Hultzen, who has been off since August, isn't progressing as well as hoped, and there's no timetable for his return. It's hard to place any expectations on the 25-year-old, given he's thrown just 43 2/3 innings over the last three seasons in the Minors, and his situation is further clouded by the fact that he's out of Minor League options and will be exposed to waivers if he's not kept on the 25-man roster next spring.
It's going to be difficult for the Mariners to keep a spot open for a player facing those kinds of odds, so I wouldn't be surprised if he's moved off the 40-man roster at some point. If so, it remains to be seen if another club would want to claim him and face the same uncertain situation. Hopefully, he gets a chance to just work his way back slowly without any pressure to make a team, whether that's in Seattle or elsewhere.
How does a player exhaust his Minor League options without ever making the Majors, like Hultzen, or with his rookie status still intact, like Mike Montgomery? And will those two have to make the 25-man roster in order to stay with the organization?
-- Tom J., Shoreline, Wash.
Options are among the more confusing rules in MLB. You begin using options as soon as you're added to the 40-man roster. If you don't make the big league club and are on the 40-man, you use an option that year. In Hultzen's case, he signed a Major League contract when he was the second overall Draft pick in 2011, so he's been on the 40-man roster from the start, though he received an extra (fourth) option because he was on the disabled list one full season.
Both players now need to make the 25-man roster, or they'll be exposed to waivers. That doesn't mean they'll be lost, but they would be available to any other club that wanted to claim them. That club would also have to keep them on its own 25-man roster or expose them to waivers as well. The Mariners also have Jesus Montero, Ramon Flores, Edgar Olmos and Jose Ramirez in that situation heading into next season.
Where is Mike Zunino right now, and what is he doing? It was reported that he was going to be playing fall ball in Arizona, yet he doesn't appear to be on the Peoria roster.
-- Norton D., Sandpoint, Idaho
Zunino is spending his winter at home in Florida, getting ready for Spring Training, and not competing in any offseason leagues. There was never any intention for him to play in the Arizona Fall League; he's not eligible because of the amount of time he's played in the Majors. You're confusing the AFL with the less-formal Arizona instructional league, which is primarily for low-level prospects or rehabbing players. He was sent to work on his hitting approach with Mariners coaches in Peoria during the brief instructional league period in mid-September after Triple-A Tacoma's season ended, but he never played in any games. That was simply a chance for him to keep refining some swing changes that he's implementing before heading home for the offseason to continue working on his own.
Now that the Mariners have traded Logan Morrison, who will be the starting first baseman? And is Chris Davis a player the Mariners might be interested in for that position?
-- Logan F., Burien, Wash.
Mark Trumbo currently pencils in as the starting first baseman, with Montero also in the mix. But it will be interesting to see if new general manager Jerry Dipoto makes any changes there, as he traded Trumbo from the Angels two years ago and the 29-year-old figures to earn about $9 million next season in his final year of arbitration eligibility. Dipoto has already shown he's willing to make deals, so a Trumbo trade wouldn't be a stunner. But I would be stunned if they targeted Davis as a replacement, since he's one of the top-tier free agents and will command a long-term deal in the $20-million-plus range per year, while Seattle already has Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez in that price range and is more likely to spread its available cash around rather than jump in quite that deep for one player this winter.
The Mariners have made several trades involving "players to be named" in recent months. Any idea yet who those players will be?
-- Brian S., Vancouver, Wash.
Seattle dealt Fernando Rodney and Austin Jackson to the Cubs in late August for either a player to be named or cash. I'm told that both cases wound up being cash deals, which usually is a fairly nominal amount, as the Mariners didn't have much bargaining leverage at that point. The Mariners did receive the Cubs' No. 98 international Draft slot as well for Jackson, which gives them an extra $211,100 to use as bonus money to land international players next year.
The "player to be named" in the recent five-player swap with the Rangers is a different deal. Seattle acquired Leonys Martin and Anthony Bass for Tom Wilhelmsen, James Jones and an unnamed player. In this case the two clubs agreed to an additional player who couldn't be included yet for some sort of roster-related reason. Rangers GM Jon Daniels told reporters that player will be a "significant" part of the trade, so I suspect a prospect of some note will wind up going to Texas to complete the package after all the Rule 5 Draft and contract tender dates are cleared up in early December.