CARLSBAD, Calif. – It’s a setting where Jerry Dipoto can flourish with great enjoyment. No, it wasn’t the lush golf course in the background of the swanky deck of the La Costa Resort & Spa or the 70-degree temps and endless sunshine that energized the Mariners general manager.
Instead, it was being surrounded by baseball media at the annual general managers’ meetings, answering an assortment of questions about his team, an offseason filled with expectations and ambitions, specific players and more.
Always verbose and thoughtful in his answers, Dipoto draws a crowd in these gatherings because he likes to talk all the things baseball and won’t stop until every question is asked.
In the relatively informal media session Tuesday afternoon, featuring all American League general managers, Dipoto was one of the first to start answering questions and one of the last to finish, going almost 70 minutes.
Given the length of the discussion, here are a few key takeaways.
Discussing the CBA is a non-starter
While he was more than willing to take questions on the looming expiration of the collective-bargaining agreement between the MLB owners and the MLB Players’ Association and how it might affect their offseason process, Dipoto had a similar answer to all variations of it.
“It’s the same way, we’re just going about our business as usual with the idea that we control what we can control and we’re very optimistic that we’re going to be able to go about that business as usual,” he said. “Every year in my career in November, we come to the GM meetings, we court free agents, we talk about trades, we’re doing those same things today.”
And controlling what he can control means sticking to their typical routines despite a potential lockout or significant changes to the luxury tax or arbitration system in the next collective-bargaining agreement.
“If that becomes part of my process, then I’m not focusing on what we focus on what we can do today, which is focusing on building our roster within the parameters of the system,” he said. “It’s all we can do.”
J.P. Crawford is the Mariners shortstop
The free-agent class of shortstops is one of the best in baseball history with Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Javier Baez all available.
If the Mariners were able to sign one of those players, they won’t be playing shortstop.
That job belongs to J.P. Crawford.
“One of the first conversations I had this offseason was with J.P,” Dipoto said. “I told him, ‘Hey, you are our shortstop. You will see that we are courting other shortstops, but it is with the understanding that the inquiry is made with the intent that that player is willing to move to another position.'”
The Mariners have open everyday spots at third base and second base.
“That flexibility gives us a chance to target the most impactful player we can find,” Dipoto said. “As long as that player is willing to not play shortstop, primarily, then we should be in the game.”
Correa has said he will play third base in the right situation while the Mariners have known interest in Story, who played some second base and third base while in the Rockies’ minor-league system.
A’s as trading partners?
Dipoto has proven that the mantra of not trading players within the division is “well outdated.” He made a trade with the Astros at the deadline and has made multiple deals with the Rangers and Athletics.
“With the exception of the Angels, we’ve made a trade with everyone else,” he said.
With rumors growing stronger that the A’s are looking to trade their core group of players — third baseman Matt Chapman, first baseman Matt Olson and pitchers Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt and Lou Trivino – who are all now arbitration eligible, the Mariners will be one of many interested trading partners.
“I don’t know whether they will, or they won’t,” Dipoto said. “But I can tell you we will talk to them a lot.”
The Mariners have interest in Chapman to fill their third-base hole, while both Manaea and Bassitt are proven MLB starters that would fill immediate needs.
“We like them all,” Dipoto said. “We’ve traded with them before. Sometimes it has worked out better than others.”
Suzuki in the outfield?
No, Ichiro isn’t making a comeback to play for the Mariners. Though he probably believes he could still contribute and is still working out daily at T-Mobile Park.
But with the Yusei Kikuchi declining his player option, the Mariners could enter the 2020 season without a Japanese player on the 40-man roster for the first time since 1997.
That could change if outfielder Seiya Suzuki is posted by his team in the Nippon Professional Baseball league and is available as a free agent. The Mariners do have legitimate interest in Suzuki, who posted a .319/.436/.640 slash line with 26 doubles, 38 homers, 88 RBI, 87 walks and 86 strikeouts for Hiroshima this past season.
“I think Seiya is a wonderful player,” Dipoto said. “We’ve had a great opportunity to scout him. We’ve seen him both far and wide in video and we’ve seen him live. I will say, we’re not going to choose to start the season without a Japanese player. There’s always opportunities.”
The readiness of Kyle Lewis for spring training due to his troublesome left knee is still largely unknown for Dipoto and the Mariners. After missing the first 17 games of the season due to a bone bruise in the left knee, the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year played in just 36 games for Seattle in his sophomore season. He suffered a torn meniscus in the left knee on May 31, which later required surgery. Lewis suffered a setback in September while running the bases in his rehab and was shut down for the season.
“We don’t know is the real answer to the question,” Dipoto said. “We anticipate that he will be back when we get to spring training and we don’t really have a guess as to what he’s going to be capable of until we see it.”
Lewis hasn’t undergone any further surgical procedures to the knee.
“He’s rehabbing and rehabbing recovering from the one procedure he had, and he hasn’t had any other invasive procedures, but he has had some care,” Dipoto said.
Dipoto didn’t provide specifics on the “care,” but some athletes have used injections of platelet rich plasma into troublesome injuries to help healing process.
“I know Kyle feels better, but he’s not undergoing any type of baseball activity,” he said. “It’s a very much wait-and-see process. We have to plan our offseason as if whatever he gives us is a bonus. We are anticipating that that will look something like center field, plus left field, plus DH and I don’t know, if I’m doling out percentages, I don’t know what position will be what percentage until we see him move around.”
Evan White (hip surgery) was cleared to start baseball activity 10 days ago and has been hitting off a tee. The expectation is that he will be ready to go when spring training starts.
Justin Dunn (shoulder strain) has been cleared to participate in normal offseason activity and throwing program.
Nick Margevicius (thoracic outlet syndrome surgery) has been cleared to resume offseason workouts and throwing.