Dipoto hopes to add to the bullpen help before the trade deadline, while Cano is working at first base in the Dominican Republic
The subject of the group interview was supposed to center around his easy and expected decision to give a multiyear contract extension to manager Scott Servais. But when Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is in front of a group of reporters answering questions, the conversation can and will shift to a variety of topics.
So after the press conference announcing the Servais extension, Dipoto held court for about 15 more minutes, discussing the return of Robinson Cano, the upcoming trade deadline and how the Mariners might supplement their current roster in the push for their first postseason spot since 2001.
They are frequent topics debated by a fanbase desperate for something more than watching other teams participate in the playoffs.
Even with his team’s strong showing in the first half and a three-game lead over the A’s for the second wild card, Dipoto hopes to a make a few moves to improve his team in a few areas. The non-waiver trade deadline is on July 31, meaning the speculation and rumor-mongering will only heighten.
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“The market has been really odd,” he said. “I do think that yesterday’s deal with Cleveland and San Diego will serve as a little bit of a push. As you guys know, three out of every four trades, they revolve around relief pitching. And that’s when the market starts to move. I’m not sure how many position players of note will move during this deadline. And I’m not sure how many starting pitchers will move. I think a lot of the business will be done around bullpens.”
Pitching is the priority, but he’s open to any deal.
“We’ve certainly had our feelers out there on a variety of different things that would help our pitching staff, whether it be bullpen or starting pitching,” he said. “And we’ve even kept some feelers out there for the potential to add a position player, whether it’s something versatile or just an addition that might help us in some way, whether it’s upgrading defense or it’s helping add a boost to our offense. But we do know that with Cano coming back that’s maybe not something I would call a primary concern. We would prefer to focus on pitching.”
The Mariners don’t seem to have the prospects to pry away a front-line starter or even top-level closer. But they do have the finances to take on more money.
“We have the resources,” he said. “And we have been told over and over that if there is something out there we can attain that helps us, then go do it.”
If you are looking at potential deals, you should keep an eye on relievers. The Mariners would like another lefty to complement James Pazos and a right-hander for the middle innings who can get strikeouts against right-handed hitters.
“Just based on the lineups we are looking at the rest of the way, both in regular season competition and the playoff contenders, they are pretty right-handed heavy,” Dipoto said. “It might be beneficial to view both left-handed and right-handed situational pitchers as targets. We are running an eight-man bullpen and a lot of those guys are flexible. They do have options and it means we can do different things.”
Those potential deals even include acquiring a rental player who would be a free agent after the season — if the price is right.
“I’ve only done it one time,” he said of the trade for first baseman Yonder Alonso last season. “It’s not ideal because of what you have to cede to get that player. I can’t say that our preference would be to go with the pure rental. It depends on what the pure rental costs in terms of player capital. We are not likely to give up our better prospects for a short-term gain. We certainly have our eyes on a couple of guys who are pending free agents who we are hopeful to acquire without tapping into that level of prospects.”
The discussion/debate about what will happen when Cano returns from his 80-game suspension for violating the MLB Joint Drug Testing agreement on Aug. 14 has been ongoing since the day it was announced on May 15.
Dipoto has answered some variation of the question of how the team will use Cano going forward on numerous occasions and did so again Friday. The answer hasn’t changed much. Dee Gordon, who has filled in quite ably at second base, will be the second baseman going forward this season since Cano can’t participate in the postseason. Meanwhile, Cano will play some second base and also see time at first base and designated hitter.
“We are looking at Dee as our second baseman,” Dipoto said. “There may be a time, especially mid-August to the end of the season where he slides out to center field for a day. But primarily he’s going to play second base.”
That plan was made clear to Cano before he went home to the Dominican Republic to train at his father’s baseball academy.
“We’ve sat down and talked with Robbie and Robbie was ‘whatever I need to do help this team get to the postseason,’ so he’s been great about it,” Dipoto said. “He’s in the Dominican working. He will still take his ground balls at second and still get his reps at second base. But he will get some reps at first base and he will get some reps at DH on a day where Nellie (Cruz) needs a game off.”
It’s something Cano was willing to accept.
“He’s in a good place,” Dipoto said. “He’s in a team-first place.”
Once the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline passes, Dipoto plans to fly to the Dominican Republic to watch Cano work out.
“I want to see what he looks like defensively,” he said.
The initial reports have been optimistic.
“He hasn’t been to our facility, but a couple of our people have gone over from Bocachica, to watch him go through the drills,” Dipoto said. “They have been very positive about what they’ve seen. Robbie has really good hands. I think transitioning to first base as an alternative position, once he does it once, he’ll realize how good he can be at it.”
The Mariners are counting down the days till Cano can return. They need his bat in the lineup. Any thoughts to the contrary are brushed off by Dipoto.
“I don’t want to state the obvious in a blunt way, but if you think we are better team without Robinson Cano in our lineup, you’re crazy,” Dipoto said. “We are a better team when he’s in there.”
Cano is eligible to participate on a rehab stint starting two weeks before his return, but he’s basically assembled “pick-up games” in the Dominican with players who work out at the academy.
“They’ve got recently released players and young upstarts there,” Dipoto said. “It’s not flipping. They’re getting real BP.”
It’s why Dipoto isn’t concerned that Cano might not be ready when his suspension ends.
“I trust him to get ready as much as anybody in there,” Dipoto said. “He’s been doing it at the Major League level and at a high level for a very long time. It’s probably the least of my concerns that he’s not going to be ready to play. His level of pride in showing up and being a good player is as high as anyone I’ve ever been around. He cares about what his performance looks like. He’s putting a lot into it. I know he’s in great shape. He was in great shape when he left.”