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Mariners Play Hardball With Wolf, Everybody Loses

The camo can't hide that Randy Wolf's best days are
behind him at this point in his career.
Another day, another starting pitching casualty, this time thanks to some odd roster gerrymandering. Today was when MLB players signed to minor league deals needed to be told whether they made the opening day roster or not across Major League Baseball. The M's had three such players in this boat - OF Endy Chavez, C Humberto Quintero, and LHP Randy Wolf. The M's had two such players in this boat - OF Endy Chavez and C Humberto Quintero. For good measure they gave LHP Randy Wolf a decision today as well.

Both Chavez and Quintero were informed they would not make the club. Quintero was a no-brainer with Mike Zunino and John Buck in the fold. Endy Chavez also was an unsurprising decision, and there is word the he already agreed to a minor league deal. I look forward to seeing him roam Cheney Stadium's outfield this summer (I make it to many more Rainiers games than Mariners ones).

Then there was Randy Wolf. He made the team and as a result got released, because this team is just loaded with starting rotation options at the moment. Bob Dutton tweets that Hector Noesi is now in the mix for a rotation spot after most (including me) assumed he would be among the first in line to get cut loose for 40-man roster space.

Only the Mariners. Is this what it means to be "true to the blue?"

Ryan Divish has nicely detailed breakdown of what happened with Randy Wolf today. Basically, Wolf made the Mariners, which guaranteed him $1 million this season - with one catch. The Mariners asked him to sign a 45-day out clause, which essentially gives the M's the option to cut him loose after a month and not give him all $1 million. Zduriencik says that it is a common agreement with players in Wolf's situation, and Divish points out that the rules do not allow the Mariners (or any team) to offer the clause until they have formally told a non-roster invitee like Wolf that they have made the team.

So, the Mariners didn't really offer a bait-and-switch or poison pill, but the damage was done. Wolf felt the clause substantially altered the contract he initially agreed to and he wasn't going to stand for that. Wolf wouldn't sign the out clause, so he and the Mariners are going their separate ways.

It's painfully easy to see why the Mariners wanted Wolf to sign the out clause. Both Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma will likely be ready to go 45 days into the MLB season, which will come in mid-May. Wolf would have to outpitch either James Paxton or Erasmo Ramirez to keep a spot in the rotation, and potentially by a noticeable margin given that both could be long-term fixtures on the team for years to come. Wolf decided to take his chances now in the free agent market than a month down the road.

Wolf wasn't all that amazing in spring training, though not horrible either - but the fact remains that he is an old starting pitcher who didn't pitch at all last season and is even farther removed from being a productive contributor. I doubt he will find an MLB deal anywhere without signing that 45-day clause and he's even less likely to find a team as starved for starting pitching as the Mariners right now. It's plausible that Randy Wolf just turned down his best, and maybe even final, chance to make it back to the big leagues. It's also possible he gets scooped up tomorrow. The next week will be an interesting one for him, but at best he's making a lateral move, and the lateral move probably represents a better outcome than he can expect.

The Mariners clearly had the leverage in this situation and good reasons to both offer Wolf the out clause and expect him to take it. I don't think they were malicious or misguided offering it. Also, although the Mariners rotation depth is maligned, they have other options in guys like Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi. They are the kind of options that make a fan crinkle their nose, but to be honest Randy Wolf is much closer to smelling salts than citronella or chamomile at this stage in his career too.

However, in the end, I am not sure the Mariners made a good decision, even though it is easy to justify. Think about it: 45 days in the majors is roughly 40 or 41 games, depending on off days. In other words, a quarter of the season. So, the out clause would allow the Mariners to pay Randy Wolf about $250,000 instead of $1 million.

The Mariners just stood firm and let Randy Wolf walk over $750,000 after deciding he was good enough to make the opening day roster. The M's projected payroll as of right now is $74 million, $10 million below last year's mark (even after signing Cano.)* Ownership said the money is there to expand payroll for the right player, but the team's actions aren't remotely close to these words. Somehow they decided to tighten the purse strings further with Cano, even though he came out and publicly said that the Mariners need more pieces.

*Worth noting that this projection does not include bonuses which Corey Hart could earn. Those would push the payroll closer to $80 million. Doesn't change the overall point I'm making.

In the end, the Wolf saga leaves everybody a loser. Wolf increased his risk substantially of making an opening day roster with no realistic chance at more money or guarantees. The Mariners lost another rotation option in a group already considered thin. In the end, given that Wolf is near the end of his career and probably not much beyond a replacement-level pitcher, none of the on-field ramifications mean all that much. It's the fact that the Mariners were so stubborn over $750,000 that sticks with me, given the rotation needs and the context of their offseason. I don't get it; I really don't get it at all.