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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

October 24, 2011 at 2:08 PM

Winter calendar about to heat up for Mariners

sizemore.jpg

(The Indians will have to make a decision on Grady Sizemore’s 2012 option very soon. Photo by Associated Press).

I’m enjoying the heck out of this World Series, but barring rain, it’s going to end Thursday at the latest if it goes seven games — and I think it will.

And once the World Series ends, the offseason will kick into gear immediately. For the Mariners, that will present decisions on numerous fronts. This will be a critical winter for the M’s — I know we say that every year, but this year it’s more true than ever — and it’s going to be a fun one to watch unfold.

Here is a timetable for what’s going to take place:

FREE AGENCY: The whole business of filing for free agency was scrapped last year. It’s now an automatic process. The day after the World Series begins a five-day period in which clubs have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents (rather than 15 days under the previous system). Other clubs may engage in general discussions with free agents from other teams during this time but can’t discuss contract details or sign a player until the five-day period ends. On the sixth day after the World Series, major league and minor league free agents may negotiate and sign with clubs other than their own.

The Mariners’ four free agents are Josh Bard, Adam Kennedy, Wily Mo Pena and Jamey Wright. I’d be surprised if Kennedy is back, but I could see Wright getting a contract offer, and the other two coming to camp on minor-league deals. The real intrigue, of course, will be how aggressively the Mariners go into the free-agent market, and whether they make a run at Prince Fielder.

OPTIONS: Clubs have until three days after the World Series to exercise their club options on players, a decision that could significantly expand the free-agent pool. The process has already begun, in fact, and just today the Phillies announced they were not exercising the options on pitchers Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt. There’s little question that players like Robinson Cano, James Shields, Yadier Molina and Brandon Phillips will have their options picked up, but it will be interesting to see what their teams do about Octavio Dotel, Yuniesky Betancourt, Joe Nathan, Aaron Hill, Ryan Dempster and Marco Scutaro, among others.

Two decisions that I’m watching closely, from a Mariners point of view, are Grady Sizemore, who would be owed $8.5 million by the Indians in 2012 if they pick up his option, and Nick Swisher, who has a $10.25-million option for 2012. Sizemore, who grew up in the Everett area and played his formative years for Eric Wedge in Cleveland, would seem to be me to be a perfect guy for the Mariners to take a flyer on. He was headed for superstardom until derailed by injuries, including microfracture surgery on his left knee, a sports hernia that required surgery, and a right knee injury that was operated upon after this past season. It’s been a rough go, and Sizemore has been in a health-related free fall the past three season. Sizemore, however, is just 29, and has a chance to be an impact player again if he can get healthy.

The Mariners don’t have any players with 2012 options.

CONTRACT TENDERS: Yet another crop of free agents is annually unleashed after the contract tender deadline of Dec. 12. If you haven’t offered an arbitration-eligible player a contract by then, he’s no longer your property. But you’re free to re-sign the player without having to worry about the arbitration process.

Last year, the Mariners non-tendered Ryan Rowland-Smith, who then signed with the Astros. The Mariners have four arbitration-eligible players in David Aardsma, Brandon League, Luis Rodriguez and Jason Vargas, and another, Shawn Kelley, who is likely to be be so via the “Super 2” rule. I know there’s been some speculation that Vargas, due a big raise from last year’s $2.25 million contract, won’t be tendered, but I think he will be. After trading Doug Fister and Erik Bedard, they don’t have many veteran starters beyond Felix Hernandez. I made my case for Vargas here. Coming off a 37-save All-Star season, League will be tendered, and so, I expect, would be Kelley, who finished strong after missing much of the year with injury. Rodriguez seems like a guy who might be non-tendered but brought back as a non-roster player. The one to watch is Aardsma, who saved 38 and 31 games in 2009 and 2010 but missed last year with injuries, capped by Tommy John Surgery in July. Most people expect Aardsma, who made $4.5 million last year, to be non-tendered, but I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if he re-signed with Seattle to continue his re-hab.

JAPANESE FREE AGENTS: A decision on the status of pitcher Yu Darvish is likely to come in early November. Despite reports that Darvish will be posting to play in MLB next year, he denies that a decision has been made. Here’s my take from last week regarding Darvish and the Mariners, and an alternate viewpoint from Shannon Drayer that makes a lot of sense.

Here’s another name to tuck away: Hisashi Iwakuma, one of the top starters in Japan, who posted last year but failed to reach a contract agreement with the A’s and pitched one more season in Japan. Now he’ll be an unrestricted free agent if he chooses to come over, and there have been indications he will.

OTHER IMPORTANT DATES: The Elias Rankings, which determine compensation for free agents by designating them as Type A or Type B, will be released the day after the World Series ends.

Teams have until Nov. 23 to offer salary arbitration to their ranked free agents to be eligible for compensation. And Dec.7 is the last date for a free agent to accept arbitration from their former club.

Teams must make 40-man roster additions by Nov. 18 to protect players from being lost in the Rule 5 draft, which takes place Dec. 8. The last date to request waivers to assign players prior to the Rule 5 draft is Dec. 1, and the last time to outright a player prior to the Rule 5 draft is Dec. 5.

The winter meetings will take place in Dallas from Dec. 5-8. That is where all the general managers gather, and often serves as the impetus for trades and free-agent signings.

The BBWAA awards will begin to be handed out on Monday, Nov. 14, starting with the National League and American League Rookies of the Year. The AL Cy Young will be announced on Nov. 15, followed by the AL and NL Managers of the Year on Nov. 16, and the NL Cy Young on Nov. 17. The AL Most Valuable Player will be bestowed on Monday, Nov. 21, and the NL MVP on Tuesday, Nov. 22.

The Gold Gloves will be announced on ESPN2 on Tuesday, Nov. 1 (7 p.m. Pacific Time) and the Silver Slugger Awards Show will air on MLB Network on Wednesday, Nov. 2 (3 p.m. Pacific Time).

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