Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto doesn't expect to be as busy as last offseason, but there are still holes on the 25-man roster that need to be filled.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A year ago, Jerry Dipoto had made a six-player trade with the Rays before the annual Major League Baseball General Managers’ meetings had begun.
It was just the beginning.
In his first year as the Mariners’ general manager, Dipoto revamped their 40-man roster with a slew of moves to better suit his philosophy. The changes — which continued well into the season and were aided significantly by the splendid years of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager — led to an 86-76 record and postseason contention until the second to last game of the season.
Now in Year 2 of Dipoto’s tenure, fewer moves are expected. Or at least that’s what he said Tuesday, the first day of media availability at this year’s meetings.
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“Last year was about heavy lifting and effectively re-creating the way we played,” he said. “This year is about focusing on ways we get can better in the parameters we set up last year.”
The Mariners are expected to be active, but not quite like last offseason.
“I would imagine our volume will be taken down a couple of notches,” he said. “We still have a fair number of issues to address. We do have some holes on our major-league roster.”
Dipoto should have payroll budget that will allow him to do so. In an earlier interview, John Stanton, the chief executive officer for the club’s new ownership group, hinted that payroll would go up in 2017, but he wouldn’t give an exact number. Dipoto followed that lead.
“We certainly aren’t going south,” he said of payroll budget. “In all likelihood, we are going north. And we have the freedom to do what we need to do.”
But that freedom doesn’t mean they will match the payrolls of the Dodgers or Yankees. According to Spotrac.com, Seattle’s final payroll was just over $150 million in 2016. Going “north” of that might push it between $160 million and $165 million.
Dipoto raved about the communication level with the ownership group and team president Kevin Mather in that regard.
“I’ve known what our landscape was from the day I took this job,” he said. “I continue to know it, and I have a forecast of what it will be now. Nothing is going to sneak up on us. We have the flexibility and resources to do creative things, and we have flexibility and resources to answer our needs. We shouldn’t fall short because of financial issues.”
The needs are obvious: first base, corner outfield and left-handed relief.
With the departure of the platoon of Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee to free agency last season, the Mariners have just two players with first-base experience on the roster — Dan Vogelbach and Stefen Romero. Romero has played there on a limited basis and is out of minor-league options.
“We are going to have to address some form of first-base balance,” Dipoto said. “We do want to give an opportunity for Dan Vogelbach to play, but he’s going to need some help there.”
An early report out of the GM meetings said the Mariners were interested in free-agent first baseman/designated hitter Mike Napoli, who was not given a qualifying offer of $17.2 million for 2017 from the Indians after hitting .239 with an .800 on-base plus slugging percentage, 22 doubles, 24 homers and 101 RBI this season. His career .355 on-base percentage would be attractive to Seattle.
Because of the lack of a qualifying offer, a team that signs Napoli won’t have to forfeit its first-round draft pick, which makes him more attractive to suitors. It seems unlikely that the Mariners would offer a large multi-year deal to the 35-year-old. Something similar to the one-year, incentive-laden contract he signed with the Indians with perhaps an easily attainable option year is more realistic.
Though Dipoto and the Mariners have high hopes for Vogelbach, he’s a largely unknown quantity as a big-league hitter, seeing minimal playing time during his September call-up. He also has major defensive limitations that he’s trying to address in the offseason. Napoli would allow them to not overexpose Vogelbach.
Beyond Napoli, another less costly option could be fellow free agent Steve Pearce, who is more of a platoon fit with Vogelbach. He played in 85 combined games with the Rays and Orioles, hitting .288 with a .374 on-base percentage, 13 doubles, 13 homers and 85 RBI. Pearce had season-ending surgery on his elbow in September, which would lower his price tag but make him a greater risk.
In the outfield, the Mariners have Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, Ben Gamel and Boog Powell — all left-handed hitters — on the 40-man roster. That leaves two right-handed hitting options in Guillermo Heredia and Romero.
“We do need some help in the corner outfield,” Dipoto said. “Right now, we are a little left-handed, and we’d like to get right-handed help.”
The Mariners like the combination Gamel and Heredia, but a right-handed option is needed with Smith being essentially a platoon player. They would like to start top prospect Tyler O’Neill in Class AAA Tacoma this season.
The free-agent market isn’t teeming with great possibilities. Dipoto is unlikely to forfeit a draft pick and pay high dollars for a player that has a qualifying offer attached. That changes the possibilities to players such as the unpredictable Carlos Gomez, Rajai Davis or the aging Carlos Beltran. Dipoto could get creative via trade to address the need.
Free agency is an avenue for situational left-handed relief help. They lacked a lefty specialist to face tough lefties in late innings. It was a role that oft-injured Charlie Furbush was not healthy enough to fill.
Seattle has three lefty relievers on the roster — David Rollins, recent waiver claim Dean Kiekhefer and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte.
Even Vidal Nuno, who they just traded for catcher Carlos Ruiz, was not filing that role.
“We didn’t use him a situational lefty for a reason,” Dipoto said. “We thought his success was in other areas, as a multi-inning guy.”
Seattle could look at multiple free-agent left-handed relievers.
“We do feel that’s an area of the free-agent market is more robust than others,” Dipoto said.
Though the more-set roster allows Dipoto to become focused on filling needs, he will continue to tinker in other ways.
“You are always looking to improve in ways,” he said. “It never stops.”