Unlike Thanksgiving eve in 2016 when Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto took a break from his “mise en place” to make a six-player trade with trade with Arizona that brought Jean Segura and a relatively unknown outfielder named Mitch Hanger to Seattle, Wednesday passed without a transaction or even a rumor on Twitter.
In an offseason filled with the highest expectations since he joined the Mariners in September of 2015, Dipoto has yet to make a transaction — a free-agent signing or trade — to acquire the impact hitters or starting pitchers that he’s spoke openly about as the team’s offseason goals.
It’s not for lack of trying. MLB sources said that Dipoto has traveled to the home cities of a few free agents since meeting with their representatives at the GM meetings. And will do so in the coming days.
As expected, the free-agent market for position players has been relatively nonexistent with none of the top-tier position players signing contracts or even moving toward agreements. The oft-made prediction that infielders such as Carlos Correa, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Javy Baez and Trevor Story might wait till after a new collective-bargaining agreement is reached, likely in February, seems to be coming to fruition.
With the expectation that owners will lock out the players when the CBA expires Dec. 2 and a transaction freeze put in place, teams have six days to get a deal done before what will feel like an interminable wait.
Meanwhile, the starting pitching market has at least been active if not robust.
As of Thursday morning, seven free-agent starting pitchers had officially signed contracts with teams:
- Andrew Heaney, LHP, Dodgers — 1 year, $8.5 million
- Eduardo Rodríguez, LHP, Tigers — 5 years, $77 million
- Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Angels — 1 year, $21 million
- Justin Verlander, RHP, Astros — 2 years, $50 million
- Anthony DeSclafani, RHP, Giants — 3 years, $36 million
- Stephen Matz, LHP, Cardinals — 4 years, $44 million
- Jose Quintana, LHP, Pirates — 1 year, $2 million
Also lefty Alex Wood reached an agreement to return to the Giants on a 2-year, $20 million contract that hasn’t been made official yet.
Of that group, the Mariners had the most interest in DeSclafani, who didn’t have a qualifying offer attached to him, and had been a trade target in years past when he was with the Reds. There was also interest in Rodriguez, who at 28, fits their age and pitching profile but did have a qualifying offer attached to him.
The expectation is that Dipoto would like to add two established starters — one who profiles more as a front-of-the-rotation performer and another to fill out the rotation as perhaps a No. 4-5 — if possible. There are still viable options for both types of pitchers on the market to join a rotation that features Marco Gonzales, Logan Gilbert and Chris Flexen.
Top remaining free agents ranked by 2021 FanGraphs’ WAR:
- Max Scherzer, RHP (5.4) — Even at 37, he’s still an elite arm. But for how long? He wants to be a finishing piece for a World Series contender. The M’s don’t fit that team profile.
- Carlos Rodon, LHP (4.9) — He’ll turn 29 in December and has plenty of talent. But health will always be a question with him, which is why the White Sox didn’t extend a qualifying offer on him.
- Kevin Gausman, RHP (4.8) — The No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 pick was trending toward being a bust, but he has started to reach his potential over the past few years. He’ll be 31 in January and will be looking for a deal similar to Rodriguez.
- Robbie Ray, LHP (3.9) — The AL Cy Young Award winner has seemed to found a level of command to harness his nasty and volatile stuff. But he will cost the team that signs him a draft pick after refusing the Blue Jays qualifying offer.
- Marcus Stroman, RHP (3.4) — He’s proven to be durable despite his smaller frame. And his ultracompetitive nature and sinker/slider pitch mix would fit perfectly with the Mariners’ staff.
- Alex Cobb, RHP (2.5) — He’ll be 34 in the 2022 season and fits as a back-of-the-rotation filler with a minimal commitment.
- Jon Gray, RHP (2.3) — A career 4.59 ERA in 151 starts with the Rockies seems a bit scary to fans. But he’s durable and scouts believe he will benefit significantly in a new environment.
- Tyler Anderson, LHP (2.1) — The Mariners made it clear they’d like to bring Anderson back for 2022 and beyond after he pitched so well at the end of 2021.
If the Mariners can’t land Gausman or Stroman for front-line help, they will certainly look at potential for trades with the A’s and Reds. Oakland has starters Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas available, while Cincy is rumored to be shopping veteran Sonny Gray and the ultra-talented Luis Castillo.
While Dipoto is motivated to add players and likes to be aggressive early. The looming lockout and the uncertainty surrounding it has made this offseason more unpredictable than most. But the last thing he will do is panic, particularly with starting pitching.
He shouldn’t overpay for a free-agent pitcher who doesn’t fit the plans or philosophy. He won’t give up an excessive amount much in prospect capital to make a trade for anything less than a front-of-the-rotation arm.
They can piece together a rotation with two lower-tier signings, take chances on low-risk/high-reward pitchers coming off injuries such as James Paxton. They could still give one-time heralded prospects Justus Sheffield or Justin Dunn another extended opportunity in the rotation. There is also the hope of top prospects such as Matt Brash, George Kirby and Brandon Williamson being ready to help by midseason. And Dipoto can always re-engage the trade market at midseason.
Improving your roster comes with a cost, but it should also come with the conscious understanding that adding for the sake of adding isn’t ideal, particularly trying to force it to happen in the next six days.