Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto encouraged by what he sees from Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano

Mar 6, 2016, 4:41 PM
Jerry Dipoto said Felix Hernandez is cut from the same mold of Hall of Famers who threw 200 innings...
Jerry Dipoto said Felix Hernandez is cut from the same mold of Hall of Famers who threw 200 innings a year. (AP)
(AP)

In Jerry Dipoto’s first offseason on the job as Mariners general manager, he put the majority of his attention into adding reliability and depth to a team that has finished above .500 just three times in the last 12 seasons.

The reason why Dipoto focused on those areas is because the Mariners have a core of star players they’re committed to financially, especially perennial All-Stars Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez. According to Spotrac.com, Cano is under contract for $24 million a year through 2023, while Hernandez has four seasons left on the seven-year, $175 million deal he agreed to in 2013.

Related: Dipoto compares pitcher Taijuan Walker to NFL MVP Cam Newton

With spring training in full swing, Dipoto has finally had a chance to see Seattle’s two superstars up close, and he can see why the Mariners have dedicated so much of their annual budget to the pair.

“They’re Hall of Famers,” Dipoto told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Brock and Salk” on Friday. “Robbie Cano is one of the great position players of the last decade, and similarly Felix Hernandez is among the handful of best pitchers that’s pitched in the big leagues over the last 10 years. We’re fortunate enough to have a No. 1 starter and a No. 3 hitter that have that kind of credibility and quality.”

It’s reasonable to have concern about the continued viability for both Cano, 33, and Hernandez, who turns 30 next month. Cano’s .287 average last year was his worst since 2008 and even elicited criticism from a former coach, and he underwent surgery to repair a double sports hernia in October. Hernandez, meanwhile, had a 3.53 ERA in 2015, his highest since 2007, and many wonder whether his 10-year streak of at least 190 innings pitched in the big leagues is bound to catch up to him.

From Dipoto’s perspective, he’s much more encouraged than worried after what he’s seen from them in the early days of spring training.

“Robbie came into camp in unbelievable shape. He looks fantastic,” he said. “It looks like night and day compared to where he was (the) first half of last year. He looks healthy and he’s smiling. Players who are having fun generally play well.”

As for Hernandez, well, he still looks like a Cy Young contender.

“Physically he looks fantastic. He’s lean, he’s loose. He’s thrown his bullpen sessions and his stuff is electric,” said Dipoto. “I turned around to (manager Scott Servais) when he was done with his first bullpen (and) I said, ‘You ever see a guy throw a bullpen like that?’ Scott said, ‘No. I’m on board with this.'”

Many modern pitchers start to falter when they hit the amount of miles Hernandez has put on his arm in his decade-plus with the Mariners, but Dipoto thinks the King will prove to be more of a throwback when all is said and done with his career.

“For me, he’s only 30 years old. And though he has innings on his arm … we came from a generation where guys threw 200, 230 innings like clockwork. And even in more recent years, the (Curt) Schillings and the Randy Johnsons, Felix is cut from that mold,” he said. “He’s able to maintain those innings and deliver the quality. Obviously, last year, statistically speaking, as a reference to his earned-run average at 3.50, if 3.50 is an embarrassingly high ERA, shame on us. This guy won 18 games, he’s one of the best pitchers in the league, and if we’re fortunate enough to line up for Game 7 of the World Series, that’s who I want to have the ball.”

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Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto encouraged by what he sees from Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano