Kendall Graveman’s time as a free agent lasted just about 24 hours, which was probably a few hours more than expected.
A day after declining the $3.5 million club option for the 2021 season on Graveman’s contract, the Mariners announced they had re-signed Graveman to a one-year contract for 2021 with no options for 2022. The team did not disclose the contract details per club policy.
MLB sources said Graveman’s base salary for 2021 will be $1.5 million, which is $2 million less than the $3.5 million club option. But it will also include multiple performance bonuses and incentives based on his expected role as a reliever. USA Today reported that Graveman will receive $500,000 for being on the active roster for more than 150 days, $500,000 for pitching more than 60 innings and $1.5 million if he finishes 40 games.
“Probably a week ago, they reached out saying they weren’t going to pick up the option, but they wanted to try to get something done so I could continue to be a Mariner,” Graveman said in a video call Thursday. “I was on board. I see a lot of positives for the future.”
His comfort level with teammates such as Marco Gonzales, Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield and others played a major role in the decision along with the team’s willingness to be flexible with him in the 2020 season, including allowing a shift from a starter to a reliever. He even wore the large gold chain that was purchased for his return from the injured list by Gonzales, Dunn and Sheffield during the video news conference.
“It feels like home,” he said. “It feels like family — teammates and coaching staff and front office alike. I’m super excited to be back and ready to go to work.”
Graveman, 29, made two starts and nine relief appearances for the Mariners in 2020, posting a 1-3 record with a 5.79 ERA with 15 strikeouts and eight walks in 18 2/3 innings.
Signed in the offseason to be part of the starting rotation after missing the last two seasons due to elbow surgery, Graveman looked dominant during spring training and in the summer camp after the baseball’s 3 1/2-month shutdown.
However in his two starts, he experienced neck discomfort as his pitch count would build. He was placed in the 10-day injured list with neck spasms but disclosed in a video news conference that he’d been diagnosed with a benign bone tumor in his neck in 2019.
After visiting multiple specialists and being told there wasn’t an immediate surgical fix for the problem, but that he couldn’t cause further damage to the situation, Graveman returned to the Mariners as a reliever. Given that the neck issues arose as he started to fatigue, Graveman believed that the shorter outings as a reliever would allow him to pitch pain free.
In the nine relief appearances he allowed runs in just two — one run vs. the Diamondbacks on Sept. 12 and three runs vs. the Giants on Sept. 17.
Per MLB Statcast, Graveman’s sinker averaged 94.8 mph, which was an increase from 2018’s 93.6 mph. Per FanGraphs, the pitch had a value of 2.1 in 2020 vs. minus-1.5 in 2018 and 0.3 in 2017.
He’s had no issues with the neck since changing to relief role.
“I feel good,” he said. “The longevity of the outings was really the only time it showed up. It’s just me staying on top of it and learning my body more. I had zero effect with it when I was pitching out of the bullpen, so that gave me a lot of confidence.”
But he also understood that the Mariners have legitimate concerns about his health. It was a small sample of relief outings, and they couldn’t be certain about his health over a 162-game season.
“Also on the business side, that’s why we came down on so many guarantees, because there is a little bit of unknown on everyone’s part,” Graveman said. “But in my mind, going into next season, I feel confident that pitching out of the bullpen I won’t have any problems or setbacks with it. And I’m excited about that.”