Drayer: Mariners didn’t get the bat they wanted, so they went for impact with James Paxton
With the Mariners’ signing of James Paxton official, general manager Jerry Dipoto can just about shut the door on the offseason.
The official announcement of Seattle’s addition of Ken Giles is the only item of business still outstanding as the Mariners begin spring training, and a better picture of Dipoto’s offseason – which on the surface looked deceptively quiet – came into focus as he discussed the Paxton signing with the media Thursday afternoon.
Dipoto was clear in his offseason goals from day 1.
He wanted to add multiple arms to the bullpen. Check. He wanted to add a starter, and did so with the signing of Chris Flexen. After that, he said he wouldn’t mind adding another if things worked out right, or as it turns out, didn’t work out quite right. Missing from this picture? Dipoto’s goal of adding a left-handed bat.
“We were exhaustive in chasing the right addition to our lineup. We just fell short at every turn,” he admitted. “We had a series of targets, each of which we thought were ideal fits, and we tried to go out and get them. In all of these cases we offered multi-year contracts that seemed to fit what we were trying to do not just for 2021 but for 2022 and potentially beyond.”
Dipoto was looking for a free agent left-handed hitter to help balance the lineup. Ideally that player could play left field or second base. There were two the Mariners were particularly excited about and a third player that would have worked. The team was connected to Kolten Wong and Tommy La Stella among others this winter, but they signed elsewhere. In the end, that might not be a bad thing.
“We were aggressively in that market; we just failed to bring in the offensive piece we were looking to add,” said Dipoto. “Once we realized that the best fits for us were off the board we turned our interest to what’s the most impact we can make.”
Although they had kept in contact with Paxton and his representation throughout the offseason, they were not the only ones. A strong bullpen session thrown in November had teams interested, keeping Paxton in the dare to dream category for the Mariners.
“We didn’t really think that it was a high likelihood that we were going to be able to score a top impact type starting pitcher,” said Dipoto. “James threw the ball so well in November. My guess is they saw the same thing we saw.”
There of course was the familiarity, a factor that pushed each side closer to an agreement.
“Coming back to Seattle was the best long-term decision for me in looking forward in my career and what I want to do,” said Paxton. “I want to get back to myself this year. I really struggled coming back from the back surgery (in 2020). I’m comfortable here in Seattle, I love the group here and I am excited to be a part of it.”
If the fit on a young team seems to be a little off, Dipoto believes Paxton can benefit the Mariners in more ways than one.
“Adding James to the pitching we have in-house gives us a great opportunity to continue to develop our young guys while we compete to the best of our ability,” he said.
Returning to Seattle two years older and with very different experience having pitched on baseball’s biggest stage in New York, Paxton is up for taking on a leadership role, as well.
“Pitching in the postseason was fantastic, a great experience for me and something I can share with the guys here,” he said. “Just that pressure, extra pressure you have in New York, having that experience, being able to talk about that with guys here and tell them the things I learned through that experience, I think that will be very beneficial for us as a group.”
While Dipoto wasn’t able to land what he wanted in a left-handed bat, he did add a lefty that could be of substantial impact in Paxton. The rotation is close to set and the lineup will shake itself out, and it will do so with familiar faces as the offseason door is almost shut.
“We are going to go with what we have in-house (for the left-handed bat) and stay open to any other opportunities that present themselves with the pitching staff,” said Dipoto. “That’s an area where as much depth you can compile, the better. Keep on piling it on. We need all of the pitching just like all of the other clubs.”