Jerry Dipoto confirms Mariners ownership will increase payroll to aggressively court free agents this offseason

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Yusei Kikuchi loads the bases in the sixth inning against the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 26, 2021, in Seattle. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

The 2021 season, at least for the Mariners and 21 other teams in Major League Baseball, has ended, and the focus on 2022 season has already started.

As part of that transition, general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais held their traditional end-of-season media availability Thursday morning via video conference. They wrapped up an unexpectedly successful season where the team finished 90-72 and was in contention for a postseason spot until the final day of the season. They also discussed their hopes and goals of perhaps the most important offseason for the franchise in more than decade.

“It’s incumbent on us to go out and add where we can add and improve where we can improve,” Dipoto said. “That’s not lost on us. We’ll visit every avenue to do that, whether it’s the free agent market or it’s the potential for trade, but we do have payroll flexibility and we’re going to use it to go out and make the team better.”

In terms of immediate news, there wasn’t much offered. Perhaps the biggest aspect was surrounding their expected payroll budget for the 2022 season.

Asked if John Stanton, the Mariners chairman and majority shareholder, had offered any assurance to increase payroll significantly to be aggressive in courting free agents this offseason, Dipoto offered a succinct reply:

“Yes.”

While MLB doesn’t require teams to offer full disclosure on payroll or really any of their bookkeeping procedures, multiple sites try to measure the big league payrolls of teams and rank them.

Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, which is part of Baseball Prospectus, the Mariners payroll for 2021, including the full 40-man roster, was projected at just over $92 million, ranking the Mariners in the bottom third of teams in payroll. Spotrac had the Mariners at approximately $82 million but didn’t include the $8 million in draft bonuses or some minor league salary for injured players on the 40-man roster. Perhaps the closest tracker of Seattle’s dollars spent on payroll is by local fan Darren Gossler, who diligently tracks the payroll based on service time down to the day. He had the Mariners at close to $104 million spent in payroll in 2021. 

Dipoto would never share what the payroll budget would increase to in 2022. Seattle’s payroll budget reached its highest point in August 2018 at more than $170 million. Then the step-back rebuild plan was put in place, which included reducing the payroll.

As of now, the Mariners have $15.2 million committed in guaranteed MLB contracts for four players: Marco Gonzales ($5.5 million), Ken Giles ($5.25 million), Chris Flexen ($3.05 million) and Evan White ($1.4 million). That number would increase if the Mariners were to exercise a $20 million club option for Kyle Seager or the four-year, $66 million club option on Yusei Kikuchi.

While it seems very unlikely that the team would exercise either option, Dipoto said they likely won’t finalize the decision on either situation until the deadline, which is five days after the World Series ends.

“I think it’s wise business to let emotion not govern a decision and sit down and logically talk it through,” Dipoto said. “And we’ll do that.”

If the Mariners decline Seager’s option, they will pay him a $2 million buyout, while Kikuchi could exercise his player option for 2022 and receive a $14.5 million salary. Even if Kikuchi exercises his player option, Seattle would still have only $30 million in MLB contract commitments. If you add in a conservative projection amount of $25 million for club controlled and arbitration eligible players for the rest of the 40-man roster, it leaves about $55 million in payroll commitments.

As for other immediate news out of the news conference, Dipoto and Servais are still evaluating the big league coaching staff and whether there will be changes to it.

“We’re working through some things right now,” Servais said. “Our staff did a great job this year. We’ve got some younger coaches that continue to learn, and I’m learning from them on different ways to look at players and how to help develop them. That’s something we’ll work through here and have a better idea in a few weeks.”

Changes to the MLB coaching staff, even after successful seasons, are pretty common.

Dipoto wouldn’t commit to White, who had season-ending hip surgery, or Kyle Lewis, who never returned from midseason knee surgery, being ready for spring training.

“I really don’t have an answer for that question,” he said. “They’re both going through the rehab process. I can say we’re hopeful, but there is no certainty until we get further into the process and both of them get back to baseball activity. I really can’t make that kind of determination until then.”

Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or rdivish@seattletimes.com; . Ryan Divish covers the Mariners in Seattle and on the road. Look for his 'Extra Innings' podcast and weekly Sunday mailbag during the season.