Mariners go separate ways, future uncertain for some

Four players are set for free agency and two have options

SEATTLE -- As the Mariners packed their bags to depart for homes and families across the country following Sunday's season-ending 3-2 loss to the A's, hugs and handshakes were exchanged with the knowledge that not all will be back next year.

Such is the nature of Major League Baseball and the Mariners have four pending free agents in outfielders Franklin Gutierrez and Norichika Aoki, first baseman Adam Lind and reliever Drew Storen, plus two other veterans -- outfielder Seth Smith and catcher Chris Iannetta -- who have club options that give the Mariners the choice of whether to re-sign them or not.

General manager Jerry Dipoto said all those players would be considered as return candidates, though the reality is that only a couple of them will likely be back.

"We'll look at all of them," Dipoto said. "The fact they were on our roster, most of them, for the entire season, they contributed or they wouldn't have been here. I think you saw through the course of the year, we weren't shy about making change when change was needed. All these guys did great jobs."

Aoki is an interesting case as he had a $5.5 million vesting option for next year that would have kicked in if he'd reached 480 plate appearances. Instead, he capped out at 467 after being sent twice to Triple-A Tacoma in the second half.

But Aoki recovered from a slow start to post a .283/.349/.388 line that is almost dead on his career averages of .286/.353/.387. So while his baserunning suffered -- just 7-for-16 on stolen bases -- and his defense is sometimes an adventure in left field, the 34-year-old delivered close to what the Mariners expected when they signed him in free agency last winter.

"He was at the end of the season, every bit of what we thought we were signing when we got him," Dipoto said. "In a really funky, out-of-balance, out-of-whack way, he wound up getting right back to his numbers, the things Nori always has done. And it was really cool to watch because for the last five weeks of the season, he was a driving force in what our lineup was doing night in and night out."

Iannetta was at the opposite end of the spectrum, playing well early and then largely sitting in the second half after wearing down and giving way to Mike Zunino.

"Chris Iannetta for the first two months of the season really couldn't have done anything more to help our organization take a step forward," Dipoto said. "Obviously he didn't finish as strong, but Chris has been in this league a long time and was a contributing partner to what we did."

Iannetta's option is for $4.25 million, which is high for a backup catcher. Smith's option of $7 million makes him a more likely candidate to be picked up as he fits well with Seattle's on-base focus. Gutierrez provided the right-handed tandem to Smith in right field, but it remains to be seen if the Mariners will give him another shot or go with younger options.

Lind is another player who will likely depart after batting .239/.286/.428, numbers well below his career norms. But the 33-year-old hit 20 home runs, including two walk-offs.

"Adam did not have his best season, but he provided us with some big moments," Dipoto said. "Dae-Ho Lee in combination with Adam Lind, when you connect the two, they put up a 40/120 season [actually 34 homers and 107 RBIs] as first basemen.

"They might not have been perfect from a WAR perspective and might not have been a threat to knock down J.T. Snow's legacy as a defensive first baseman, but they wound up having a productive year and I'm proud of them for doing it because they could have just succumbed to the criticism and melted. But they didn't. They fought, like the rest of the team."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.