Wolf takes shot at Mariners from exit door

Released veteran fires off angry words after Mariners ask for a 45-day release clause

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comMarch 26, 2014 

Pitcher Randy Wolf was projected to be the fifth starter in the Seattle Mariners’ rotation, but instead he was released after refusing to sign a 45-day clause that put him under a probationary period. Wolf made five starts this spring and had a 4.26 ERA in 19 innings.

RICK SCUTERI/USA TODAY SPORTS

PEORIA, Ariz. — Veteran left-hander Randy Wolf exited the Seattle Mariners’ camp on Tuesday by buzzing a fastball under the collective chin of the club’s brass.

Wolf effectively charged the Mariners with negotiating in bad faith after they asked him to sign a 45-day clause that effectively put him, and his contract, under a probationary period for the season’s opening weeks.

“They told me I made the team,” he said, “but they wanted me to sign a 45-day advance-consent release. It, essentially, (lets them) do anything with me in the first 45 days of the season.

“I principally objected to that because we negotiated in good faith in February on a very team-

friendly contract.”

When Wolf refused to sign the clause, the Mariners released him, which makes him a free agent with less than a week remaining before the start of the regular season.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik characterized the clause as a “very common” practice and said it represented a reasonable precaution because Wolf missed the 2013 season while recovering from elbow surgery.

“All it does is give us a degree of protection,” Zduriencik said. “We didn’t have any fear of anything happening to Randy, but he hasn’t been on a mound in a major league baseball game (since 2012).”

Zduriencik agreed the Mariners projected Wolf as the No. 5 starter in their rotation after a spring in which he yielded nine runs and 18 hits in 19 innings over five starts.

“We made it reasonably clear (Monday) that we would give him the opportunity to break with us,” Zduriencik said. “We also wanted him to sign the 45-day clause for that to happen, and he refused to do it.”

While Wolf was in line to open the season in the rotation, the Mariners expect to have three strong replacement candidates — Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer — by the end of April.

Manager Lloyd McClendon continues to insist nothing is set in the rotation behind staff ace Felix Hernandez, although he acknowledged Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton are positioned for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots.

Rookie lefty Roenis Elias, one of the camp’s top surprises, appears in line for the fourth spot. The final opening now seems likely to fall to Blake Beavan or Hector Noesi.

Wolf, 37, signed a minor league deal just before camp that included a $1 million guarantee if he made the big-league roster along with performance bonuses capable of adding another $750,000.

The 45-day clause would have permitted the Mariners to terminate the deal, on a pro-rated basis, at any point during that period for any reason except an injury.

“We weren’t concerned about his health,” Zduriencik said. “I don’t have any health concerns with Randy. It was just the fact of what would he be performance-wise?”

Several industry sources confirmed such clauses are common, but Wolf argued that he, as a 14-year veteran, should not have been asked to sign one because he had already agreed to a club-friendly contract.

“I was very uncomfortable with the fact we were renegotiating,” he said, “when, in February … I feel like you negotiate in good faith. When I sign a contract, I have a commitment to that team.”

Wolf admitted it was tough to walk away from a big-league job after working for the past 16 months to return from the second Tommy John surgery of his career.

“The fact that I essentially made the team, in theory,” he said, “I’m proud of that accomplishment. But I’m really disappointed in how it ended.

“The day should have started with a handshake and congratulations, instead of a 24-hour feeling of licking a D-cell battery. So, it’s a really hard time.”

OTHER ROSTER ISSUES

The Mariners tightened their roster earlier in the day by declining to place outfielder Endy Chavez and catcher Humberto Quintero on their 40-man roster prior to the Article XX (B) deadline.

The decision on Chavez seemingly cements Stefen Romero’s spot on the roster as the club’s fifth outfielder. Quintero was always viewed as a hedge against injuries to Mike Zunino and John Buck.

Chavez quickly agreed to terms with the Mariners on a minor league contract and remained in the big-league camp, although he will presumably report at some point to Triple-A Tacoma.

The club also hopes to retain Quintero on a similar deal.

Article XX (B) applies to major league free agents who agree to a minor league contract. It allows those players to become free agents if not placed on the 40-man roster five days before the season starts.

The players receive a $100,000 retention bonus if sent to the minors, but clubs often release the player to avoid paying the bonus and — as the Mariners did with Chavez — seek to negotiate a standard minor league deal.

The Mariners opened camp with three XX (B) qualifiers. Right-handed pitcher Scott Baker, on Monday, declined the offer of an assignment to Tacoma by asking for, and receiving, his release.

The latest moves leave 37 players on the camp roster, including four pitchers expected to open the season on the disabled list. The Mariners must get down to 25 players by noon Sunday.

MARINERS RECAP

MARINERS 9, ROYALS 6 (AT SURPRISE STADIUM)

The facts: The Mariners nicked Royals veteran Bruce Chen for single runs in the first two innings before Stefen Romero’s two-run homer ignited a five-run third inning.

Play of the game: Felix Hernandez tuned up for his start on opening night by working five innings. He gave up three runs and five hits. He also struck out six, walked none and pronounced himself ready for Monday’s opener against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif.

Plus: Mike Zunino marked his 23rd birthday with a tying homer with two outs in the second inning. ... Romero had three hits in five at-bats. ... Brad Miller went 3-for-4 with two doubles and raised his average to .436 (24-for-55). ... Carson Smith maintained his 0.00 ERA (in 8 innings) by working a one-two-three eighth.

Minus: Reliever Ramon Ramirez didn’t help his already-slim roster chances by allowing two runs in the ninth. He’s allowed 10 runs and 11 hits in 72/3 innings this spring. ... Kyle Seager is batting .175 (11-for-63) after going hitless in three at-bats.

Quotable: “I think you’re looking anywhere, optimistically, from the second (week) to end of the month.” — general manager Jack Zduriencik on the projected availability of injured pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Brandon Maurer and Stephen Pryor.

Extra innings: Nick Franklin started at second base and shifted to right field in the seventh inning. Manager Lloyd McClendon characterized it as “just tinkering.” ... Romero started in right and shifted to first base in the seventh — and immediately made a nice leaping catch on Lorenzo Cain’s leadoff liner.

Health updates: Walker (shoulder), Pryor (back) and Maurer (back) continued their recovery from injuries by pitching in the same minor league camp game. Fernando Rodney and Joe Beimel were also among those who saw action. ... Plans call for right fielder Corey Hart to test his ailing back Wednesday and Thursday in minor league games to maximize at-bats.

Up next: The Mariners return Wednesday to Surprise, Ariz., to play the complex’s other tenant — the Texas Rangers. Note the early start at 12:05 p.m. Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez makes his final spring tuneup for what projects as a start in the second game of the season, April 1 against the Angels.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com

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