- The Mariners wrapped up their 2020 draft signings by inking right-hander Connor Phillips on Monday, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. Phillips, the 64th pick, signed for full slot value of $1,050,300. The Mariners acquired the selection they used on Phillips from the Brewers during the offseason in a trade centering on catcher Omar Narvaez. Phillips, previously with McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, entered the draft as MLB.com’s 94th-ranked prospect available. The 19-year-old is capable of reaching the high 90s with his fastball, though he’ll need to improve his offspeed offerings to realize his potential, per MLB.com.
The length of the season, prorated salaries and protocols for health and safety are finally all set in place, but Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are still negotiating the manner in which contractual options, performance incentives/bonuses and escalator clauses will be handled, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required).
Fortunately, an agreement is believed to be “within reach,” per Rosenthal. The league had initially sought to prorate the value of 2021 options using the same formula as 2020 salaries, although the MLBPA obviously pushed back against that notion. There’s still some debate over the handling of vesting options — particularly those that are triggered by reaching a set number of games pitched or plate appearances over the life of multiple seasons. The two sides also must determine how those options would be treated in the event that the season is canceled at any point due to health concerns.
There aren’t too many vesting options in MLB this year, although some of the notable ones include:
- Jon Lester, LHP, Cubs: Lester’s $25MM mutual option ($10MM buyout) for the 2021 season would become guaranteed with 200 innings pitched in a normal season.
- J.A. Happ, LHP, Yankees: Happ’s $17MM club option for the 2021 season would’ve become guaranteed upon making 27 starts or totaling 165 innings in 2020.
- Andrew Miller, LHP, Cardinals: Miller’s $12MM club option for 2021 would have been guaranteed if he totaled 110 games between 2019-20. As Rosenthal explores, there are various ways to interpret how many more games he’d need to pitch to trigger that option — some more beneficial to Miller and others to the Cardinals.
- Charlie Morton, RHP, Rays: Morton’s option is another that comes with a multi-year criteria. His contract calls for a $15MM club option in 2021 if he spends fewer than 30 days on the injured list between 2019-20. The option value decreases if he spends additional time on the injured list. Morton avoided the IL entirely last year. Unlike Miller, who surely hopes the number of appearances he needs to make in 2020 can be prorated, it’d be beneficial to Morton for that number (30) to remain as is. That seems unlikely, but the disparity between the clauses of Miller and Morton illustrates that this isn’t exactly straightforward for the player side. The value of his option
- Kelvin Herrera, RHP, White Sox: Herrera, too, needed 110 games between 2019-20 for his $10MM club option to become guaranteed. He pitched in 57 games last year, leaving him 53 shy of his target.
- Wade Davis, RHP, Rockies: Davis’ $15MM mutual option would’ve converted to a $15MM player option in the event that he finished 30 games. He’d only need to finish out 11-12 games in the shortened 2020 season if the two sides go with a strictly prorated interpretation of the qualifiers.
- Bryan Shaw, RHP, Rockies: Shaw has the same 110-game target for 2019-20 that Miller and Herrera have. He pitched 70 times in 2019 and needed just 40 appearances in 2020 to lock in a $9MM salary for the 2021 campaign.
- Jake McGee, LHP, Rockies: With 60 games pitched or 40 games finished in 2020, McGee would’ve locked in a $9MM salary for the 2021 season. His contract also allowed the option to vest with a with 110 games between 2019-20, but he only pitched in 45 contests last year.
- Stephen Vogt, C, Diamondbacks: Vogt’s contract included a $3MM club option that not only vests but increases to a $3.5MM base upon starting 45 games and appearing n a total of 75 games overall.
- Dee Gordon, 2B/SS/OF, Mariners: Gordon would’ve been guaranteed a $14MM salary for the 2021 season with 600 plate appearances this year. That, of course, was extremely unlikely in the first place, though.
Beyond those options, there are myriad escalator clauses throughout baseball that could be impacted by the shortened schedule. It’s fairly common for club options and/or future salaries to be boosted by steady performance — particularly among players returning from injury. Take Dellin Betances, for instance. His contract with the Mets calls for the value of next year’s $6MM player option to increase by $800K upon pitching in 40 games. He’d receive additional $1MM boosts to that figure for appearing in 50, 60 and 70 games apiece.
