Mariners, Cishek make two-year deal official

Veteran could compete with Benoit for closer role next season

Mariners, Cishek make two-year deal official

SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto added a critical piece to his Mariners makeover on Monday as the club announced the signing of free-agent reliever Steve Cishek to a two-year contract.

No terms of the agreement were released, but Yahoo.com reports Cishek will receive a base salary of $4 million in 2016 and $6 million in 2017, with a potential for up to another $3.5 million in incentives each year based on the number of games he finishes.

Left-handed reliever Rob Rasmussen was designated for assignment to open a spot on the 40-man roster.

"Steve gives us a proven bullpen presence with significant experience closing games," Dipoto said. "He's a character guy who adds a new angle and fresh look to our 'pen."

Dipoto closed out a busy Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday by saying his remaining move would be to add a free-agent reliever or two, and Cishek provides a potential closer to the mix.

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The 29-year-old fits into Dipoto's theme of scooping up potential bounce-back candidates who can fill large roles for his revamped roster. The sidewinding Cishek saved 73 games for the Marlins in 2013-14, then struggled and lost his job as the closer last season (three saves and a 4.50 ERA), and he was traded to the Cardinals in July.

Cishek pitched better for St. Louis, with a 2.31 ERA and one save in 27 games, but he was non-tendered after the season as the Cardinals chose to avoid an arbitration process that would have earned Cishek about $7.1 million in 2016, according to MLBtraderumors.com's projections.

Cishek figures to compete with Joaquin Benoit for closing duties. Benoit, 38, was acquired by trade from the Padres last month and has been primarily a setup man in his career, though he did save 24 games in 2013 with the Tigers and 11 with the Padres in '14.

Cishek has a 2.82 career ERA and 95 saves in 311 relief appearances over six seasons with the Marlins and Cardinals.

The Mariners used three closers last year -- Fernando Rodney, Carson Smith and Tom Wilhelmsen -- but Rodney was released midseason, and Smith and Wilhelmsen have both been traded this offseason.

In addition to Cishek and Benoit, the club returns left-handed setup man Charlie Furbush, and it has added right-handers Anthony Bass and Evan Scribner in trades and Justin De Fratus in free agency. Hard-throwing September callup Tony Zych and lefty swingman Vidal Nuno figure to be in the bullpen mix next year as well.

Dipoto has made nine trades, signed four Major League free agents -- catcher Chris Iannetta, outfielder Nori Aoki, relievers De Fratus and Cishek -- and re-signed free-agent outfielder Franklin Gutierrez since Nov. 4.

The club now has 10 days to trade, release or outright Rasmussen's contract to the Minors. The 26-year-old was acquired from Toronto on July 31 as part of a four-player trade. He was 2-1 with a 10.67 ERA in 19 games with the Mariners last season.

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Cishek was an effective late-inning arm from 2012-14, notching 88 saves with a 2.72 ERA and a 10.2 K/9 rate. Said success did not carry over into a trying '15 campaign, though, as the struggling righty lost a few ticks on his fastball velocity en route to career-worst marks in ERA (3.58), WHIP (1.48) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.78). Cishek reportedly will assume Seattle's ninth-inning role, but wise fantasy owners will not forget last season's woes. Those who draft Cishek should wait until the late rounds, while also utilizing one of their final picks on Benoit. Cishek would be a useful mixed-league stopper if he were to return to his peak form, but Benoit -- with his 42 saves, 2.35 ERA and 0.94 WHIP since the outset of '10 -- has also proven capable of finishing off games.

Zinkie on Cishek to Mariners

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.