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Drayer: Jerry Dipoto confident Mariners can enter season with current rotation pieces

The Mariners will hope for Felix Hernandez to stave off injuries in 2017. (AP)
LISTEN: Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto on team's pursuit of starting pitching, slow offseason

With it being almost three weeks since Jerry Dipoto has made an addition to the Mariners’ 40-man roster by signing free agent reliever Juan Nicasio, Dipoto was asked Monday afternoon by 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob Stelton the question that has been on many Mariners fans’ minds: How close to finished is Dipoto in making roster moves heading into spring training?

Mariners Hot Stove podcast with Shannon Drayer and Boy Howdy

“You are never really finished,” Dipoto said on Bob, Groz and Tom. “In comparison to the past two years we’ve had more of a quiet run this year, but I feel like our position player club, they are here, they are on the field.”

For some time, Dipoto has stated that the “heavy-lifting” portion of offseason roster construction was over. Position battles will be confined to the the bench spots. He is bullish on his bullpen, pointing out that the pen will feature three setup men that are coming off seasons of 20 holds or more (Nicasio, Nick Vincent and Marc Rzepczynski) in addition to what he called one of the best young closers in the game in Edwin Diaz.

As for the rotation, he sees in James Paxton a “top-of-the-rotation presence,” affirmed by top 10 finishes in most metrics last year despite being limited to 136 innings due to injuries. As for Felix Hernandez, he believes there should be more left in the tank.

“Thirty-two is generally the age that most of the guys people are salivating over in free agency right now,” he said. “Obviously last year was a rough one for Felix but we are only a year removed from Felix being a steady presence in the middle of the rotation, only two years from Felix generating Cy Young (Award) votes. We feel pretty good about the fact that he will bounce back.”

Two mid- to late-season acquisitions last year, Mike Leake and Erasmo Ramirez, will join Paxton and Felix in the rotation.

“We feel pretty confident in the four guys we have,” said Dipoto. “We like the depth and the mix we have with Marco Gonzales, Andrew Moore and Ariel Miranda behind them, and we are really confident in the depth we have in the bullpen to back them up.”

Dipoto did not talk about a specific No. 5 starter. If he is indeed finished making additions to the roster, then the depth trio he mentioned will be used in the fifth spot. It would also allow for the possibility that a starter from the outside could still be added, despite the declarations of the heavy lifting being done. This is Jerry Dipoto we are talking about, after all. The “Open for Business” sign is always up.

“We’ve kept our ear to the street on the pitching side and we have been in touch with just about every free agent pitcher throughout the offseason,” he said. “Right now on Jan. 8 we are comfortable that if the season were to start today, we are very comfortable going into the season as is.”

The fact that the Mariners have been in touch with nearly every free agent pitcher this offseason would appear to leave the door open to at least the possibility of a signing. No doubt Dipoto’s eyes are open to what happens when the free agent starting pitching market finally gets moving. If the right guy is available at a reasonable amount, he could make a move. If not, he will wait.

“We will be looking. We are constantly trying to find ways to better ourselves but I can’t say right now we find that to be a pressing need,” he said. “The rotation appears to be the area where we can improve and much of that improvement is going to be expected to come from players who are already are here. If further improvement is needed or upgrade or healthy bodies are needed, we are going to address that as we go.”

Dipoto will see what he has and go from there. It is what we have seen in his first two seasons with the Mariners.

Dipoto has made significant in-season adds in both years with last year’s 25-man Opening Day payroll of $154 million jumping to a reported $175 million year-end 40-man roster total. While we don’t know exactly what Dipoto’s budget for payroll in 2018 is, but we do know that the Mariners are currently a few million above what their Opening Day payroll was in 2017. If a signing now would wipe out flexibility later in the season, that signing would need to be a very good fit for the Mariners.

Whether starter No. 5 is Gonzales, Moore, Miranda or a player currently not in the organization, Dipoto believes he has his bases covered heading into Opening Day.

“We don’t think we should be taken shortly,” he said. “We also don’t think we are a powerhouse. Obviously some things have to go right for us, especially with the Astros in our division. But this is a good team that if things break right we have a chance to be an exceptional team. Minimally we feel like we can be highly competitive and then find out where we need to help in terms of acquisitions as we go along.”