The league and the union are also still discussing potential retention bonuses for six-year veterans on non-guaranteed deals. In a typical year, any player with six-plus years of service who finished the preceding season on a 40-man roster qualifies as an Article XX(B) free agent. Such players must either be added to the 40-man roster, released five days prior to Opening Day or paid a $100K retention bonus to remain with the club in the minor leagues. Many players in that situation are released and quickly re-signed to a new minor league deal, but that won’t be possible in 2020 due to the fact that players who are removed from a team’s 60-man pool become ineligible to return to that team this season.
The Mariners released a pair of veterans on minor league contracts, as Shannon Drayer of MyNorthwest.com reports that Carlos Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen were both let go from the organization within the last few days. Chen hinted as much in a tweet on his personal account on Saturday, while Gonzalez’s name was initially reported as being one of over 50 Seattle minor league releases in May, before later reports confirmed that CarGo was still with the team.
Gonzalez signed his minors deal in February, and didn’t seem likely to make Seattle’s Opening Day roster prior to the league shutdown. The 34-year-old hit only .200/.289/.283 over 166 PA with the Indians and Cubs in 2019, marking new career lows in both batting performance and playing time. While Gonzalez has posted some excellent numbers over his 12 big league seasons, he hasn’t delivered an above-average season (by wRC+ or OPS+) since 2016, and it could be difficult for the veteran to catch on with another team even with the 2020 season’s expanded rosters.
Chen joined the Mariners in January on a minor league deal, while still collecting the $22MM owed by the Marlins in the final year of his five-year, $80MM free agent deal from the 2015-16 offseason. Injuries and inconsistency resulted in a 5.10 ERA for Chen during his 358 innings with Miami, and the Fish finally parted ways with the southpaw last November.
Between this lack of performance and his age (35 in July), Chen may also have trouble catching on with another Major League organization. Indeed, there have already been reports out of Chen’s native Taiwan suggesting that the left-hander could catch on with a team in Japan. Chen began his career with the Chunichi Dragons back in 2005, and posted an impressive 2.59 ERA over 650 2/3 frames in Nippon Professional Baseball.
Today marks the deadline for teams to submit to Major League Baseball their initial spring training player pools, which can comprise up to 60 players. Players are not eligible to participate in either a spring training or regular season game until they are included in the pool. Teams are free to change the makeup of the pools as they see fit. However, players removed from a team’s 60-man (for reasons unrelated to injury, suspension, etc.) must be exposed to other organizations via trade or waivers.
Not all players within a team’s pool are ticketed for MLB playing time, of course. Most teams will include well-regarded but still far-off prospects as a means of getting them training reps with no intention of running them onto a major league diamond this season. A comprehensive review of 2020’s unique set of rules can be found here.
The Mariners’ initial player pool consists of the following players.
- Austin Adams
- Dan Altavilla
- Gerson Bautista
- Brandon Brennan
- Isaiah Campbell
- Sam Delaplane
- Justin Dunn
- Carl Edwards Jr.
- Joey Gerber
- Logan Gilbert
- Kendall Graveman
- Zac Grotz
- Emerson Hancock
- Yoshihisa Hirano
- George Kirby
- Matt Magill
- Ljay Newsome
- Yohan Ramirez
- Erik Swanson
- Juan Then
- Taijuan Walker
- Art Warren
- Taylor Williams
- Brandon Williamson
- Nestor Cortes Jr.
- Aaron Fletcher
- Marco Gonzales
- Taylor Guilbeau
- Yusei Kikuchi
- Nick Margevicius
- Anthony Misiewicz
- Justus Sheffield
- J.P. Crawford
- Dee Gordon
- Sam Haggerty
- Tyler Keenan
- Shed Long
- Tim Lopes
- Jose Marmolejos
- Noelvi Marte
- Dylan Moore
- Kaden Polcovich
- Kyle Seager
- Austin Shenton
- Daniel Vogelbach
- Donovan Walton
- Evan White
- Patrick Wisdom
- The Mariners and ex-Mississippi third baseman Tyler Keenan reached a deal Friday, Callis tweets. Keenan, a fourth-rounder and the 107th pick, signed for $500K – down from the recommended value of $543,500. Keenan’s a powerful, high-exit velocity hitter, but he’ll need to improve his quickness as a defender in order to stick at third, Callis writes.
