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Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto: AJ Pollock’s positive camp, trade market, more

Mar 9, 2023, 11:47 AM

Mariners AJ Pollock...

Mariners OF AJ Pollock in action on Feb. 25, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

(Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

As is the case every Thursday, Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk to talk about his team.

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During this week’s interview, Dipoto shared some insight into a new outfielder, players nearing returns from injury as well as the trade market.

AJ Pollock

The Mariners signed veteran outfielder AJ Pollock with the idea that he’d be the team’s left fielder against left-handed pitching as half of a platoon with a young left-handed hitting outfielder like Jarred Kelenic.

Pollock, 35, may be more than a platoon option, Dipoto said, as he raved about how Pollock has been and looked in camp thus far.

“He’s been great. He’s been particularly exceptional in his prep and his adjustments to the things we do as opposed to maybe where he was a year ago,” Dipoto said. “So many of the programs we run – and this is true of 30 teams – it’s just a little bit different than what other teams do. And AJ bought in immediately to the things that we find to be high valu. He’s been an advocate for them in the cages, out on the fields, with the younger guys. His work habits have always been stand out and he’s been great in the clubhouse.”

Pollock had the worst year of his career last season with the Chicago White Sox, hitting just .245 with career lows in slugging percentage and OPS.

Pollock, as Dipoto regularly points out, has been exceptional in his career against left-handed pitching (.868 career OPS), but he’s also been above-average in his career against right-handers (.772 career OPS). That success against righties wasn’t the case in 2022 (.593 OPS).

“He’s really only had one down year – that being last year against – right-handed pitching,” Dipoto said. “We talk about him – and I’m quick to profess his quality against left-handed pitching – but he’s got a long history being good against righties, too. And so far in spring training, he looks very comfortable against both, he’s handling the breaking ball well, I know he’s spending some time in the cages on the machines facing right-handed pitching. And I think that’s a real positive for me is that he’s not walking in thinking, ‘There’s no chance for me to go out there and play regularly,’ and it looks like that.”

Injured players nearing returns

The Mariners have some clear starters at multiple positions, but they are a team that utilizes its bench and likes to have flexibility around the diamond.

As things currently stand, the team’s top bench/utility options all have or had injury concerns in camp. And only one of those three players – Sam Haggerty – is playing in games right now.

“Sam Haggerty has played all over the infield already,” Dipoto said. “He’s played some third base and made some plays that, frankly, we wouldn’t have anticipated him making at third base. But this is as healthy as Sam has been bodily and particularly arm-wise as at any time since he’s been a Mariner.”

Haggerty became a key part of Seattle’s roster last season and he spent most of his time in the outfield. A natural second baseman, Dipoto said during the offseason that arm issues caused Haggerty to spend more time in the outfield than infield. That may be different this season based on Dipoto’s comments and that Haggerty has played infield in spring games so far.

Haggerty also suffered a groin injury last October that caused him to miss the postseason, but he’s played in four spring training games so far.

Another player who should have an important utility role this season is Dylan Moore, who signed an extension with the Mariners this offseason. Moore had surgery for a core injury, and he’s yet to play in spring training games. That should change soon, Dipoto said.

“D-Mo is, I would say based on the information we’re getting back from his rehab program, he’s closing in on playing,” Dipoto said. “He’s now at full-go on the backfields and running, changing direction, and all those good things, so he’s still trending towards being ready for opening day.”

Moore is expected to platoon at second base with Kolten Wong while also playing some shortstop to give J.P. Crawford days off.

The Mariners also signed veteran infielder Tommy La Stella this offseason to serve as a potential backup across the infield – especially the corner spots – but he’s yet to appear in spring training games due to an elbow injury. Like Moore, that will change very soon.

“Tommy is going to DH in the game today,” Dipoto said.

When will he see action in the field?

“He’s in a throwing program. We’re hopeful that he can start playing defense by Monday, if not sooner than that, but minimally by Monday or early next week,” Dipoto said. “But he’s ready to start taking at-bats and prepare himself. So he should also be ready for opening day.”

Trade Market

The Mariners are sitting on a surplus of sorts when it comes to pitching.

While it’s true that you can never have enough pitching, the Mariners currently have six MLB-quality starters in Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Marco Gonzales and Chris Flexen. They also have a few pitching prospects close to debuting, led by Bryce Miller.

Of those six, Flexen appears to be the odd man out given he moved to the bullpen last season after the M’s acquired Castillo in July.

As such, Flexen’s name has been thrown about in trade rumors all offseason.

Nothing ultimately happened, but now that pitchers are in camp and throwing, injuries are starting to pop up, such as in New York with Carlos Rodon and the Yankees.

Is the trade market starting to heat back up?

“No, not at all. Right now, it’s still very quiet in that regard,” Dipoto said. “Most teams are still assessing what they have internally.”

Dipoto said that at this point of spring training, teams are getting excited about watching their young pitching prospects, like Seattle is with Miller, Prelander Berroa, Emerson Hancock and others.

“And it’s not difficult to squint as a front office and say, ‘OK, if we get to this point, and these guys get pushed into action, we’re confident they can do it,'” he said.

That very likely will change as opening day gets closer.

“Two weeks from now when you’re actually staring at opening day on the horizon and you’re in that position, you might feel a little bit differently based on the stress that would put on those young players and having to develop in double time,” Dipoto said. “Nothing yet in terms of of activity on the trade market or any change in that regard, but I think it’s because teams are looking at their versions of those young pitchers in the same way that we would.”

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