Drayer: Too early to panic about lack of moves as Mariners have multiple offseason paths

Nov 23, 2021, 7:32 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)

While it is far too soon to be in panic mode about the lack of moves made by the Mariners in the 17 days since free agents were first permitted to sign with clubs other than the ones they finished last season with, it is worth taking a look ahead at a few “what ifs” and “what nexts” for the Mariners as Jerry Dipoto attempts to improve his club.

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First, a look at what we have seen transpire in those 17 days: Since the beginning of free agency, as of Nov. 23, a total of 15 players have signed Major League contracts. Seven of the 15 players re-signed with their former clubs. Of the eight players who signed with new clubs, all but three signed for just one year. Outside of the five-year, $77 million contract Detroit gave Eduardo Rodriguez, these are not big deals the Mariners have missed out on.

The bigger deals take more time to come together. A team identifying and targeting “their guy” is just step one of what can be a long and drawn out process with no guarantees of how it will play out.

For the Mariners, the stakes are high. After three seasons of tear down, rebuild and let the kids play, it is time to get back into the game. Visions of Marcus Semien or perhaps Kris Bryant have been dancing around the heads of Mariners fans for weeks and while none of the names have yet to come off the premier free-agent infielder board, the sense of unease is inescapable. What if the Mariners come up short?

The answer? It will be a blow, but there will be plans B, C and D to pursue. This offseason isn’t about acquiring just one player. Jerry Dipoto is looking to add at least one infielder, two starters and while not as critical a need, has an eye out for an outfielder. Should the marquee player avoid his grasp, there are multiple paths Dipoto can take to improving the club.

Of intrigue in all of this is the timing. The domino effect(s) that could follow a big signing or missing out on that signing. What if the market remains largely unchanged between now and the impending Dec. 2 lockout? With the number of needs the Mariners have, it would obviously be best if they were not forced to make those additions in a matter of weeks in late January and February. How long can Dipoto wait for what he has called a “centerpiece” player as other options come off the board?

Putting another bat in the outfield is not one of Dipoto’s primary goals, but I would imagine that could change if he is not able to acquire one of his primary infield targets. How serious are they about Seiya Suzuki? The 30-day countdown to sign with a MLB team began after he was posted Tuesday and that is expected to be frozen if there is a lockout. I would expect the pursuit of impact outfielders would be an either/or proposition as their price tags in dollars or trade are expected to be higher. Would the same hold true for Suzuki, who is projected by some to draw something more in the four-year, $40 million deal neighborhood?

Away from the free agent market, Dipoto has been engaged in trade talks with multiple teams. This is not your 2016 Trader Jerry, however. While in the past his preferred method of player acquisition has been trades as he could better target fits and skills he wanted to bring to the club rather than simply relying on what was available for the dollars, this year those players are available on the free-agent market. He wants to spend because of both supply and the ability to hold onto prized prospects he has been accumulating. In an ideal world, the Mariners arrive in Peoria in February with their top 10 – and in truth there are a number of prospects 10-20 Dipoto would prefer to not move – intact.

If they miss out on one of the centerpiece free agents, this might not be possible. There is no question the Mariners have the prospects to land any number of impact bats or arms from other teams. The fact that there are numerous players that the Mariners would prefer not to part with is an indication that they very well can afford to do so if the value is there. It’s not choice No. 1 – and yes, it should be hands off Julio Rodríguez and a couple of others – but if necessary, it should be a choice.

There could be other options, however. Much has been made of the Mariners’ ability to take on a player with an undesirable contract as part of a trade for a desired target. The Mariners also could make a bulk, lower-level prospect deal, something the A’s in particular could be attracted to. One trade target we surprisingly haven’t heard much about this winter is the young club controllable player. The player who is ready to go now, perhaps to bolster the lineup of a young, rebuilding team. This also could be of interest to the A’s, who could further develop said players and flip when they become expensive.

This could all go out the window depending on what happens with the new CBA, but the Mariners have two such players in Abraham Toro and Luis Torrens that perhaps could be attractive parts of bigger deals. When Toro was acquired shortly before the trade deadline, Dipoto received calls from clubs believing he was going to flip him. Where are those teams now? We are currently seeing an absolutely terrible catchers market, so could Torrens be of intrigue to another team particularly if the universal DH is part of the new CBA? Could Miami have interest?

Another option that could lessen the prospect haul going the other way would be to trade a reliever. With Andrés Muñoz and Ken Giles coming, the fickle nature of bullpens from year to year and hopefully confidence in being able to further develop relievers at the big league level, if needed – and yes, this would hurt – one of Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider or Casey Sadler could be made available. In addition to putting up numbers, they are all still very affordable.

At the moment, the Mariners can still be sitting on Plan A. If they have to move on, like them or not, they have numerous options. It won’t be early for long.

Follow Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

Talking Mariners: Lockout, what happens if M’s can’t land top free agent

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Drayer: Too early to panic about lack of moves as Mariners have multiple offseason paths