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Mariners in play for top free agents

The Mariners last season were just a piece or two away from being a playoff team, and they’re reportedly trying to take that next step this winter.

According to a report from FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, the M’s are “interested” in Hanley Ramirez, but Victor Martinez is their “priority.”

Both players have received qualifying offers (Ramirez from the Dodgers and Martinez from the Tigers) and are expected to decline by Monday’s deadline. The issue is that both players are likely to command deals north of $100 million and Rosenthal says Seattle may be unwilling to pay that kind of money.

Ramirez — whose days at shortstop may be numbered, regardless of where he lands — hit .283 with 13 homers and 71 RBIs for the Dodgers last year. Martinez was arguably the Tigers’ best hitter last season and would provide protection for Robinson Cano that he’s never had in the heart of the Mariners lineup.

The Mariners were 12th in the AL with a .376 slugging percentage last year, ahead of only Texas, Boston and Tampa Bay.

– Joey Nowak

Report: Liriano may accept Pirates’ QO

Since the current collective bargaining agreement went into effect three seasons ago, no free agent has accepted a qualifying offer from his previous club.

That may change this year, as Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweeted Sunday afternoon that, according to sources, Francisco Liriano is still considering a qualifying offer from Pittsburgh among his free agency options.

On Nov. 3, the Pirates extended the one-year, $15.3 million offer to two of their free agents, Liriano and catcher Russell Martin, who is expected to decline his. The deadline to accept is 5 p.m. ET Monday.

Liriano has spent the last two seasons with the Pirates, earning a total of $9 million. He was 7-10 with with a 3.38 ERA though 29 starts in 2014.

– Chad Thornburg

Report: “Optimism” in SF that Sandoval will stay

With the deadline for free agents to reject or accept qualifying offers coming on Monday, opposing teams are reportedly close to writing off third baseman Pablo Sandoval signing elsewhere.

Buster Olney wrote in his ESPN Insider column Sunday that there is “optimism” in San Francisco that Sandoval will remain, though he’s already turned down the Giants’ $15.3 million qualifying offer and is reportedly seeking a six-year deal.

MLB.com‘s Chris Haft wrote this week that whether Sandoval re-signs in San Francisco “will shape the course of the club’s offseason.”

Sandoval was set to meet with the Red Sox at the General Managers meetings but Olney writes that other teams are getting the sense that Sandoval will stay with the Giants, and have begun exploring other options on the market.

In addition to the Giants and Red Sox, the Blue Jays and White Sox have also reportedly been interested in Sandoval.

– Joey Nowak

McCarthy waiting for chips to fall

Though right-hander Brandon McCarthy should get plenty of attention this winter, the free agent is reportedly waiting for other starters around him to sign before making any moves.

CBSSports.com‘s Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees — McCarthy’s club for the second half of the season — have engaged him in contract talks, but he’s inclined to sit back and wait for other free agents such as Jon Lester, James Shields and Max Scherzer to sign first. McCarthy will be highly sought-after, but as a middle-of-the-rotation kind of starter who will fit in behind those aforementioned aces.

McCarthy, 31, has pitched for three different clubs (Oakland, Arizona, New York) in the last three seasons. After a mediocre 2013 and first half of 2014 with the D-backs, he pitched extremely well for the Yankees in the second half of last year, going 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA.

– Joey Nowak

Pirates, Dodgers, Blue Jays among Martin suitors

As expected, the list of clubs with interest in free agent catcher Russell Martin is substantial. It’s been reported that the Cubs have met with Martin, and the Pirates, Dodgers and Blue Jays are also expected to do so.

It’s worth noting that Martin played the first five years of his career — from 2006-10 — with the Dodgers, twice being named an All-Star and winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 2007. He’s played the last two seasons with the Pirates, and is a Canada native, so all three landing spots would make sense for the 31-year-old.

Martin hit .290 with 11 homers and 67 RBIs for the Pirates last year. Without him, the Bucs are looking at a catching corps of veteran backup Chris Stewart and youngster Tony Sanchez.

A.J. Ellis was the Dodgers’ everyday catcher last year (93 games), but he hit just .191 with three homers and 25 RBIs. Veteran Dioner Navarro caught 139 games for the Jays last year, and had more comparable numbers (.264 average with 12 homers and 69 RBIs) to what Martin could provide . The Jays are set to pay him $5 million next season.

