The deadline to exercise options on contracts for the 2011 season won’t come until tomorrow night, but the Mariners wasted little time today in making their decision — declining options on pitcher Erik Bedard, designated hitter Russell Branyan and third baseman Jose Lopez.
Bedard and Branyan are now automatically free agents. Lopez is arbitration eligible and is still Mariners property for now. But the team has until Dec. 2 to tender Lopez a contract in order to launch the arbitration process. If they don’t tender him a deal, Lopez then becomes a free agent.
In other moves today, the team saw pitcher Brian Sweeney (photo below) claimed on waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks after attempting to remove him from the 40-man roster. Outfielder Ryan Langerhans and catcher Guillermo Quiroz also opted to become free agents rather than be outrighted to Class AAA.
Lefty pitcher Chris Seddon and reliever Sean White were also outrighted to AAA, while southpaw pitcher Ryan Feierabend, also removed from the 40-man roster, is eligible to become a six-year minor league free agent.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik would not say whether Lopez factors into his team’s plans for next year.
“I’d rather not comment on that at this time,” he said. “I don’t see where that would serve any useful purpose.”
Lopez was due to make $5 million in 2011 had the team picked up his option. The originally-forecast $4.5 million base salary was bolstered by an additional $500,000 when Lopez garnered more than 500 plate appearances last season.
Most players tend to get healthy raises through arbitration and Lopez could see a boost from the $2.75 million he was paid in 2010 should the Mariners go that route. But there have been rare cases where players actually do get pay cuts in arbitration after particularly poor seasons. Lopez had a career-worst performance at the plate last season.
“Each case is individual and has particular circumstances,” Zduriencik said, adding that he’d rather not speculate on what Lopez could earn.
The Mariners had already seen pitcher Ian Snell become a free agent last month after declining a 2011 option on his contract. Snell promptly declined a minor league assignment and opted to become a free agent.
Zduriencik would not say whether he will continue to pursue negotiations with either Bedard or Branyan. Bedard had an $8-million option, but there was zero chance of it being picked up since he hasn’t pitched since midway through the 2009 season and is coming off his third shoulder surgery in as many years.
The Mariners gave Bedard a $1.5-million contract last year, which was laden with incentives. They could attempt a similar deal in 2011, though the guaranteed money could be less given the amount of time since Bedard last pitched. Bedard will continue rehabilitation work under the Mariners’ care, since they are his team of record.
Talks could also continue with Branyan, who represents a viable DH option for the club when healthy. His option had been for $5 million.
“As of this time, they are all free agents and can negotiate with any club the way any free agent can,” Zduriencik said. “I’m not going to comment on which free agents we may or may not pursue.”
Branyan said in an interview this afternoon that talks could continue with the Mariners in a few weeks.
“They had some talks with my agent and would like to talk over the next couple of weeks, but they have their end-of-year meetings they’re going through and want to do those first and see what direction they want to go in,” Branyan said. “I liked my time in Seattle, but at the same time, it just brings other teams into the equation now. I went through this process last year and have a pretty good idea what to expect.”
Unlike last year, Branyan says his back is now “feeling great” and that he’s ready to resume working out. He spoke to a back specialist in Los Angeles for an independant assessment after the season ended and said he was given the green light to begin off-season workouts as long as he continues to strengthen his back.
“That’s one thing I don’t have to worry about,” Branyan said. “As of right now, I feel strong. I feel good.”