With the World Series over, the 2020 Major League Baseball season, which was delayed by the spread of COVID-19, bargained and bickered about by the owners and the players union, shortened to 60 regular season games without fans, survived early outbreaks and culminated with an expanded postseason, came to an end.
It was unique, memorable and hopefully a one-time occurrence.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the World Series on Tuesday night, the offseason begins Wednesday with players eligible based on service time or expired MLB contracts automatically becoming free agents.
The Mariners have only one of those of qualifying players — veteran right-handed pitcher Yoshihisa Hirano will be a free agent with his one-year contract expired. The 36-year-old posted a 5.84 ERA in 11 appearances for the Mariners after being delayed by a positive COVID-19 test.
Those players who become free agents are not allowed to sign with another team for a period of five days, giving their previous team an exclusive window to possibly re-sign them. But other teams can contact players’ agents during that time.
The Mariners must also reinstate outfielder Mitch Haniger, catcher Tom Murphy and right-handed pitcher Andres Munoz from the 60-day injured list to the 40-player roster within five days of the end of the World Series. Seattle currently has six open spots on the 40-player roster and will have another open spot with Hirano becoming a free agent.
The Mariners don’t have any potential free agents that are eligible for an $18.9 million qualifying offer or draft pick compensation. Those offers must be made within the five days after the World Series ends, and players have 10 days to accept or reject it.
Within that same five-day period, teams and players must make decisions to exercise or opt out of all options — club, player, mutual or vesting — for the 2021 season.
The Mariners have two players with club options, meaning the organization makes the determination on whether the options will be exercised or not.
Infielder Dee Strange-Gordon has a 2021 club option of $14 million with a $1 million buyout. Seattle has no reason to exercise the option and will pay the buyout, making Strange-Gordon a free agent.
With a focus on the future of Shed Long Jr. and later Dylan Moore, the Mariners relegated Gordon to a utility role in 2020, giving him minimal playing time. 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.
Meanwhile, the Mariners must decide whether they want to exercise the option on right-hander Kendall Graveman, who has a $3.5 million club option for 2021 with a $500,000 buyout.
In the days leading up to the shortened 2020 season, when Graveman was tossing 97-mph sinkers in intrasquad games as a starter, general manager Jerry Dipoto said that exercising the club option was a given. But when Graveman went on the injured list and revealed he had a benign bone tumor in his neck, the decision got a little complicated. Graveman has said that there is no surgical possibility to remove the tumor as of now.
Instead of shutting it down for the season or trying to work back a starter, Graveman switched to a new role as a reliever for the final month of the season, citing it as the optimal role for success because the neck pain got worse with pitches thrown in an outing. The power stuff became even more nasty in one-inning bursts, and he displayed the ability to throw on back-to-back days.
In his end-of-the-season media session, Dipoto hedged a little on Graveman’s situation and bringing him back, noting the small sample of outings.
“The biggest thing we didn’t get to see is resiliency, but we love Gravy,” Dipoto said in a video conference. “His makeup is awesome. He’s a clubhouse leader. … Part of it is, we don’t know how resilient he can be, and if the long season of pitching three and four times a week — whether it we’ll wear him down. Nobody works harder than Gravy and nobody’s going to be any more prepared. We just don’t know how you know his bounce-back is going to hold as a reliever.”
Still, it’s $3.5 million for a guy who has more talent or potential as a reliever than any pitcher on the 40-player roster, and it’s not even close. The monetary risk isn’t significant for the potential reward.
Trent Blank, named the full-time bullpen coach for 2021, said in a video conference Monday that they were scheduled to have a video meeting with Graveman in the next few days to go over his offseason plan. So perhaps that’s a hint he’s coming back.
Besides free agency beginning, the MLB moratorium on trades from a team’s 40-player roster or of players with major-league contracts will lift after the World Series.
For Dipoto, who has made more than 100 trades since being hired in August 2015, well, to quote longtime wrestling announcer Jim Ross: “Business is about to pick up.”