- The Mariners have signed second-round outfielder Zach DeLoach and fifth-round right-hander Taylor Dollard, the team announced. DeLoach, the 43rd overall pick, will make full slot value of $1,729,800, Jim Callis of MLB.com reports. The ex-Texas A&M outfielder ranked as MLB.com’s 79th-best pre-draft prospect. Dollard, the 137th choice, also signed for slot value ($406K), Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com tweets. The former Cal Poly hurler was MLB.com’s No. 184 prospect entering the draft.
The Mariners have agreed to terms with No. 6 overall pick Emerson Hancock, reports Jim Callis of MLB.com (via Twitter). The University of Georgia righty will receive a $5.7MM signing bonus that closely aligns with his $5,742,900 slot value.
Regarded by many as the best right-handed pitcher in this year’s draft, the 6’4″, 213-pound Hancock has dominated SEC opposition since the beginning of his sophomore year with the Bulldogs in 2019. Dating back to last season, Hancock has pitched to a 2.31 ERA with averages of 10.3 strikeouts and 1.6 walks per nine innings pitched — including a gaudy 34-to-3 K/BB ratio in 24 innings prior to this year’s shutdown.
Hancock, 21, landed between fourth and seventh in this year’s class on the rankings of Baseball America, MLB.com, ESPN, FanGraphs and The Athletic. His obviously strong control of the strike zone is complemented by a fastball in the 93-97 mph range — Callis notes it can top out at 99 mph — and a changeup that he seldom used in college ball despite the fact that scouts consider it a potentially plus offering. Reviews on his slider are a bit more mixed, though most reports have it as an above-average offering as well.
The Mariners have drafted a college player with their first-round pick in each season under GM Jerry Dipoto, including three straight college right-handers. Hancock joins George Kirby and Logan Gilbert as another high-end, first-round arm to add to a growing stable of impressive pitching prospects in the Seattle system. Given his lofty draft status, Hancock could emerge as the best of the bunch, joining rotation hopefuls Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn as potentially controllable long-term cogs on the starting staff.
Both Baseball America (No. 56) and FanGraphs (No. 78) already rank Hancock within MLB’s 100 best prospects; Baseball America lists him third in the organization behind only Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic — and places him just two spots ahead of presumptive 2020 first baseman Evan White on the aforementioned top 100 list.
The Mariners are planning to begin the season with a six-man rotation in place, general manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters yesterday (Twitter link via Greg Johns of MLB.com). That tactic should allow the Seattle club the opportunity to manage the innings of younger arms on a per-game basis while also maximizing their opportunity to evaluate some up-and-coming arms who could factor into the long-term outlook.
Recently extended southpaw Marco Gonzales seems likely to get the Opening Day nod as the Mariners’ most established starter, and the team will hope for better results from 29-year-old lefty Yusei Kikuchi in the second season of his uniquely structured free-agent deal. Kikuchi, who had established himself as one of Nippon Professional Baseball’s premier arms prior to 2019, is locked in at $43MM from 2019-21. After the contract’s third year, Seattle can pick up a four-year, $66MM “option.” If the club declines to do so, Kikuchi can instead exercise a $13MM player option. In essence, he’s guaranteed $56MM over four years, while the M’s have the opportunity to lock him up at what would be a total of seven years and $109MM if he takes his game to a new level between now and the completion of the 2021 campaign.
Beyond that pair of lefties, Seattle will get longer looks at southpaw Justus Sheffield and righty Justin Dunn — two key trade acquisitions that came over in the 2018-19 offseason. Sheffield, a former first-rounder and longtime top prospect, was the headline piece of the trade that sent James Paxton to the Yankees. Dunn came to the Mariners alongside vaunted outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic and righty reliever Gerson Bautista in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz blockbuster.
