The deadline for teams and players to submit arbitration figures passed on Friday. The Seattle Mariners had six arbitration-eligible players for the 2015 season, three of them eligible for the first time. Three of the four projected regular outfielders, Austin Jackson, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Ruggiano, all agreed to new contracts as well as bullpen arm Charlie Furbush. Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen was the lone player who failed to reach an agreement prior to the deadline.
Austin Jackson — One-year, $7.7 million
Seattle’s starting centerfielder, acquired at last year’s trade deadline from the Detroit Tigers, received a decent raise from his $6 million 2014 salary. The soon-to-be 28-year old is coming off a down season and posted a 51 wRC+ after being acquired by the Mariners. He did add stability to a center field position that had been in flux but wasn’t able to produce as the leadoff hitter the club was hoping they acquired in exchange for displaced infielder Nick Franklin.
Jackson is entering his walk year and will become a free agent at season’s end. The thought is that after a rough transition to the Pacific Northwest at midseason, he should be able to perform closer to his 2013 level in 2015. Although the right-hander typically boasts a high strikeout rate, he saw it increase by nearly five percent with Seattle. Regaining some of the power lost and improving plate discipline will be keys for success in 2015.
Logan Morrison — One-year, $2.725 million; $25,000 bonus for 500 and 600 plate appearances
The first baseman also picks up a nice raise from his $1.75 million salary in 2014 as a second-time arbitration eligible player. Morrison failed to clear the 100 games played mark for the third consecutive year as he once again struggled to stay healthy. He did manage to hit 20 doubles for the first time since 2011 and finished the year with a 110 wRC+, an improvement over recent first base production.
With Justin Smoak out of the picture Morrison enters the year as the club’s starting first baseman with no real competition on the roster. The 27-year old hit well for stretches last year but missed extended periods of time. His second half performance, when he was finally healthy again, was more inspiring, but the jury is still out on whether or not Morrison can be an everyday first baseman. He’ll have to prove an ability to consistently perform from April through September this year.
Dustin Ackley — One-year, $2.6 million; $50,000 bonus for 500 plate appearances
Ackley cashed in on his first year of arbitration eligibility as a 26-year old. The former No. 2 overall pick continued his transition to the outfield and showed much improved range and instincts. Offensively it was a better season for Ackley as he finished with a wRC+ 10 points higher (97) than he produced in 2013 — thanks in large part to a red-hot stretch in July and August.
The left-hander has become a competent defender in the outfield and likely has his focus set on making improvements at the plate. The remaining question is whether or not his bat can play consistently. For Ackley’s two great months in 2014, he also had two terrible months — the rest were about average. He is coming off a career-high 45 extra-base hits but needs to find a way to bump his batting average closer to the .273 mark he posted in his rookie season.
Justin Ruggiano — One-year, $2.5 million; $20,000 bonus for 375 plate appearances
The right-handed portion of the Mariners new right field platoon received a slight raise on the $2 million salary he earned last year as a member of the Chicago Cubs. This is Ruggiano’s second year as an arbitration eligible player. The power and speed numbers were down for the 32-year old in 2014 but he still finished the year with a 113 wRC+. Defensive metrics suggested he performed below average in the field last year, but he’s been a relatively competent defender throughout his career.
The expectation for Ruggiano in 2015 is simple: continue to crush left-handed pitching. Whether or not manager Lloyd McLendon sticks to the traditional platoon with Seth Smith remains to be seen. But it’s likely that Smith will be the one to receive more playing time in either right or left field. Ruggiano holds a career 128 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and a 94 wRC+ against right-handed pitching.
Charlie Furbush — One-year, $1.3 million
The left-hander secured a raise on his $750,000 2014 salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Furbush posted a 3.61 ERA and career-best 2.80 FIP in 42 and 1/3 innings pitched across 67 appearances. The lefty specialist struck out 51 batters and walked just nine.
Furbush is expected to assume the same role as lefty specialist in 2015. As it stands the 28-year old is the only southpaw currently slated to open the season in the bullpen. It’s likely that a second left-hander will be added to the pen out of Spring Training.
Tom Wilhelmsen — Player submitted $2.2 million, club submitted $1.4 million
The right-hander is the only player whom the Mariners were not able to agree to terms with prior to the deadline. Wilhelmsen posted a 2.27 ERA and a 3.74 FIP in 79 and 1/3 innings pitched. The Bartender regained form as one of the club’s most reliable relievers and regularly recorded more than three outs on any given night. If there was a downside to the 31-year old’s season it was some control issues — though his 4.08 walks per nine was only slightly higher than his career 3.99 mark.
Like Furbush, Wilhelmsen will likely find himself in the same role this year. There had been some talk about possibly stretching out the right-hander in Spring Training to add to the starting pitching depth, but that talk has cooled. However, with Brandon Maurer no longer onboard, Wilhelmsen’s ability to pitch multiple innings of relief will become even more important to the club.
The Mariners typically avoid arbitration hearings and we will likely see a deal reached somewhere in the middle of the two submissions in the coming weeks. The midpoint for the two sides is $1.8 million, which would make Wilhelmsen the club’s second-highest paid reliever behind Fernando Rodney.
Arbitration hearings are scheduled to begin on February 2 and club’s can negotiate with a player until the second the hearing begins.
With all but one of the arbitration numbers settled, we can estimate that the Mariners’ Opening Day payroll will fall around the $115 to $120 million mark depending on whether another addition or two is made. Seattle didn’t add Chris Young to the rotation until just prior to the start of the 2014 season. It’s possible the club will make a late depth move, possibly a veteran cut by another team, towards the end of the spring once again.