While free agents are ineligible to sign contracts until Monday, they are officially free from their 2019 contracts. That means, for the first time in his professional career, which began July 3, 2002, Félix Hernández is not a Seattle Mariner. It’s not a tear-jerking moment like his final start, because we don’t respond to contractual technicalities the way we do grand gestures and moments. Still, this is the literal end of Félix as a member of the Mariners organization, and while it won’t truly crystallize in some ways until he signs a contract somewhere else, it’s enough to make my coffee a bit more bitter.
World Series ends, Hot Stove season begins. These Mariners will become free agents today:— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) October 31, 2019
RH Felix Hernandez
LH Tommy Milone
RH Arodys Vizcaino
INF Ryon Healy
OF Keon Broxton
LH Wade LeBlanc (won't have $5M option picked up)
The #Mariners have declined Wade LeBlanc's 2020 club option. LeBlanc becomes a free agent and is eligible to sign with a team when free agency opens on November 4th.— MarinersPR (@MarinersPR) October 31, 2019
The King and his six cohorts join Ryon Healy and (per Shannon Drayer, expectedly) RHPs Connor Sadzeck and Chasen Bradford on the market. Healy broadcast his election of free agency after being cleared through waivers and taken off the Mariners 40-man into the minors, and both injured relievers are expected to follow suit in the next day or two. Thanks to their MLB service time, they are all able to refuse spending the offseason as members of the M’s minor league system, and while Sadzcek and Bradford both are uncertain to pitch in 2020 thanks to Tommy John surgery, Healy could potentially be ready for Spring Training somewhere if his lower back debridement surgery heals properly. Keon Broxton made a similar choice, as a player with little shot at playing time in Seattle in the 2020 season.
None of the moves are surprises here - Tommy Milone was on a one year minor league deal that was fulfilled, while Vizcaino has reached free agency for the first time and spent all season recovering from injury. It’s unclear if he actually spent his time at the Mariners facilities at any point, but while he could be an interesting free agent target, he’ll test all his options. The only move with any modicum of suspense was Wade LeBlanc, who had a unique contract extension full of team options that foresaw this very scenario. Instead of his $5 million option, Seattle will buy the 35 year old out for $450k. That should put the Mariners payroll around $85 million entering the winter.
Considering Seattle is all-but-certain to move on from Dee Gordon, Tim Beckham, and Domingo Santana this winter, that number could fall even further (though moving Gordon will likely require eating most of his remaining contract). Even if the team is uninterested in blocking their young guys from playing time where they can assess what they’ve got, it would be good to see the team get creative with their lighter payroll. Perhaps another international signing, or even making themselves available for a salary dump trade by a penny-pinching contender to acquire a few extra prospects as well. It all kicks off now.