SAN DIEGO – While reporters outside of the Seattle market and various employees from teams around Major League Baseball steadfastly refuse to believe it to be true, the Mariners and general manager Jerry Dipoto appear to be doing what he predicted leading up to the four-day winter meetings – staying quiet.
Given past offseasons when he made more transactions than three or four general managers combined, Dipoto’s reputation as “Trader Jerry” has made the concept of the Mariners doing little in terms of trades or signings during this week improbable if not impossible.
“He’ll do something,” said one high-level baseball scout. “He’s got to do something.”
But Dipoto reiterated his intentions again Monday.
“As we talked about it before we got here, at this point, we’ve done a lot of system work since we’ve been here and even in the time leading up,” Dipoto said. “It’s our program and what we are talking about with spring training and what we want our roster to look like with the roster invites. A lot of detail-oriented work.”
Dipoto did say they’ve had conversations with a few teams in exploring the trade market. And he has meetings set with some free agents over the next few days.
“We don’t anticipate anything happening in the short term,” he said.
Given the Mariners’ plan to play their young core this season, the projected 25-man roster has only minor holes that they plan to fill. Dipoto still plans to sign at least one experienced free-agent reliever, if not two, and a starting pitcher who is versatile enough to pitch out of the bullpen if/when touted prospect Justin Dunn takes over the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
“If there’s an opportunity for us to get better, to add players that we think can be here for more than just a cup of coffee, we would love to do that,” he said. “Whether it be via trade or even free agency with the bounce-back type of guys … guys coming off injury or ineffectiveness, there are other candidates out there we certainly have our eye on and we are open to it.”
Those signings could likely come in very late December to early January.
“Who knows, things move fast sometimes,” he said.
With the recent trade of catcher Omar Narvaez to the Brewers in exchange for pitching prospect Adam Hill and a competitive balance B pick (projected at No. 70 or 71), the Mariners have another additional need – a veteran catcher who would presumably start the season at Class AAA Tacoma along with Joe Odom, who finished last season as the Rainiers’ primary catcher. Seattle’s catcher of the future, Cal Raleigh, still is probably a year or two away from being ready to handle full MLB duties.
The Mariners will go into 2020 with Tom Murphy and Austin Nola projected as their two catchers on opening day. They need a veteran in Tacoma to provide depth in case of injury.
“We’re on that,” Dipoto said. “Part of what we are doing here is looking for that player – the Major League experienced catcher, who is open to the idea of competing for a backup spot but more than likely may be opening up in Tacoma.”
A year ago, the team signed veteran Jose Lobaton to a minor-league contract to fill a similar role. Possible candidates to fill that role this season include John Ryan Murphy, Nick Hundley, Jett Bandy, Josh Thole, Tim Fedorowicz, Adam Moore or a player of similar background.
Because he was in a two-day leadership summit with the organization’s top players in the days after the Narvaez trade, Dipoto spoke for the first time about the deal.
“Omar had a very good season for us last year across the board offensively,” Dipoto said. “But it was the opportunity to envision us getting better over the long haul. It’s not just what that 70th pick provides in terms of a potential player, but the in-draft financial flexibility is incredible. We’ve not had that in my time here. Last year, we had the comp pick but we weren’t picking high enough to make the pick functional in navigating up or sliding back.”
Basically, the comp pick means the Mariners’ bonus pool used to sign players increases by adding it. That means the team could spend over the projected slot for their No. 6 overall choice in the upcoming draft, which can be useful in leverage in drafting and signing players.
“We’ll miss Omar’s bat, but at the end of the day, the catching depth, we think it will be there on opening day,” Dipoto said. “Cal will start the season at Double A, but I don’t suspect he’s going to finish the season at Double A. The goal is to progress him the same he progressed a year ago.”
Raleigh, who is rated as Seattle’s No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline, started last season at High-A Modesto, slashing .261/.336/.535 with 19 doubles, 22 homers and 66 RBI in 82 games. He was promoted to Class AA Arkansas and posted a .228/.296/.414 slash line with six doubles, seven homers and 16 RBI in 39 games.
“If 2020 is his chance to play in the big leagues, whether that is in midseason or late season, we are going to let that happen because we think the development of our young core of players is the single most important thing we are doing,” Dipoto said. “Outside of a little fatigue, there isn’t much we would change from last year.”
Narvaez’s deficiencies on defense were an issue. Besides struggling to receive and frame pitches, he also wasn’t as adept in game-calling and preparation compared to Murphy and Nola. And that matters to the Mariners in this rebuild with all their young pitchers expected to be used this season.
“By virtue of what we are doing in trying to develop a young staff, having guys like that around, two guys that are as heady and prepared as we think of Murphy and Nola are … and not to push aside the need to score runs, but that’s not going to be our first question,” Dipoto said. “Our first question is how do we help these young guys get better because we won’t improve as a team until that pitching staff comes along.”