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Clock is ticking for the Mariners, Kendrys Morales and the free-agent frenzy

By Shannon Drayer

Let the not-so-offseason begin. With the World Series in the books, the clock is now ticking as the start of the free-agent frenzy is just five days away.

Starting Tuesday, free agents are free to sign with whatever club they so desire. As of Thursday, Raul Ibanez, Oliver Perez, Endy Chavez, Humberto Quintero and Kendrys Morales are free agents. The team has an exclusive negotiating window with these players through Monday. After Monday, these players may sign with any club, including the Mariners.

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The M's may have to compete with Texas for the services of Kendrys Morales, who became a free agent Thursday. (AP)
Morales is expected to be extended the qualifying offer. Once that offer is given, the player then has seven days to accept or turn it down, which Morales is expected to do.

If this happens, I would expect the Mariners to continue negotiating with his agent, Scott Boras. Turning down the qualifying offer is not necessarily the end game for Morales and the Mariners. There is interest, the talks have been ongoing for some time and now it is a matter finding out how the market values him.

General manager Jack Zduriencik has been open about wanting to bring Morales back, but I believe he has his limits (self imposed) on how far he will go.

Zduriencik has an idea of what Morales' value to this team is and will weigh that against the dollars available, what else he wants to get done and the value of the compensation pick he would get should Morales walk. Zduriencik will get value one way or another and is comfortable with that. Signing Morales is not make or break in his eyes.

One team that has interest in Morales is Texas. You may have heard on Wednesday night's World Series broadcast that the landing spot for Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is expected to be Seattle or Texas.

The Mariners and Rangers could compete for a number of players this offseason and how this unfolds will be interesting. Now, before you dismiss that last statement with an "of course Texas will win that battle every time", remember that last offseason the Rangers surprisingly whiffed on all of their major targets. This was because they set hard limits on how far they would go for free agents and the market ran away from them.

Will they take the same approach this year? That is the interesting question. Obviously, the pressure is on with their postseason miss and their performances over the past three years, but there is also talk of budget concerns and payroll limits. Will they break the bank for Ellsbury or go above and beyond for Morales? Impossible to say, but something to keep an eye on.

What the Mariners' payroll budget will be is not known yet, and very possibly not set as CEO Howard Lincoln told me earlier this month that it most likely would not be until mid-November. There is a ton of payroll coming off the books, including the $8.5 million paid to Chone Figgins last year, but there are also guys under contract due for a raise with both Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak arbitration eligible.

With the moves Thursday, the Mariners' 40-man roster is now at 35.

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