The Mariners announced Tuesday that righty Drew Steckenrider, who’d been designated for assignment last week, has cleared outright waivers and been assigned to Triple-A Tacoma. He’ll remain with the club but will not hold a spot on the 40-man roster.
Steckenrider has enough service time to reject the assignment in favor of free agency, but doing so would require forfeiting the remainder of this year’s $3.1MM salary. Players gain the right to reject outright assignments beginning with three years of service time, but they can only reject an outright and retain the remainder of their salary once they have five-plus years of service. Steckenrider, 31, entered the season with four years and 94 days of service, meaning he needed another 78 days of service to reach five years. He’s still 10 days shy of reaching that five-year service milestone, so Steckenrider figures to accept the assignment so he can retain the $1.935MM yet to be paid out on his deal.
A minor league signee with the Mariners in Dec. 2020, Steckenrider was a revelation for Seattle’s bullpen in 2021 when he pitched to an even 2.00 ERA with a 21.7% strikeout rate and 6.4% walk rate over the life of a team-leading 67 2/3 bullpen innings. Steckenrider tallied seven holds and eventually got the nod as one of manager Scott Servais’ preferred ninth-inning option, going 14-for-17 in save opportunities. With that showing, Steckenrider looked to have shaken off an injury-marred 2019-20 stretch that saw him pitch to a 6.28 ERA in 14 1/3 innings with the Marlins, for whom he’d previously been a quality setup man.
However, the 2021 season has again been a struggle for the former eighth-rounder. Steckenrider appeared in 16 games with the Mariners this season, pitching to a 5.95 ERA with a dramatically reduced 14.7% strikeout rate against a slightly elevated (but still solid) 7.4% walk rate. His average fastball velocity hasn’t dropped (94.4 mph in 2022, 94.2 mph in 2021), but hitters have teed off on the pitch so far in 2022 after floundering against it a year ago. Opponents batted just .216/.275/.346 last year in plate appearances ending in a heater, whereas they hit .333/.415/.528 in 2022.
Steckenrider had already been optioned to Triple-A Tacoma and made four appearances, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks with three strikeouts. He’ll continue working to get back to his 2021 form with the Rainiers in hopes of an eventual return to the MLB roster. If he does make it back to the big leagues, he’d be arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter. If not, he’ll be able to become a free agent at season’s end (as is the right at the end of the season for any player with three-plus years of service who’s been outrighted and not added back to the 40-man roster).