Eligible players left unprotected from their clubs' 40-man rosters could be selected for $50,000. A player selected must remain on his drafting team's active Major League roster for all of next season or be offered back to the original club for $25,000.
For the Mariners, their top prospects in those situations include well-regarded pitchers Brandon Mauer, Bobby LaFromboise, Anthony Fernandez, Brian Moran, Andrew Carraway and Daniel Farquhar, the right-hander obtained from the Yankees in the Ichiro Suzuki trade last July.
Among young position players who'll need to be considered are infielder Vinnie Catricala, the club's Minor League Player of the Year in 2011, and first baseman Joe Dunigan, who hit 25 home runs for Double-A Jackson last year.
Every team goes through the same situation, trying to determine which players might be plucked by other organizations if they're left exposed and whether it makes sense to move current players off the 40-man if they don't fit in the future plans.
General manager Jack Zduriencik spent some long hours with his staff at the end of last week going over the possibilities and acknowledged the Mariners have some tough calls to make.
"It's never easy," Zduriencik said. "You always like your players, but at the end, you have to make decisions. One thing that always ties into it is the question of your 41st player, can he stick with another Major League club? You expose guys, but to be picked [in the Rule 5 Draft] someone has to think they can stay with that club the whole year."
The Mariners added lefty reliever Lucas Luetge from the Brewers in the Rule 5 Draft last year, but didn't lose anyone. Zduriencik noted that it's not a bad thing to have difficult decisions on who needs to be protected.
"It's a good sign, no question," he said. "Obviously, the better your roster and Minor League system, the tougher the decisions are. You have to understand that's just part of it."
A year ago, the Mariners added three young prospects -- infielders Francisco Martinez and Carlos Triunfel and outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang -- to their 40-man roster on the deadline day. They added 10 players in 2010, including six who have since seen playing time in the Majors in Michael Pineda, Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Cesar Jimenez, Carlos Peguero and Alex Liddi.