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Drayer: Mariners aren’t tearing down, but offseason could be very active

Questions at second base and DH await Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto this offseason. (AP)

Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais met with the media for the better part of an hour Monday afternoon to discuss what happened in 2018 and what comes next. With the season officially behind them, the overall evaluation was summed up succinctly by Servais.

“We failed to reach the goal,” he said. “The goal was to get into the postseason. That’s how I look at the season.”

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Of course you can’t move forward without looking back, and this week at Safeco Field the Mariners’ season is being dissected as the franchise looks for ways forward. While there is disappointment for where the Mariners are on Oct. 1, at home and not dressing for a playoff game, part of the evaluations is looking at the positive.

“We did win 89 games on paper. We should feel good about it, we did a lot of good things,” said Servais. “But how we got to 89 was unique. From the unbelievable start and the dip we took, a hard-nosed dive for a period of time in the second half – a tale of two seasons. Eighty-nine wins, it’s a positive year on paper but ultimately not where we wanted to get to.”

Dipoto pointed out that in most years, 89 wins would earn a team a spot in the postseason. This year it would have taken 98. He also noted that the Mariners have the fifth-best record in the American League since 2015 – yet no playoffs. For Dipoto, it further illustrates the need to build something not just for one shot at the postseason but for sustainable winning, as there are no guarantees with the talent that is around them.

“We are trapped behind four teams that have had extraordinary success and (we) have not been able to get over that hump,” he said. “Now we have to figure it out, what it takes to catch the front-runners, because we don’t want to make it to a wild-card game. We want to be a consistent playoff presence. For us to get there and ultimately win a World Series we are going to have to reassess where we are in the marketplace, and that’s where we are right now.”

One might believe that the Mariners need to start over, trade everything that is trade-able and go into a full rebuild in order to build a team capable of sustaining a playoff pace year after year. Dipoto doesn’t see it that way.

“We have to consider all things, but the likelihood of ever really truly considering a tear-down model, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “Guys like (Mitch) Haniger, like Marco (Gonzales), like Edwin Díaz, these are the pieces that you are trying to build around, not send away. We do have a nice group of young controllable players that we do intend to build upon.”

While not going for a full rebuild, Dipoto suggested a step back could be on the table, focusing on moves that might benefit the team in two years as opposed to the minimum of five, which is what the team would be looking at if they went with a complete tear down.

“That has to be a consideration,” he said. “Our goal is to win a World Series as soon as we can. If we are not going to win it in 2018, then our goal – starting with meetings this morning and as we move forward – is to determine what our best timeline is.”

Roster changes will be made, and two key questions will have impact on those decisions. First, where will Robinson Canó, who has expressed a desire to return to second base, and Dee Gordon, who doesn’t appear to be a fit in the outfield, play next season? And second, will the club go with a full time DH?

The first question received no answer Monday. Decisions, if they have indeed been made, have not been shared with the players, and it is very possible the question at second base won’t be answered until other moves are made.

As for to DH or not to DH, and where soon-to-be free agent Nelson Cruz fits into the picture?

“We’re looking at all of the different possibilities and potentials, and we don’t know,” said Dipoto. “Right now it appears there is a very clear need at DH and we all know and love Nelson. We have to consider what comes next and the different creative ways a roster might come together. We will never close the door on considering anything up to and including bringing him back. I think Nellie would like to be back but I am sure he is considering his options as well.”

The Mariners have an exclusive negotiating window with Cruz until shortly after the completion of the World Series. The harsh reality of the situation is that while his manager and teammates have expressed that they would love to have him back, Cruz does not appear to be a priority for the 2019 roster even though he remains a possibility.

“What the roster looks like as we go through the offseason,” Dipoto said, “we can’t pin ourselves to one single idea or building around one single player. We have to take more of a broad view of our roster than that.”

While the end goal is well-defined, the direction is much less so than this time a year ago. For Dipoto it is not about specific needs, such as a left-handed reliever or left fielder, but more of a long-term fit that helps move the offense forward. The fit part will be the tricky part, and as such it appears we could have a very active offseason for the Mariners.

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