A clause in Seager's contract makes trading Seager that much more difficult for the Mariners

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LAS VEGAS — The Mariners and general manager Jerry Dipoto have been unusually quiet for the first two and a half days of the Major League Baseball winter meetings.

That’s largely due to the six trades made in the month leading up to the meetings. As he prefers to do, Dipoto was aggressive early in the offseason. In past years, it was about the acquisition of talent to help in the moment. Now it’s trying to bring in talent for the future.

But even with the Mariners not making any transaction, they are still a popular topic in the lobby and casino conversations between executives, scouts and media.

The main two topics are the accusations of racism from Dr. Lorena Martin that have been leveled against Dipoto, manager Scott Servais and director of player personnel Andy McKay and the Mariners’ new offseason plan that has been labeled as a “step back” by the organization but viewed as a teardown by almost everyone else.

Most in baseball were skeptical when the Mariners hired Martin and Dipoto spoke so glowingly about what she would accomplish. Baseball is slow to embrace changes in thinking and operation.

A MLB source said the investigation is currently ongoing and that it might continue past the holidays. The Mariners are confident they will be exonerated. But even if MLB’s investigation were to discredit Martin’s claims, it’s unlikely that it will be forgotten.

As for the Mariners’ offseason plans, the expectation from MLB executives is that Dipoto will push to trade first baseman Carlos Santana in the coming weeks and that right-hander Mike Leake might have a market for a trade in January.

The Mariners’ odds of trading Kyle Seager have been greatly reduced with the recent revelation of trade stipulation in his contract.

While it has often been mentioned that the money owed to Seager is a hindrance — he is owed $19 million in 2019, $19 million in 2020 and $18 million in 2021 — it’s the largely unmentioned clause in his contract that states that his 2022 club option automatically becomes an exercisable player option if he’s traded.

“They put a poison pill in that deal and no team is going to want to take on that extra year for that cost,” said a MLB source. “Mariners would have to eat a lot of money to move him.”

The 7-year, $100 million contract was negotiated by former GM Jack Zduriencik and assistant GM Jeff Kingston with Andrew Lowenthal of Jet Sports Management. And the trade clause wasn’t widely known or mentioned. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported it last week.

The 2022 option starts at $15 million and can increase to another $5 million to $20 million based plate appearances and other performance aspects. A source familiar with the contract confirmed that it’s based on a point system. Seager accrues points for meeting performance thresholds like plate appearances. The more plate appearances or homers means more points and more dollars added to the bonus. Being traded automatically kicks in large number of points to the option, making it a minimum of $15 million. That point system also determines how much it would cost the Mariners to buy out the 2022 option with the possibility of going up to $3 million.

So basically, the Mariners are committed to Seager for three years and $56 million with whatever the buyout for the option would cost them. But any team acquiring Seager would likely be committed to four years and a minimum of $71 million. It seems unrealistic to think that he’d forgo exercising his player option and walking away from a minimum $15 million in a season. Seager would be 35 years old in that final option year.

If Seager were producing at his 2016 level where he had an .859 OPS with 36 doubles, 30 homers and 99 RBIs, that contract would be more palatable to a team to take on. But he’s coming off a season with a sub-.300 on-base percentage (.273) and a .400 slugging percentage. And really, it’s been a two-season decline at the plate.

“Nothing you’ve seen says he’ll get back to what he was in 2016,” said an American League scout. “I think he won’t be as bad as last year, but some of this regression is permanent.”

The clause in Seager’s contract is more of a deterrent than a no-trade clause. Often with no-trade clauses teams can bargain with players and buy them out of it. Seattle did that with Jean Segura, giving him an extra $1 million to waive the no-trade clause and accept the move to Philadelphia.

It seems unlikely that the Mariners could buy out Seager’s option clause in the deal. He isn’t going to walk away from $15 million just to get out of Seattle and the current rebuilding process.

So if Seager were to get hot in the first half of the season and a team with an injury at third base really needed him, the Mariners would almost certainly have to pay the cost of that option year, plus more money for the hefty salary owed in the first three years, to trade him. With so few teams actually spending money to improve and win, the market shrinks even more. The prospect return would be minimal.

Dipoto is one of the more creative GMs in baseball, but this might even be too much of an impassable roadblock. Of course, this all hinges on Seager returning to being a productive player with value to other teams.

Will Seager be better next season?

“I think last year, it just steamrolled on Kyle,” Dipoto said. “He obviously had the worst year of his Major League career. But he’s 31 years old and still has all the same skills. I think Kyle got into a one-swing sort of groove and I don’t think anyone was hurt more on the overshifts than Kyle Seager was. He still hits the ball with a very healthy exit velocity. He still shows the power. Where Kyle got away from himself is that he’s historically been a slow starter and starts to heat up and last year when he started slow and the hot spell didn’t come, I think he was trying to press a lot. He was trying to hit six-run homers and go 6-for-4 and that’s a really tough way to catch up. He took a lot of swings last year that were atypical of his skill set. He’s a lot better than that.”

Seager has changed his offseason routine. He’s working with a trainer in Charlotte that is trying reshape his body and provide more flexibility and core strength. Dipoto said that Seager is also working with a new swing coach this offseason to clean up some issues and find more consistency with the swing.

“He’s too closely removed from not just being a good player, but a really good player to think that he just fell off the cliff at 31 years old,” Dipoto said. “He’ll rebound because he has pride in one what he does. He’s still young enough and a lot of the metrics we use are telling us it’s still in there.”