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Originally published Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 4:53 PM

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Mariners have until Thursday night to exercise options on Jose Lopez, Russell Branyan, Erik Bedard

The Mariners have a 9 p.m. Thursday deadline to decide if they will exercise options on Jose Lopez, Russell Branyan and Erik Bedard. The $8 million option on Bedard will almost certainly be declined, but decisions on the $5 million options on Lopez and Branyan are unknown.

Seattle Times staff reporter

They've yet to throw the World Series parade in San Francisco and already the winter Hot Stove season is about to hit full-throttle.

The Mariners have until 9 p.m. Thursday to decide whether to exercise 2011 contract options on third baseman Jose Lopez, designated hitter Russell Branyan and pitcher Erik Bedard. New changes to the Major League Baseball collective-bargaining agreement also mean teams have only until Saturday night to negotiate exclusively with pending free agents — 10 days fewer than before.

The rule changes could have a big impact on teams such as the Boston Red Sox, where third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Victor Martinez are among the bigger names poised to hit the open market. The Mariners only have catcher Josh Bard, pitcher Jamey Wright and shortstop Chris Woodward to worry about as free agents, meaning the bigger decisions will come with Thursday's deadline for exercising options.

"We'll see," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said of how it will play out. "Obviously, we're going to look at everything. When you go through this period now, you have to look at all the options that are available to you."

Seattle is almost certain to turn down Bedard's $8 million option for 2011, though it remains to be seen what happens with the $5 million options on Lopez and Branyan. In all cases, the team could try to tear up the existing agreement and work out a more cost-effective arrangement, the way it did a year ago with shortstop Jack Wilson.

With Wilson, the Mariners declined an $8 million option for 2010 and worked out a two-year, $10 million deal.

But that won't happen in the case of Bedard, who hasn't pitched since midway through the 2009 season. The Mariners will simply be declining the option on him and, and, if they choose to have him back, would try to negotiate an incentive-laden deal with a small base salary.

In the interim, Bedard would become a free agent and could negotiate with any team.

There is potential for a Wilson-style negotiation with both Lopez and Branyan, since declining their options and letting them hit the open market is not as clear-cut. Once cut loose, both players would be likely to find work elsewhere at a reduced rate and the Mariners currently don't have obvious replacements for either.

Lopez will be only 27 next season and even though he is coming off the worst offensive performance of his career, he represents the only real power option for the team at third base.

Branyan was one of the team's top power performers until once again succumbing to back woes in September. A healthy Branyan appears to be the team's most viable designated hitter option.

Zduriencik won't tip his hand on which way he's leaning with any player.

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He said all the reports he has are that Branyan will be ready for the start of the 2011 season. As for Bedard, he expects much the same thing, but adds a cautious note that you never can tell how injuries will play out.

"The guy's missed a year and a half and he's gone through surgery," Zduriencik said of Bedard. "Whenever you take on a player like that, there's always the unknown. Obviously, you want to limit the risk you take. But there's always the unknown."

The Mariners paid Bedard a $1.5 million base salary in an incentive-laden 2010 contract, but he did not throw a pitch and underwent his second shoulder surgery in consecutive years.

In terms of free agents, the Mariners won't be impacted much by the deadline change because Bard, Wright and Woodward are players they'd likely look to re-sign on minor-league deals. All three would almost certainly explore free agency first to determine whether they can land a major-league deal on the open market.

Other changes to the CBA include a Nov. 23 deadline for offering arbitration to free agents in order to qualify for a compensatory draft pick as well as a Dec. 2 deadline for tendering contracts to all players.

Both dates are now before the Dec. 6 start of the winter meetings — they'd previously come afterward — and could spur increased trade talks and free-agent signings at the annual event.

Zduriencik said the changes won't have much of an impact on how he does business.

"You don't just start thinking about these things now," he said. "As a front office, you're always thinking about things ahead of time. We knew these were issues we faced and we've looked at the various scenarios and will continue to look at them until we have to make a final decision."

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com.

Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners

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