With the World Series ending on Tuesday evening, Major League Baseball released the list of players that officially became free agents under Rule XX B of the collective-bargaining agreement between MLB and its players’ union on Wednesday afternoon.
On that list there were the names of three players on the Mariners’ 2020 roster: right-handed pitchers Yoshihisa Hirano and Kendall Graveman and infielder Dee Strange-Gordon.
Both Hirano and Strange-Gordon were expected to be on that list. Hirano, 36, signed a one-year contract with the Mariners last season. After being delayed by a positive test for COVID-19 and dealing with some serious symptoms, Hirano appeared in 11 games and posted a 5.84 ERA.
Strange-Gordon had a $14 million club option for 2021, which the Mariners bought out for $1 million. The veteran infielder played sparingly in 2020 with Shed Long Jr. and Dylan Moore taking the bulk of the reps at second base. He played in 33 games and had a total of 82 plate appearances, posting a .200/.268/.213 slash line with a double, three RBI, three stolen bases, five walks and 13 strikeouts.
The decision to decline Graveman’s $3.5 million club option was a bit of a surprise. However, multiple MLB sources indicated that the Mariners are in the midst of negotiations with Graveman’s representative for a new contract for 2021. It’s likely this contract will include contingencies based on Graveman revealing he had a benign bone tumor in his neck that can’t be immediately fixed by surgery.
It would seem logical that a new contract would also include several performance bonuses for Graveman based on his expected role as a reliever in 2021.
Graveman started the 2020 season in Seattle’s rotation and looked dominant during spring training and later during summer camp. But in his first start of the season, he felt discomfort in his neck as his pitch count increased in his outings. He made just two starts before being forced to the injured list.
After meeting with multiple specialists and finding out there was no viable surgical option, but also no way he could cause further damage, Graveman decided to return in a relief role. The shorter bursts of one and two innings in relief allowed him to pitch pain-free. His stuff also ticked up in the shorter bursts with his two-seam fastball consistently touching 99 mph.
Still, the neck issues are real, and the Mariners saw Graveman in only nine relief appearances. It is wise to approach the situation with caution. A lower base salary with a club/vesting option for 2022 based on appearances or innings pitched would beneficial for both sides, along with performance incentives for appearances, games finished or saves.
The Mariners coaching staff has raved about Graveman’s presence in the clubhouse and the daily work ethic and commitment to preparation he displays for the younger pitchers on the staff.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said he plans to add three or four relievers to the bullpen this offseason. Graveman is an upgrade in talent and potential over many of the relievers Seattle rolled out last season in hopes of finding some success.