Drayer: Mariners know what they want to spend on, how current roster figures in

Oct 7, 2021, 4:53 PM | Updated: 5:00 pm
Mariners Jerry Dipoto...
Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto looks on before a 2021 game against the Angels at T-Mobile Park. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Due to the Mariners’ season coming down to the wire, their end of year press conference came later this fall than in the past. Sometimes it has been the day after the season ends, some years in the final weeks, but the meetings and media sessions to wrap up the season had to be put on hold because there were more important things at hand.

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Now the more important things are adding to this 90-win club in hopes of finally breaking through to the postseason in 2022. While Thursday’s 35-minute media session included moments of looking back, the key focus was on what is to come in the offseason, with the question being just how much general manager/president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto would be allowed to spend.

After answering “yes” to the simple question of if he had been given assurances by Mariners chairman John Stanton to raise payroll significantly from where it was in 2021 in order to be more aggressive in the free agent market, Dipoto pointed out that had been the intention when the Mariners’ step back was initiated after the 2018 season.

“At this point we are shockingly close to what we thought our timeline was going to be,” he said. “I do think having a 90-win season and seeing a city energized by our play is an advantage for us, but in 2018 we had those assurances from ownership. Here recently it has been doubled down. We are definitely committed to making this team better, and John and our ownership group understand what that means. That’s an exciting thing for us because we did a lot of work over these last couple of years to create this opportunity, and we want to take advantage of it.”

Both Dipoto and Mariners manager Scott Servais expressed the desire to add to the offense and rotation. With positional flexibility a number of players have, their options should be plentiful.

“We would like to add offense wherever the offense comes from,” said Dipoto. “It would be hard to imagine one of those players not manning some infield position. There is an opportunity to use that DH slot in a creative way like we did this year. We are just looking to add talent.”

Added Servais: “I would like to see us add a couple of players. I don’t think it’s just one big fish, so to speak; I think it’s a couple of guys to balance out the lineup, create some length of the lineup. And I think some help in the starting rotation is key.”

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The targets are a couple of offensive pieces that appear to be more than bench players (Dipoto said that he believes their bench players “are already here”) and starting pitchers, with Dipoto open to trades or free agency to acquire them.

So what comes next? There is much uncertainty in how the free agent market will unfold with the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA up in the air, but Dipoto is not waiting to see how that plays out.

“All we can do is follow the rules and the market as it exists as it is now. Our expectation is the week after the World Series the market will open and we are going to be very aggressive going out,” he said with a laugh. “We always are. We tend to move pretty quickly but we are going to go out and we are going be heavy in recruiting the free agents we think makes sense for us, and we are going to approach it like it’s any other offseason until we find out otherwise. And that’s really all we can do.”

How will they balance what the bring in with what they have? Some quick hits from the media session sheds some light on the roster puzzle.

Kyle Lewis

Lewis suffered a setback in coming back from a torn meniscus in his right knee as he was ramping up to be sent out on a rehab assignment in September. Specifics on the knee have not been made available to us as Lewis has declined to discuss his health status since he injured the knee May 31.

“For me, I think we have to go into next season planning on whatever Kyle is able to deliver is a bonus for us,” said Dipoto. “He’s had a really rough go with the knees and through no fault of his own missed a good part of this season. He’ll be a huge part of what we do but we can’t push very hard on the pencil until we see him play. When Kyle Lewis is healthy, we are a better team when he’s on the field. We will make sure there’s an opportunity to get the most out of what he has to give but there is really no certainty until we see him play.”

Evan White and who’s on first

White has not played a game since May 13 when he was placed on the 10-day IL with a hip flexor strain. After rest, rehab and additional medical opinions, he elected to have surgery on the hip in mid-July.

“Again, we are going to have to see what it looks like when he is fully rehabbed and ready to return to play,” Dipoto said. “Ty (France) did a wonderful job (at first base in 2021). I thought from beginning to end it’s really hard to find flaw in his season. He played spectacular defense which frankly we couldn’t have bet on. We’d never seen much of him at first base and I thought he was the best first baseman in our league.”

Sheffield and Dunn

Justus Sheffield returned to the Mariners in a bullpen role Sept. 1 after missing 47 games with a forearm strain, but was optioned to Tacoma shortly after. Justin Dunn ended the season on the 60-day IL with right shoulder inflammation.

“The bar has been raised so much higher here than it ever has been,” said Servais. “Competition is an awesome thing. It makes us all better. It will make those guys better because they know what’s ahead of them if they want to crack into a rotation of a team that has got a chance to go to the playoffs. They are going to have to be much more consistent, reliable, stay healthy, all those other things. That’s how we see both those guys. I think their future is still as a starting pitcher.”

Could they look for outside catching help?

“I definitely think there is room for growth with both those guys,” Servais said, referring to veteran Tom Murphy and rookie Cal Raleigh. “What’s available, what’s it going to cost, all those things. Cal is very young. He learned a ton this year. I do believe there is a good offensive player in there.”

“Tom Murphy,” he continued, “another guy who did not play (in 2020 like Mitch Haniger). To get him through an entire season and knowing the impact he had with our pitching staff, I don’t think we give enough credit to those guys. We talk about our pitching coaches, our analysts, the whole group, but at the end of the day the player has got to play. They have to believe in our process and what we are talking about and nobody believes bigger in what we are doing than Tom Murphy, and he has a voice to drive it with our pitching staff. There’s a lot of value there.”

Servais also noted with Dipoto nodding in agreement that he believes Luis Torrens will continue to catch while playing multiple positions going forward.

Wherefore art thou Julio?

Julio Rodríguez put up tremendous numbers across High-A and Double-A this season all the while accumulating a different kind of experience playing for his country, the Domincan Republic, both in the Olympics and Olympic qualifiers. Will he have a chance to compete for a position out of spring training?

“With Julio there really is no unrealistic expectation,” said Dipoto. “He is so talented. It’s hard to have a better year than he had. It was phenomenal. Tough to sit here on Oct. 7 and pinpoint what that means for the start of his 2022 season but I wouldn’t put anything past him. Some of that is whatever opportunity is available on the front end is going to be dictated by what we are able to do in the offseason. Where the pieces fall (between now and the start of spring training) remains, but I would be stunned if Julio doesn’t play a role, and a significant role, in our 2022 season.”

More J.P. please

J.P. Crawford is entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, and it seems a natural that the Mariners would want to extend the 26-year-old shortstop.

“Since he arrived here, J.P. has gotten better every year,” said Dipoto. “The leader on the field mentality. I love the energy he brought this year at the top of the lineup. For a team that really achieved what it achieved because of its emotion and because of its emotional leaders, I thought J.P. showed emotional leadership at really a young age. If I had considered the idea of keeping him here longer than what presently is available I probably wouldn’t share it at this point, but we do intend on J.P. being here and being a fixture in what we are doing and we will address that at the appropriate time in the appropriate way.”

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Drayer: Mariners know what they want to spend on, how current roster figures in