Consider the off-season officially under way.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto enhanced his wheeler-dealer reputation Monday by acquiring veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade for left-handed swingman Vidal Nuno.
News of the trade broke late Sunday as Dipoto and his peers arrived in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the annual general managers’ meetings, which often set the stage for the winter’s trades and free-agent signings.
The Mariners and Dodgers confirmed the trade on Monday — just hours before the free-agent market hit full speed. At 9:01 p.m., free agents could begin signing with new clubs.
In Ruiz, the Mariners filled their need for a veteran catcher to replace departing free agent Chris Iannetta as a backup to Mike Zunino.
"First and foremost," Dipoto said, "Carlos brings us a veteran presence with outstanding leadership qualities and a winning pedigree.
"His combination of strong on-base skills, situational awareness and game-calling ability are a welcome addition to the Mariners."
Dipoto’s off-season checklist also includes a power left-handed reliever, a veteran shortstop and a right-hitting-hitting first baseman.
The Mariners are expected to push hard to retain free-agent outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and appear open to the possibility of re-signing Dae-Ho Lee to fill a platoon role at first base in tandem with rookie Dan Vogelbach, a left-handed hitter.
Ruiz, 37, is an 11-year veteran who served as a key member of five postseason clubs in Philadelphia from 2007-11 before an August 25 trade sent him to the Dodgers for their run to the National League Championship Series.
The Mariners deemed Nuno, 33, expendable from a roster that already has lefty Ariel Miranda slotted to serve as a long reliever and spot starter. Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte also has multi-inning capabilities.
Acquiring Ruiz appears to represent an upgrade over Iannetta at the same price. The Mariners will pick up a $4.5 million option in Ruiz’s contract, which is the same amount they recently chose not to pay to retain Iannetta.
Ruiz rated at plus-four in runs saved above average while playing 56 defensive games and threw out 42 percent of potential base-stealers. He also batted .264 with a .365 on-base percentage in 62 games overall with three homers and 15 RBIs.
Iannetta rated at minus-10 in runs saved over 93 defensive games and threw out 31 percent of potential base-stealers. He batted .210 with a .303 OBP in 94 games overall with seven homers and 24 RBIs.
The trade also appears to leave no room on the Mariners’ roster for Jesus Sucre, who is out of options after bouncing between the minors and the big leagues over the last four seasons. He was 12-for-25 this season in nine big-league games.
Nuno is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time after making $532,900 this season while going 1-1 with a 3.53 ERA in 55 games.
FREE AGENCY HEATS UP
The Mariners, as expected, did not extend qualifying offers to any of their four eligible free agents, which means they will not receive compensation if those players sign with new clubs.
All qualifying offers this year are one-year contracts for $17.2 million, a figure reached by averaging the top 125 salaries from the 2016 season. The deadline for extending those qualifying offers was 2 p.m. Monday.
The Mariners had four eligible players: first baseman Adam Lind, Iannetta, Lee and Gutierrez. Reliever Drew Storen is also a free agent, but he was not eligible for a qualifying offer because he did not spend the entire season with the Mariners.
All five players became eligible to sign elsewhere at 9:01 p.m. when the exclusive negotiating period ended between clubs and their free agents.
Elsewhere, 10 players did receive qualifying offers. They have until Nov. 14 to accept or reject them.
If a player who receives an offer signs elsewhere, his former club gets an extra pick between the first and second rounds of the 2017 MLB Draft as compensation. His new club also forfeits a high pick.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners