What is the status of Danny Hultzen and Stephen Pryor? Is there any chance either will be ready to pitch this coming season?
-- Frank G., Tacoma, Wash.

Hultzen's news isn't good. General manager Jack Zduriencik says the 2011 first-round Draft pick, who is the club's No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com, will miss the entire 2014 season as he continues rehabbing from rotator cuff surgery that he had five weeks ago. Shoulder surgeries are particularly tough for pitchers, and Hultzen is just beginning the recovery process while working out at the team's facility in Arizona.

Things are more optimistic for Pryor, who had triceps surgery in August after a season-long struggle with his arm and latissimus dorsi muscle behind his right shoulder. Zduriencik said the young reliever is expected to begin throwing in January and should be able to participate to some degree in Spring Training, though it's premature to say whether he has a chance yet to be ready by Opening Day.

If the Mariners are prepared to pay Jacoby Ellsbury so much when he is often injured, why not go after Robinson Cano? Then you could use Nick Franklin as a trade option.
-- Dale T., Mildura, Australia

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This is the beauty -- and curse -- of Hot Stove talk and free-agent speculation. You're making assumptions from what you've read, but none of that has come from the Mariners. They haven't said they're prepared to pay Ellsbury any certain amount, nor have they said they're not interested in Cano. All that's happened so far is strictly media speculation that Ellsbury might make sense in Seattle since the Mariners need outfield help, have some payroll flexibility and Ellsbury grew up in Oregon.

Would they like to have Ellsbury? Sure. Cano? Obviously. The question is not just at what cost, but whether those players will choose Seattle over other teams bidding for their services. Early reports were that Cano was seeking a 10-year, $310 million deal. Realistically, he won't get that much, but he's going to cash a huge check, and I'll still be surprised if he doesn't wind up staying with the Yankees.

Ellsbury makes sense, not because he's from Oregon so much as that he's a quality outfielder and the Mariners have payroll room and are in need of one, if not two, players to improve themselves there. But Ellsbury hasn't said he's interested in Seattle and it takes two to tango. I expect Seattle to be mentioned prominently in regard to all the top free-agent outfielders, whether it's Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo or Nelson Cruz, as well as some of the second-tier guys. If they don't add an impact player there, either by trade or free agency, it will be a disappointing offseason.

Why is there no talk about signing Cruz? He's like a Michael Morse, but has shown more than one year of success. It couldn't hurt to bring in a power hitter that can hit a lefty. Not to mention he would be cheap, too.
-- Logan J., Kennewick, Wash.

As mentioned above, I expect Cruz to be mentioned prominently among the Mariners' potential pursuits. The obvious knock will be his 50-game suspension in the Biogenesis case, but he's one of the premier power hitters available and would provide welcome right-handed punch for Seattle. But he's also 33 years old, not a great defender and has far better career numbers at home in Texas than on the road, so one might wonder about the Safeco Field impact.

Not sure what you call "cheap," but Cruz likely will draw something close to $15 million a year. The question will be how many years and how far the Mariners -- and other teams -- will be willing to bid against each other to lock him up? I think he'd be a nice fit in Seattle, particularly if Kendrys Morales signs elsewhere, but it'll be a competitive market for him.

I'm a longtime Mariners fan down under and saw a short clip on the news here that the Mariners have sent some prospects to play in the Australian Baseball League for the Adelaide Bite. Can you tell me who they are and what the Mariners expect of their experience in the ABL?
-- Geoff T., Adelaide, South Australia

The Mariners have four players competing for Adelaide in the ABL this winter: right-handed pitchers David Holman and Min Sih Chen, left-hander Blake Holovach and third baseman Brock Hebert. Holman is the son of former Mariners pitcher Brian Holman and pitched for Class A Clinton last season, as did Holovach. Chen is a 23-year-old from Taiwan who pitched for Short-A Everett, and Hebert hit .281 for Class A High Desert. All are young prospects looking to gain experience and improve their games over the offseason. And a little time in Australia doesn't sound bad either.

The Cardinals had seven returning players from their 2011 world championship team and were again in the World Series. How many Mariners were on the roster this year from their 2011 team?
-- Gary O., Kennewick, Wash.

The Mariners had eight players from their '11 team who played significant roles again this past season -- Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Saunders, Charlie Furbush, Felix Hernandez and Tom Wilhelmsen.

With Morales saying he won't re-sign with the Mariners next year, wouldn't it make sense to sign Raul Ibanez for another year and put him at DH, which frees up a spot in the outfield for the kids yet continues to provide a veteran in the clubhouse and at the plate?
-- Mary H., University Place, Wash.

First off, it's important to note that Morales hasn't said he won't re-sign with Seattle. He merely turned down their qualifying offer, as did all 13 players around the Majors who received the one-year, $14.1 million bids. He preferred to become a free agent and is now able to negotiate longer-term deals with any team, including the Mariners.

If Morales does sign elsewhere, I think that would increase the chance of Ibanez returning, as he is best suited for primarily a DH role at this point. But the Mariners might want to get more athletic and versatile with their roster and bench, so it'll be interesting to see if Ibanez gets another invite.

Two questions: Is Carlos Peguero out of options? And, any chance the Mariners go to a six-man rotation?
-- Bugsy M., Spokane, Wash.

Peguero is out of Minor League options, along with Hector Noesi, so those are two guys who will either need to make the 25-man roster to start the season or be exposed to waivers. And, no, I wouldn't expect a six-man rotation, which would mean fewer starts for Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.

Iwakuma and Hernandez were a combined 26-16 last year, while the rest of the starters had a 29-42 record. Adding more starts to the back end of the rotation at the expense of your two All-Stars doesn't seem like a wise idea.