Dipoto has made it clear he plans to add three or four relievers via free agency or trades and will also keep tabs on the starting pitching market to add another veteran starter.
Given his history, expect Dipoto to be proactive early in trades and free agency. He often jumps early before the markets get manipulated or magnified. He will also be a little creative in the process, and won’t necessarily just attack the free agent or trade that everyone expects.
What’s difficult to predict is the financial situation of the Mariners and other MLB teams. Owners have lamented the lack of revenue from not having this season, but they did pick up added money to offset the losses from the expanded postseason television contract and limited fan in the World Series.
Some baseball insiders feel like teams won’t want to make long-term commitments to free agents — an idea that was already trending in past seasons. With Gordon expected to be gone, the Mariners have only about $40 million committed in MLB contracts and around $25 million in projected club-controlled salary for next season.
Here are some other dates to remember:
Nov. 2— The finalists for the annual awards from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will be announced on MLB Network.
Nov. 3 — The winners of the 2020 Rawlings Gold Glove will be announced on ESPN at 4 p.m. Mariners first baseman Evan White and shortstop J.P. Crawford were recently named finalists at their respective positions in the American League.
Nov. 5 — The Silver Slugger Awards presented by Louisville Slugger will be announced on MLB Network.
Nov. 6 — The announcement of the Rawlings Platinum Glove Winners and the Gold Glove Team will be announced on MLB Network at 3 p.m.
Nov. 9 — The winners of the BBWAA’s Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award for the American League and National League will be announced on MLB Network. Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis is the favorite to win the AL rookie of the year.
Nov. 10 — The winners of the AL and NL manager of the year award will be announced on MLB Network.
Nov. 11 — The winners of the AL and NL Cy Young Awards will be announced on MLB Network.
Nov. 12 — The winners of the AL and NL Most Valuable Player Awards will be announced on MLB Network.
Nov. 20 — The deadline for teams to place players who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft on the 40-player roster. Those players must be added by 5 p.m. on that day, otherwise they can be selected in the Rule 5 draft, which is held on the final day of the MLB winter meetings.
Players who signed professional contracts at age 18 or younger must be added to the 40-player roster within five seasons or they’ll become eligible. Players who signed at 19 or older must be put on the 40-player roster within four seasons after signing a contract.
The top Mariners prospects who are Rule 5 eligible and would have to be protected based on MLB Pipeline’s org. ratings:
- No. 5 — Taylor Trammell, OF
- No. 14 — Juan Then, RHP
- No. 20 — Sam Delapane, RHP
- No. 21 — Joe Rizzo, IF
- No. 24 — Wyatt Mills, RHP
Dec. 2 — Teams must decide on whether to tender contracts to club controlled players on their 40-player roster. It’s not a common occurrence, but there are times when teams will decide to non-tender a player that is salary arbitration eligible and is coming off a down season or injury and wouldn’t be worth paying a similar increased salary for the upcoming season.
Before being designated for assignment, Mallex Smith was a candidate to be non-tendered by the Mariners. On the current Mariners’ 40-player roster, only Haniger, who has missed all of last season and had three surgeries in six months, might be a candidate to be non-tendered since he’ll make at least $3 million in 2021 and his health status is uncertain. But as long as Haniger is projected to be healthy and return, he’ll remain with the team and be the opening day starter in right field.
Dec. 6-10: These are the scheduled dates for the MLB winter meetings at the Omni Hotel in Dallas. Given the spread of COVID-19, the meetings are unlikely to be held in traditional fashion. The annual MLB general managers meetings held in mid-November have been scuttled and will be held remotely instead.
Jan. 15, 2021 — Arbitration-eligible players and teams must agree to a contract by this date or they will have to each submit a salary figure for the upcoming season and then await a hearing in February. They can still negotiate after the deadline and up to the hearing to avoid the arbitration process.
Feb. 27, 2021 — Mariners open Cactus League play vs. the Padres at Peoria Stadium.
April 1, 2021 — Opening day at T-Mobile Park as Mariners host the Giants to start the 2021 season.