– Joey Nowak

Report: Sandoval rejects Giants’ QO

It comes as really no surprise, but Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval has reportedly turned down San Francisco’s qualifying offer that was made official yesterday.

FOXSports.com‘s Ken Rosenthal tweeted the news Tuesday morning, which means Sandoval will hit the free agent market this winter. The Giants will receive a compensatory draft pick in the 2015 Draft if Sandoval signs with another club.

Sandoval is the first of the 12 players who received $15.3 million qualifying offers to turn it down. Most are expected to do so. The deadline to come to that decision is 5 p.m. ET on November 10.

– Joey Nowak

12 players receive qualifying offers

With the Monday afternoon deadline coming and going, 12 top free agents have received a $15.3 million qualifying offer.

They are: James Shields (Royals)Michael Cuddyer (Rockies), Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez (Tigers)Ervin Santana (Braves)Hanley Ramirez (Dodgers), Pablo Sandoval (Giants), Melky Cabrera (Blue Jays)Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin (Pirates), David Robertson (Yankees) and Nelson Cruz (Orioles).

Thirteen players received $14.1 million qualifying offers —  determined by the average annual salary of baseball’s top 125 contracts — last year, and none of them accepted. Cruz and Santana were both a part of that group, and neither signed until late in the offseason (Cruz on February 24 and Santana on March 12). It is expected that most — if not all — will reject the one-year contract, though Cuddyer, Liriano and Robertson are most likely to accept.

The aforementioned 12 players now have until 5 p.m. ET on November 10 to accept or decline the qualifying offer. If they sign with another club, the team that offered them the qualifying offer will receive a compensatory draft pick in the 2015 Draft.

– Joey Nowak

Relievers Davis, Peralta have options picked up

Two of the best late-innings relievers in the game will not hit the free agent market this winter, as the Rays picked up the option on right-hander Joel Peralta‘s contract for next season and the Royals did the same with setup man Wade Davis.

It comes as no surprise that the Royals would pick up Davis’ $7 million option after his standout 2014 season. The right-hander was dominant in a team-high 71 appearances for Kansas City, going 9-2 with a 1.00  ERA in 72 innings ahead of closer Greg Holland.

Davis’ 1.00 ERA led all Major League relievers and was eighth-lowest all-time by an AL reliever. His 109 strikeouts were also a club record for a reliever.

Peralta, who ranked second on the Rays staff with 69 appearances last year, leads all Major League pitchers with 296 appearances since he joined the Rays in 2011.

“Joel has accomplished a lot in a Rays uniform, and we are excited to welcome him back for a fifth season,” Erik Neander, the Rays’ vice president of baseball operations, said in a statement. “He’s a fiery competitor, a model teammate and a leader in the clubhouse.”

Peralta’s option was for $2.5 million.

– Joey Nowak

Shields gets qualifying offer

Royals right-hander James Shields, as expected, is now among the Major Leaguers to be extended a qualifying offer.

Kansas City made the $15.3 million offer official on Monday. Shields now has until the 5 p.m. ET deadline on November 10 to decline or accept the offer. If he declines and opts to sign with another club, the Royals will receive a compensatory pick in the 2015 Draft.

Shields is expected to decline the offer and become one of the most sought-after free agent pitchers on the market this winter, though it does not necessarily rule out a return to Kansas City.

The 32-year-old righty helped pace the Royals to the postseason for the first time in 29 years this season. He went 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA in the regular season, but went just 1-2 with a 6.12 ERA in five playoff starts.

In two years with the Royals, Shields has won 27 games in 68 starts, with a 3.18 ERA. He’s thrown at least 227 innings in both seasons.

– Joey Nowak

Brewers’ Ramirez exercises his half of mutual option

Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez exercised his half of his mutual option on Monday, and will remain with the club at least one more year.

The Brewers exercised their half on Friday. Ramirez will make $14 million in 2015.

The 36-year-old veteran hit .285 with 15 home runs and 66 RBIs in 133 games this year. He was named an NL All-Star for the third time in his career and the first time during his Milwaukee tenure.

– Joey Nowak

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