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Where does Mariners’ focus need to be this offseason? MLB reporter Jon Morosi answers

With James Paxton often hurt, Jon Morosi says the Mariners need to add starting pitching. (AP)

The Mariners are in an odd spot going into the offseason.

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

Sure, they won 89 games, the sixth-most in franchise history, but they still added another year to the longest current postseason drought in major American pro sports. So as the Mariners prepare for the hot stove to fire up again, should they be looking for the reset button or try to add around a young core that features All-Star outfielder Mitch Haniger, breakout starting pitcher Marco Gonzales and closer Edwin Díaz, the likely 2018 American League Reliever of the Year.

On Tuesday’s edition of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk, Brock Huard and guest co-host Jake Heaps talked to MLB Network and FOX Sports baseball reporter Jon Morosi about the upcoming offseason for the Mariners and general manager Jerry Dipoto. Here are a few things they covered:

‘Caught in the middle’

The idea of tearing down the team in the hopes of building up a strong contender that would emerge in a few seasons has been a popular topic among some Mariners fans and members of local media. Dipoto ruled out that possibility in a season-ending press conference Monday, however, and Morosi can see why.

“There’s enough there for me (in the team’s young core) that I’m not sure the return on the existing players would be that dramatic that you’d be able to restart this rebuild, so to speak, in a really powerful way,” Morosi said. “They are caught in the middle, I don’t deny that. But I just look at the value of going to the tear-down and say I’m not seeing enough in return for me to believe that’s a proper strategy right now.”

The Mariners have three big names still under contract for next season in Kyle Seager, Robinson Canó and Félix Hernández that are all coming off disappointing seasons – Seager and Hernández for their performance, Canó for missing 80 games due to a drug policy suspension. Their hefty contracts will make them especially hard to trade, so don’t pin your hopes on Seattle sending them away for minor league prospects.

Starting pitching needs to be the focus

While the Mariners’ pitching staff acquitted itself fairly well in 2018, finishing seventh in the American League with a 4.13 team ERA, Morosi sees an opportunity for Seattle to make a splash in the market with additions to the starting rotation. That could mean targeting free agents like Dallas Keuchel or Patrick Corbin, or even trying to make a trade with the San Francisco Giants for Madison Bumgarner.

But what about the Mariners’ James Paxton, who like those three names is a top-of-the-rotation left-hander?

“Paxton is great when he’s healthy, but he’s not always healthy,” Morosi said. “I would really allocate the pitching as the priority right now. … I would much rather pursue a Keuchel or a Corbin or even pursue via trade a Bumgarner than I would try and go out there and sign a Bryce Harper. I just think they need the pitching stability.”

Where will Canó and Cruz play?

When Canó came back from his suspension in August, the Mariners used him all over the infield, not just at second base, which was his full-time home before. But when the season ended, Canó said he was going into the offseason preparing to return back to second base in 2019.

Morosi isn’t so sure about that.

“I think Canó will play a lot of first base next year. I think especially coming off the suspension, your ability to dictate those terms is maybe a bit on the wane, so I would say Robbie plays first base at least part of the time there in 2019.”

As for Nelson Cruz, who was maybe the best free agent signing in Mariners history but is set to be back out on the open market after the World Series, Morosi doesn’t see him fitting into Seattle’s future.

“He is probably the opposite of what they need to be doing right now,” Morosi said of the All-Star designated hitter. “They have to get to younger, more athletic and probably a bit more defensive in their overall look.”

For the full interview with Morosi, listen to this podcast of Tuesday’s edition of Brock and Salk.

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