General manager Jerry Dipoto’s seemingly never-ending stream of roster moves dwindled. He made three, not 13, significant moves this offseason, bringing in three players who are expected to be major contributors.
PEORIA, Ariz. — In the first two seasons under general manager Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners’ offseason roster churn brought in enough new players and faces that the 40-man roster resembled a singles mixer.
But with a good portion of his own players in place going into 2018, Dipoto’s seemingly never-ending stream of roster moves dwindled.
There wasn’t a great need.
Of course, that didn’t stop him from making at least a few moves to supplement his 25-man roster.
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Dipoto made three, not 13, significant moves this offseason, bringing in three players who are expected to be major contributors.
His first acquisition came Nov. 15, trading for Oakland A’s infielder Ryon Healy to be the team’s everyday first baseman. He hit 38 homers in 221 games during the past two seasons with the A’s.
“It was a very big piece,” manager Scott Servais said. “It allowed us to do some other things with the resources we had to play with this offseason — a young guy with power and some upside. We think sticking him at first base and letting him sit there rather than bouncing back and forth from third to first helps him. He fits very nice in our lineup. It’s not like we’re going to ask him to hit fourth for us. He’ll hit seventh, eighth, wherever it fits on that particular day. It should be a nice weapon to have at the bottom of the lineup.”
The Mariners’ plan was slightly sidetracked when Healy underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his right hand Feb. 14, just days before the team’s first full workout. There was some initial concern that Healy might not be ready for opening day, but the big first baseman is back playing in games and ready to go.
“I think I’m in a good enough place right now where I feel competitive and that’s the biggest thing,” Healy said. “As long as you can step on the field and feel competitive, it’s just getting better each and every day.”
The Mariners’ second major move of the offseason seemed a bit curious at first when they capitalized on the Marlins’ roster fire sale by acquiring All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon for three players, including top pitching prospect Nick Neidert. With Robinson Cano entrenched at second base and under contract for the next six years and not ready to move to first base yet, the Mariners asked Gordon to switch to center field while being their leadoff hitter.
“Dee is a throwback in a number of different ways, not just the approach at the plate, but how he works at his game and the little things in his game that he’s constantly trying to get better at,” Servais said. “And we aren’t going to change Dee Gordon. We don’t want to. We acquired him for a certain reason — to hit at the top of our lineup, get on base and create some havoc on the bases and play really good defense in center field.”
After some initial skepticism, Gordon embraced the change in position. His transformation has been astounding, thanks in large part to a lot of daily work before reporting to spring training. He’s made the tough plays look easy and the routine plays afterthoughts. He looks as if he has been playing outfield his whole career.
“Watching him play in center field, he’s way beyond my expectations to this point,” Servais said. “I thought he’d be really good. But I just didn’t think it would happen this quick. I love where he’s at and I love having him on the ballclub.”
The third big addition came during the winter meetings when the team signed free-agent reliever Juan Nicasio to a two-year, $17 million contract to serve as a setup man to closer Edwin Diaz and to be a fill-in closer if needed.
Nicasio, 31, posted a 5-5 record last season, with six saves and a 2.61 ERA in 76 appearances — the most in baseball.
His importance to the bullpen was heightened when David Phelps was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament last week.
“It’s really rare to see a guy pitch 162 games,” Servais joked. “But if anybody can do it, I’m betting on Juan Nicasio. He’s in really good shape and he’s just wired that way mentally and physically. He’s strong as an ox. He wants to take the ball and that’s his thing, to be available as often as possible. I don’t know a manager alive who doesn’t appreciate that.”
Nicasio has added some value off the field as a mentor to Diaz. The two are often together.
“Eddie stays pretty close to him and I have no problem with that,” Servais said. “Juan does things the right way. So he’s a good guy for Eddie to follow around.”