The Mariners also rolled the dice on a pair of low-cost free agents this winter, nabbing former division rival Kendall Graveman and former Mariner Taijuan Walker on one-year pacts. Both have seen their careers slowed by 2018 Tommy John surgery. Graveman, who had his procedure in late July that year, didn’t make it back to the big leagues in 2019. Walker’s surgery was in April 2018, but a strained shoulder capsule limited him to one inning in 2019, which came in the final game of the season.
As one would expect from a rebuilding club, the Mariners have plenty of other young options to dream on, though the organization’s very best pitching prospects are likely a bit too far down the pipeline to factor into the 2020 season. The Mariners have selected a college right-hander with their top pick in each of the past three drafts — Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and now Emerson Hancock — and while that trio is unlikely to pitch in the Majors this year (Gilbert being the lone plausible exception), Dipoto did suggest that they and other top prospects could be on the taxi squad primarily for developmental purposes (link via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times). Working out with other taxi squad members would give that promising group critical developmental reps in a year where no formal minor league season is expected to be played.
- The Mariners have “had a few players test positive” for the virus, general manager Jerry Dipoto said Wednesday (via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times). Fortunately, Dipoto went on to reveal that “they’re asymptomatic, and they feel great.”
- More on the Mariners, who are uncertain whether outfielder Mitch Haniger will be ready for the resumption of spring training, according to GM Jerry Dipoto (via Divish). The past year has been an injury-filled nightmare for Haniger, who only played in 63 games in 2019 and then underwent two offseason surgeries – one a core procedure, the other a dissectomy. In better news for the Mariners, reliever Austin Adams – who underwent surgery on a torn ACL last fall – is set for camp. The 29-year-old Adams may have broken out for the Mariners last season with 32 innings of 3.94 ERA ball and a whopping 14.91 K/9.
Now that MLB’s abbreviated 2020 draft is in the books, we can move along to the next phase of this one-off amateur signing season. Undrafted amateur players will now be free to sign with any team of their choosing, though they are capped with a signing bonus of $20K. Thus, the setup here presents a fascinating situation for amateur ballplayers and for us, those interested in parsing the ins-and-outs of roster-building. Here we have a unique situation where money will not necessarily be the driving factor for players choosing their first professional team. As players start to sign, we’ll likely hear stories that shed light on player perspective, which could paint an interesting picture of how young players view different franchises around baseball. For now, we’re starting to hear from teams themselves about spending limits for this class of amateur free agents. We’ll use this post to update those strategies as they trickle in…
- The Giants have no apparent limits when it comes to signing amateur free agents now that the draft is completed. John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle provides a primer for this period of amateur free agents, writing, “The process starts at 6 a.m. Sunday, and the Giants will compete with the other 29 teams for the best available talent. But rather than outspending the others, all they can do is try to outsell them and offer appealing opportunities.” Given the Giants’ current position as a team looking to infuse as much young talent as possible, one would expect them to be aggressive in their attempts to add players from this pool. Obviously, more players than usual will be returning to college or committing to school as high school graduates, but given the volatility of the MLB draft under normal circumstances, it’s fair to expect a quality player or two to emerge from this pool of undrafted amateurs.
- The Marlins are planning on limiting their pool of undrafted amateur free agents to 10 signings or less, per Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald (Twitter links). Along with their six drafted players, all of whom are expected to sign, the Marlins can expect an influx of 16 players max.
- Similarly, the Mariners don’t expect to go hog wild with this year’s class of undrafted amateur. Per MLB.com’s Corey Brock, the Mariners’ Scouting Director Scott Hunter said the Mariners will only be signing between five and ten amateur free agents.
- The Royals, meanwhile, are ready to shop, tweets Jeff Rosen of the Kansas City Star. The Royals could be big-time players in this sphere, as they’ve generated some goodwill recently because of their treatment of minor league players. Kansas City might not typically be a major free agent draw, but for amateur players, it’s a different story. The Royals have the opportunity and a long track record of highly valuing their own players. For players looking for their first professional contract, the Royals have a lot to offer. Among other things, they’re ready to be aggressive. GM Dayton Moore has the green light to “sign as many of those guys as we can,” per Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star.