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Seattle Mariners

Decision time for Mariners

Wed., Nov. 3, 2010

Hold on to Lopez, Branyan, Bedard?

They’ve yet to throw the World Series parade in San Francisco and already, the winter Hot Stove season is about to hit full throttle.

The Mariners have until 9 p.m. Thursday to decide whether to exercise 2011 contract options on third baseman Jose Lopez, designated hitter Russell Branyan and pitcher Erik Bedard. New changes to the Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement also mean teams have only until Saturday night to negotiate exclusively with pending free agents – 10 days fewer than had been the case previously.

The rule changes could have a big impact on teams such as the Boston Red Sox, where third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Victor Martinez are among the bigger names poised to hit the open market. The Mariners only have catcher Josh Bard, pitcher Jamey Wright and shortstop Chris Woodward to worry about as free agents, meaning the bigger decisions will come with Thursday’s deadline for exercising options.

“We’ll see,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said of how it will play out. “Obviously, we’re going to look at everything.”

Seattle is almost certain to turn down Bedard’s $8 million option for 2011, though it remains to be seen what happens with the $5 million options on Lopez and Branyan. In all cases, the team could try to tear up the existing agreement and work out a more cost-effective arrange- ment, the way it did a year ago with shortstop Jack Wilson.

With Wilson, the Mariners declined an $8 million option for 2010 and worked out a two-year, $10-million deal.

But that won’t happen in the case of Bedard, who hasn’t pitched since midway through the 2009 season. The M’s will simply be declining the option on him and, and, if they want him back, would try to negotiate an incentive- laden deal with a small base salary.

In the interim, Bedard would become a free agent and could negotiate with any team.

There is potential for a Wilson-style negotiation with both Lopez and Branyan, since declining their options and letting them hit the open market is not as clear-cut. Once cut loose, both players would be likely to find work elsewhere at a reduced rate and the Mariners don’t have obvious replacements for either.

Lopez will be only 27 next season and – though coming off the worst offensive performance of his career – represents the only real power option for the team at third base.

Branyan was one of the team’s top power performers until once again succumbing to back woes in September. A healthy Branyan appears to be the team’s most viable designated hitter option.

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