It's important to remember that the Mariners tried to keep Morales and talked to him about an extension last season. When nothing worked out, they made him a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer. That's not exactly an insult, and many baseball observers wondered why Morales didn't take that deal. But once he and his agent, Scott Boras, opted for free agency, Seattle had to either fill the designated-hitter position elsewhere or gamble that he would agree to a multiyear deal instead of signing with another team.
That's one of the challenges facing any general manager. If you wait too long on one player, you could get left with nothing as the other top free agents go off the board. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik opted to sign Hart to a one-year deal for $6 million plus another potential $4.65 million in incentives during the Winter Meetings and traded for Morrison at the same time to provide another outfield/first-base/DH option.
Unless Zduriencik trades someone, his roster now appears filled with DH and first-base candidates, while Morales is still seeking the right offer on the open market.
There are still a few big-name free agents available. Why aren't we hearing more about Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Nelson Cruz? Is there a chance the Mariners sign any of those guys?
-- Frank S., Yakima, Wash.
Speculation was that the top three free-agent pitchers -- Jimenez, Garza and Santana -- were basically in limbo until Masahiro Tanaka decided which club he was joining. Tanaka watch ended Wednesday with a seven-year, $155 million deal sending the prized Japanese right-hander to the Yankees, but the other issue with the remaining free-agent pitchers is that teams are waiting for their asking price to come down. All those players carry considerable risk if they demand five- or six-year deals, and Jimenez and Santana turned down one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers from their respective 2013 clubs, so they're obviously seeking something either longer term or of higher average annual value.
I don't see Seattle getting involved unless the years requested come down considerably, like it did with Kyle Lohse last year. In a similar situation -- and coming off a season when he went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA with the Cardinals -- Lohse signed a three-year, $33 million deal with the Brewers just days before the start of the regular season.
The Mariners, as well as plenty of other teams, should be interested in Jimenez, Garza and Santana in that kind of scenario. And the talk around baseball now is that Cruz might need to sign a one-year deal and prove himself after coming off his 50-game PED suspension with the Rangers. But those players and their agents will wait as long as possible before agreeing to shorter deals. So the waiting game plays out as training camps approach.
Now that Vernon Wells has been released by the Yankees, what are the chances he could wind up in Seattle? And if he did, who would be on the hook for the $21 million salary he is owed for 2014?
-- George J., Winlock, Wash.
The Mariners could use a right-handed-hitting outfielder with some pop, but it's a pretty big question whether Wells still is that guy at age 35 and coming off a couple of unproductive years with the Angels and Yankees. One positive would be his price, however, as whoever signs him now would pay just the minimum salary while the Halos reportedly still owe him $18 million and the Yanks $2.5 million for this final season of a seven-year, $126 million deal he signed with the Blue Jays.
I keep reading that the Mariners need to go get a closer, but that's actually one area I think they're pretty solid, with Farquhar and Wilhelmsen. People who didn't watch closely raise eyebrows at Farquhar's 4.20 ERA last season, but that number was inflated by a couple of bad outings when he was used in multiple-inning situations early in his callup. By the time he took the closer's job in the final two months, he was very good -- as evidenced by a 2.38 ERA and 16 saves in 18 opportunities. Farquhar finished his rookie season ranked fourth in the American League in strikeouts per nine innings at 12.77, and only the Royals' Greg Holland and Braves' Craig Kimbrel had more saves in the Majors during Farquhar's time as closer.
That said, I'll be interested to see how Wilhelmsen performs at Spring Training. He was being talked about as an All-Star candidate in the first half last season before losing his fastball control. When Wilhelmsen has it all together, he can be downright nasty. And if he starts fresh again with his old confidence, it will be a huge boost to the bullpen and make for some interesting competition at closer.
If Seattle gets the first-round compensation pick for Morales, could the Mariners use one of their first-round Draft picks and wrap it up for a trade package for Rays ace David Price that doesn't include top prospect Taijuan Walker?
-- Andrew P., Billings, Mont.
In baseball, teams aren't allowed to trade Draft picks, with one small exception, so that scenario doesn't work. And it doesn't appear the Rays are actively pushing to trade Price, who just signed a one-year, $14 million deal to avoid arbitration. Teams are allowed to deal the relatively new "Competitive Balance" compensation picks that are awarded to 12 small-market and low-revenue teams at the end of the first and second rounds. The Mariners have the final competitive-balance pick this year, which is currently 75th overall at the end of the second round.
What are the Mariners planning on doing with the first-base/designated-hitter players like Hart, Morrison and Justin Smoak?
-- Robert D., Spokane, Wash.
Hart and Morrison will work some in the outfield if their knees prove healthy, but my guess at this point is that Hart gets the majority of his at-bats at DH, Smoak plays the majority of first base and Morrison backs up both those positions and also plays the outfield as much as possible if he's healthy and productive. And, yeah, all those things can change in a hurry once we get to Arizona and see how things shake out with skipper Lloyd McClendon and an all-new staff.