PEORIA, Ariz. – The Mariners seemed to have a pretty good idea about their opening-day starting rotation, until they didn’t.
Randy Wolf seemed to be a member of that rotation, until he wasn’t.
It was a strange 24 hours at the Mariners’ complex in Peoria.
On Tuesday afternoon, roughly three hours before the Mariners were to take the field against the Kansas City Royals, the team announced that Wolf had asked to be released from his contract and that his request had been granted.
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Just 24 hours before, Wolf had been informed that he would be a part of the five-man starting rotation when the season opened.
So what happened?
Well, in the midst of telling Wolf that he had made the team and would be in the starting rotation, they slipped in a small caveat. They asked Wolf, a 13-year veteran, to sign 45-day advanced-consent relief form.
Wolf refused to sign the clause.
“I was principally objected to that simply because we negotiated in good faith in February on a team-friendly contract, if I were to make the team,” Wolf said. “I felt like I came in in amazing shape, I pitched great and I earned a spot on the team. They told me I earned the spot on team. But to me, that advanced consent thing is kind of renegotiating a contract so I told them I wouldn’t sign it and I disagreed with it.”
So what exactly is this form?
Basically, if a player signs it, the team — the Mariners in this situation — would have 45 days where it could release the player or send him to the minor leagues without having to pay the full season’s salary — $1 million in this situation. They would only pay for the service time accrued. Now if Wolf were to get hurt or stay on the 25-man roster 45 days, the team would have to pay the full salary of $1 million.
“All we did was ask Randy to sign the 45-day clause, which is very common and not unusual,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “It gives us a degree of protection. We didn’t have any fear of anything happening to Randy, but he hasn’t been on a mound in a regular-season baseball game in a year and a half.”
The protection for the Mariners would’ve come if Wolf had been awful in his first two or three outings and they decided to make a change. They wouldn’t have been on the hook for the full salary.
But Wolf is smart and very self-aware. He knows that Taijuan Walker is moving closer and closer to returning and Hisashi Iwakuma will be back likely before May. Though he didn’t say it, it’s easy to envision a scenario where he made three or four starts and then is released once Walker is ready to join the rotation just before the 45-day threshold is met, leaving him without the contract he had agreed upon.
“It’s a rule that gives a lot of power back to the team,” Wolf said. “It’s really if they want to send you down or release you, they can. I felt with what I signed for that it was just above the major-league minimum that I was uncomfortable that it seemed like such a financial risk considering I came in and earned a spot.”
To be clear, the 45-day clause, which was put in place in the collective-bargaining agreement, is something that can only be exercised once a player has been told he’s made the team. This isn’t something that can be stipulated in the original contract negotiations.
So over the past 24 hours, the team and Wolf’s agent negotiated a way to make it work. But the Mariners weren’t going to give up on the clause, and Wolf was not going to sign it.
“The day should have started with a handshake and congratulations instead of a 24-hour feeling of licking a D-cell battery,” Wolf said.
While Mariners fans were clearly miffed at the move, many thinking the Mariners were needlessly pinching pennies, the difference between Wolf and Blake Beavan, who will likely replace him in the starting rotation, isn’t that much. Neither is going to be dominant.
The real problem is the lack of depth with starting pitching. If a starter were to get hurt in the first weeks, the Mariners would have to turn to Hector Noesi.
By letting Wolf go, the Mariners are hoping that Walker or Iwakuma will return within 45 days and their rotation of Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, youngster Roenis Elias and Beavan stays healthy in that time.
Wolf’s decision made Thursday’s minor-league starts from Walker and Brandon Maurer a little more meaningful.
With the Mariners playing an intrasquad game, the two pitchers – and best friends – started the game.
Maurer, who is coming back from neck and back stiffness, pitched one inning, allowed one hit, a wild pitch, and threw 19 pitches with 12 strikes.
“He was exceptional in his one inning,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “His stuff was just electric. I think we all know he has electric stuff.”
Walker’s start wasn’t quite as sharp; technically he pitched three straight innings. But he failed to get three outs in the first two innings before reaching his allotted pitch count. He worked a 1-2-3 third inning.
• The Mariners gave Felix Hernandez plenty of run support in his last spring training start, a 9-6 victory over the Royals. Seattle scored nine runs against starter Bruce Chen in the first four innings. Stefen Romero hit a two-run homer and added a RBI single, Mike Zunino drove in two runs, including a solo homer.
Hernandez was solid, pitching five innings and giving up three runs on five hits with no walks and six strikeouts.
“I felt really good,” he said. “I saw everything I wanted to see. Every pitch felt pretty good.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373