With general manager Jerry Dipoto ill, assistant GM Justin Hollander provided the daily update to the media
LAS VEGAS — Until a late batch of moves on Wednesday afternoon, the Major League Baseball winter meetings had been bereft of trades, signings and basic transactions.
Was there a reason?
Well, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has been ill since Tuesday evening.
“He’s trying to grind the winter meetings to a halt by being sick,” joked Mariners assistant GM Justin Hollander. “No one can do anything. It’s all his fault. If we aren’t doing things, then everyone else is waiting and wondering what’s going on.”
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Dipoto missed the Mariners’ affiliate dinner on Tuesday night and then tried to rest on Wednesday. He made periodic appearances in the Mariners’ team suite to check on the work of the day.
It was an uneventful day for the Mariners. But having made six trades in the month before the winter meetings, they weren’t expected to be highly active in Las Vegas.
“It’s been pretty quiet overall,” Hollander said. “Today is usually like, to use the golf term, ‘moving day’ at the winter meetings. Agents start to get more serious about what is realistic. Teams start to get uncomfortable with what’s realistic in player signings and trades. I wouldn’t say it has been super, super active. There has been a medium amount of activity for us, but nothing imminent, nothing crazy. The phones haven’t been ringing off the hook one way or the other.”
The biggest piece of news of the day is the Mariners’ high level of interest in Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi. The Mariners spoke with his representatives on Tuesday.
“It was just sort of getting the lay of the land and the parameters for how they want to handle the process and making sure we understood the best way moving forward if we wanted to pursue it. That was super helpful to get the lay of the land. Now we’ll go back and talk about it. And see what we want to do. Obviously talent is a good thing and it’s something we are looking for. It was helpful to get a timeline on how they want to handle it.”
Kikuchi’s agent, Scott Boras, told reporters in his annual winter meetings media briefing that the plan is to hold meetings in Los Angeles with teams invited to make their sales pitch for signing with them. More than a dozen teams are reported to have interest in Kikuchi.
The Seibu Lions, Kikuchi’s team in the Nippon Professional Baseball, “posted” him on Dec. 4, giving every team a chance to negotiate with him. Under the new posting system agreed upon by MLB and NPB, the release fee to the Lions is determinant on how large of a contract that Kikuchi signs with a team.
Any MLB contract with a total guaranteed value of $25 million or less, the release fee is 20% of that guaranteed value. For contracts in between $25 million and $50 million, the release fee is 20% of the first $25 million of the guaranteed total plus 17.5% of the total guaranteed exceeding $25 million. And for contracts of $50 million or more, the release fee is 20% of the first $25 million, plus 17.5% of the total dollars between $25 and $50 million and also another 15% of the total exceeding $50 million.
The Mariners also had meetings in preparation for Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. With only 36 players on the 40-man and the need of young relievers, the Mariners are expected to look at selecting a pitcher. Seattle is set for the No. 19 spot, which does limit some options. A player selected in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 must remain on the roster all season or be offered back to his former team.
“We sort of went through the guys we’d be willing to make that leap for,” Hollander said. “It does tie up a roster spot for the rest of the winter and you are landlocked with that player. There are a couple of players that we would consider doing that with. We’ll see if they’re ultimately available at our spot, but there are a couple guys that are interesting enough that we would consider selecting them.”
On Monday, Dipoto mentioned the possibility of trading up to better spot to make a selection.
“We haven’t had any active discussions with clubs on it,” Hollander said. “But a lot of times those occur late tonight or early tomorrow morning as teams have their meetings and figure out whether they like a player enough to take somebody. No discussions to date with any club, but it’s something we have talked about and would consider.”
The Mariners continue to meet with representatives for free agent relief pitchers and position players. They need to add to their bullpen and would prefer to add a right-handed hitting outfielder and a veteran shortstop that could play if prospect J.P. Crawford isn’t ready.
“I would suspect that most of the pieces would be free agents later on in the offseason,” Hollander said. “It’s certainly possible that we could make a trade to acquire one of those pieces that’s depth for somebody else but fits for us. But I do think we are reticent to trade prospects for that type of player. We’ve made it clear that we are in asset gathering mode.”
Most of the free agent signings would be on one-year MLB deals or split MLB/minor league contracts.
“I think going in we are thinking about one-year deals,” Hollander said, “and preserving our flexibility going forward.”