Despite a report the Mariners were linked to free agent outfielder Jay Bruce, general manager Jerry Dipoto is focused on acquiring pitching.
ORLANDO, Fla. — On Monday evening, general manager Jerry Dipoto stated clearly that he had no plans to add a major acquisition to his position player group, saying that the projected 12 or 13 spots were already on his 40-man roster.
Less than an hour later, noted transaction tracker Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports and MLB Network tweeted out that the Mariners were one of four teams that were interested in signing slugging free agent outfielder Jay Bruce.
So had something changed? Was Dipoto playing coy to the local writers to maneuver on the free agent market? Was Bruce’s agent trying to drive the market? Did the Mariners have designs on signing Bruce and then trading a young outfielder like Mitch Haniger in a package of players to acquire a starting pitcher?
No, it was just kind of the flow of the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings and how it works with Twitter and rumors.
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A move to sign the 31-year-old Bruce certainly would go against much of what Dipoto has tried to do with his roster, which is make it younger, more athletic, better defensively and more cost effective in spots. Early reports of Bruce wanting a 5-year, $80-90 million contract were met with a collective eye roll by insiders, knowing he would never command that much, even after belting 36 homers last season. A 3-year contract with an option year for $45-50 million seemed plausible if not on the high end. And with so many dollars already committed over the next few years for Seattle, it seemed like a bad fit upon first glance and a worse fit with a deeper look.
Asked about being linked to a big-name free agent outfielder, Dipoto was candid.
“I don’t really answer to links,” he said. “That doesn’t move my needle. We are linked to everything because we are constantly involved in everything.”
Indeed, it is Dipoto’s philosophy to engage in conversations with any and all possibilities, regardless of fit, price or practicality.
“We are generally getting a feel for what’s out there in the market,” he said.
Perhaps no better example of this was the Mariners conference with designated hitter/outfielder Mark Trumbo and his representatives during last year’s winter meetings. During his career, Trumbo has been traded twice by Dipoto, including the previous offseason’s deal that sent him from Seattle to Baltimore for back-up catcher Steve Clevenger.
So while the Mariners had minimal interest in signing Trumbo and no real fit on their roster, they still met with him to get a feel for what he was looking for, believing that his market could influence the market of players they were trying to sign.
“I think due to the frequency of our activity, it’s convenient to attach us to players, no matter who it is,” Dipoto said.
He reiterated his previous assertion that he won’t be adding to his position player group.
“Like I said yesterday, I can’t envision a scenario — outside of an unexpected trade, a major complication or a paradigm shift on the way our roster sets up,” Dipoto said. “That’s our group. We are looking at smaller moves on the position player side.”
Now adding to the pitching staff is a completely different situation. That’s not set. It’s liquid. Adding pitching has been their focus going into the offseason and enhanced after acquiring Dee Gordon and losing out on Shohei Ohtani.
“Today we spent absolute zero time talking about position players,” Dipoto said. “We were entirely focused on our pitching. Again, we are on the bases with that, but we have to see if we can score the run.”
A metaphor about offense to describe the process to acquire pitching is kind of amusing and even funner given the Mariners baserunning woes last season as a team. So what base are the Mariners on in terms of acquiring a pitcher?
“We’re still in the ballpark,” he said. “But we may be more between first and second than between third and home. We’re somewhere and we are in motion.”
With three open roster spots on the 40-man roster, Dipoto will likely use all three on pitchers.
“Sometimes you don’t get to 40,” he said. “Right now, we are anticipating playing in the Rule 5 draft. That will pick up one spot We are hopeful that we add at least one, if not two pitchers as well.”
Slot money surplus
With their pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, the Mariners picked up an extra $2.5 million in international bonus pool money from opposing teams in three trades. Added to their remaining pool, Seattle now has $3.557 million to spend on international free agents. The money in that pool must be used before a June 15 deadline or it’s lost.
“Somewhere between now and then that 3 and half million dollars in slots will be put to good use,” Dipoto said. “In some combination is the potential of going out and signing prospects and bringing them into the system or potentially trading it in a very similar way to which we acquired it. There’s still value to it in the market. So it will be some combination of trade and spend.”
The Mariners were among the myriad of teams that scouted speedy Cuban outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez. The 21-year-old is the top player on the market right now. There is still talent out there available.
“Always,” he said. “It’s year round.”
As for a possible trade, Seattle did shop some of its slot money to the Tampa Bay Rays.
MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported that the Rays had reached an agreement with 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Jelfry Marte on Tuesday afternoon. Marte was considered a top prospect when the July 2 signing period opened. He planned to sign for a $3 million bonus with the Minnesota Twins. However, the contract was voided after Marte failed his physical. Reports of vision issues were the reason.
The Rays decided to take the chance on Marte. But they have just about $440,000 in pool money to offer, which isn’t close to enough. Seattle shopped its pool money to the Rays as did a few other teams, according to a MLB source. The Rays are looking to only offer a prospect back in return. The initial prospect the Mariners asked for was considered too high for Tampa. The Rays are weighing the possible deals from each team offering slot money. But the Rays and Mariners have made a half dozen trades with each other the last two seasons. So there is working relationship and familiarity.
Drew Smyly’s tenure with the Mariners is over without throwing a regular season pitch. The left-hander, who is recovering from season-ending Tommy John surgery, signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs. With Smyly likely to miss all of the 2017 season and owed more than $5 million as an arbitration eligible player, the Mariners did non-tendered his contract. They instead tried to sign Smyly to a two-year deal at a reduced yearly total and at least get a full 2018 season out of him before he became a free agent. Instead, he opted to test the open market.
Dipoto confirmed that the Mariners have signed former UW infielder Matt Hague to a minor league contract. The Kentwood grad hit .297 with a .789 OPS, 30 doubles, 10 homers and 65 RBI for Class AAA Rochester (Twins) last season.
Mariners manager Scott Servais met with the media on Wednesday. Servais said the initial plan is to bat Dee Gordon in the leadoff spot and Jean Segura in the No. 2 spot.