seem to fit that description, as well. Quality outfielders Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino are also on the market, but those are top-of-the-order type hitters.
What's the likelihood that [catcher] Mike Zunino gets an invite to Spring Training and makes the team?
-- Josh C., Portland, Ore.
Zduriencik has already said Zunino will get a non-roster invitation, so he will definitely be in camp when pitchers and catchers report in February. That said, Zduriencik is pretty low-key about Zunino's chances of breaking camp on the 25-man roster. He isn't ruling it out, but continues noting that the first-round Draft pick out of Florida has only played a half-season of pro ball and has yet to face pitching above the Double-A level.
The Mariners clearly won't be planning on Zunino as part of their Major League club going into camp, but he has been extremely impressive everywhere he's gone so far, including his current stint in the Arizona Fall League. If I had to guess, the Dustin Ackley plan -- and a mid-June call-up -- seems most realistic.
Are the Mariners going to put Felix Hernandez's perfect game out on DVD? If they do, I would love to buy it.
-- Michael B., Tacoma, Wash.
I'm told that a "King of Perfection" DVD will be in Mariners Team Stores later this month for $10 and will include an interview with Hernandez that hasn't previously been seen.
What do you think about the Mariners signing a veteran catcher like Kelly Shoppach or Gerald Laird?
-- Derek L., Vancouver, Wash.
With Jesus Montero and John Jaso returning and Zunino on the horizon, I don't think catcher is high on the priority list. But I do think Seattle could use one more veteran backstop in the mix, given how Montero figures to be used prominently at DH.
If Shoppach or Laird are willing to sign a reasonable one-year deal, they'd be good candidates. But this might also be one of those situations where Seattle waits to see who is willing to take a Minor League deal, like they did in signing Chris Gimenez two years ago.