Friday’s deals to acquire pitcher Yovani Gallardo and outfielder Jarrod Dyson solidified the roster, but it’s impossible to say the Mariners have made up the small gap that existed last year between them and the playoffs — let alone the nine games behind division-champion Texas.
The Mariners swung two trades Friday that were typical of many of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s moves, in that they appeared to incrementally improve the team, absent any “wow” factor.
Hit on enough of those deals, however, and you look up one day and find a team that has been solidified in subtle but important ways.
That’s the optimistic way to look at the additions of outfielder Jarrod Dyson and pitcher Yovani Gallardo, on top of the offseason acquisitions of infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia, left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, catcher Carlos Ruiz, outfielder Mitch Haniger and right-handed starters Rob Whalen and Max Povse.
Nothing too sexy — some of those names might not even ring a bell — but, at least theoretically, they’ve added depth, maneuverability, athleticism, speed and potential, all elements that are important parts of Dipoto’s vision for making the Mariners a sustainable contender.
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The one semi-“wow” move was Dipoto’s trade with Arizona in November for shortstop Jean Segura (along with Haniger and lefty pitcher Zac Curtis), which gives the Mariners another potent bat (Segura hit .319 for the Diamondbacks last year and led the National League with 203 hits) to add to the core of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.
But Dipoto’s approach, particularly the Mariners’ near-avoidance of the free-agent market, also comes with risks. When you search the margins for talent, you’re often relying on players who are on a downturn, with hope that you can coax a revival out of them.
That’s certainly the case with Gallardo, who once was an elite pitcher and solid as recently as 2015. But he slipped to 6-8 with a 5.42 earned-run average last year with shoulder issues and an alarming drop in velocity. Virtually every year, it seems, the Mariners go down this road with a veteran in their rotation, whether it be Wade Miley, J.A. Happ, Kevin Millwood, Joe Saunders, Chris Young, Aaron Harang or Jeff Weaver, with decidedly mixed results.
If the Mariners hit with Gallardo, it would go a long way toward solving their biggest issue, in my mind, entering 2017: the rotation. They have more than 60 starts to fill from last year, ones that were made by Taijuan Walker (who went to the Diamondbacks in the Segura deal), Miley, Nathan Karns (sent to Kansas City in the Dyson trade) and Wade LeBlanc (remember him?).
That’s on top of the uncertainty over Felix Hernandez, who once was the unquestioned rock of the staff but is coming off a year filled with disturbing downward trends; Hisashi Iwakuma, who won 16 games last year but has a lot of mileage in an arm that will be 36 in April; and James Paxton, who still hasn’t put together a fully healthy and productive season. And they still need to determine their fifth starter.
It’s a lot of things that have to go right, but the best way to prop up a problematic rotation is with a strong bullpen (a work in progress) and outstanding defense, which brings us back to Dyson. He’s a superior outfielder, and with him in left, Leonys Martin in center and Haniger, the front-runner in right field, the Mariners will go get ’em as well as anyone in the majors. Perhaps to an extent not seen here since the Ichiro/Mike Cameron/Stan Javier days of the early 2000s.
Dyson also adds a dynamic element of speed to the Mariners’ lineup, along with Segura. They combined for 63 stolen bases last year, and in the best-case scenario will cause disruption on the base paths that can be exploited by the big boppers in the lineup.
On the downside, it’s an outfield bereft of power, which can be overcome because the Mariners get so much of it from the middle infield, third base, DH and potentially at catcher. Haniger remains unproven, as does Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia (who will vie for the fourth outfield job) and Dan Vogelbach, who stands to get significant time at first. Their stats are all gaudy, but the step from minor-league phenom to major-league contributor is a huge one that an untold number of players have stumbled trying to make.
It’s thus impossible to say the Mariners have made up the small gap that existed between them and the playoffs — three games separated Seattle and the two wild-card teams — let alone the nine games behind division-champion Texas. With Houston beefing up considerably this offseason, that 15-year Mariners playoff drought remains in danger of becoming 16.
I remain encouraged by the progress that Dipoto is making toward turning his vision of the Mariners’ optimal style into reality. But I really hope he’s not done building this year’s team yet.