Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto in for a different, but still busy, offseason

Oct 4, 2016, 11:06 AM | Updated: 11:18 am

Jerry Dipoto still sees pitching depth as a strength for the Mariners heading into the offseason. (...

Jerry Dipoto still sees pitching depth as a strength for the Mariners heading into the offseason. (AP)


A couple of weeks ago, I asked Jerry Dipoto if I should be prepared for a second straight offseason of seemingly daily roster moves. He laughed and said no. While I think there is little question that he’s a general manager who likes to make moves – lots of moves – his first year with the Mariners was different.

There was an overhaul to be done and a roster to be sorted out (with the preferred placeholders being players with flexibility in both options and contract length) around a core and up-and-comers. The moves continued into the season and at the end, there was a 40-man roster with fewer holes to fill. The heavy lifting has been done with several more names on the roster that can now be considered more than just placeholders.

“The 40-man roster is deeper, with players coming off positive seasons,” Dipoto said. “The 40-man roster that we inherited at the end of September last year, if you take away the free agents, there were 36 players. Fifteen were coming off a season where they posted a negative WAR (wins above replacement). Today you reduce the roster by the pending free agents, we’re going to have 36 players, three of which had a negative WAR. That’s roster depth, that’s providing a net.”

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There is a net, but there are also needs and decisions to be made. Franklin Gutierrez, Adam Lind, Dae-Ho Lee and Drew Storen are free agents. While Hisashi Iwkauma’s option for 2017 has vested, there are decisions to be made on options with Nori Aoki, Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta. I would expect at least one of the outfielders to be retained. The others at this point are question marks. While all had ups and downs throughout the season, all contributed.

With Dipoto showing he is not shy about moving players he doesn’t see working out, it can be assumed (and in fact Dipoto himself suggested) that most players still on the roster at the end of the year would be under consideration for return. Still, there should be plenty of new faces in the clubhouse in Peoria next February.

“We are going to need to fill some holes in the lineup,” Dipoto said. “I think pitching depth stands as a strength for us, but we are going to focus on ways we can create more impact, and more than anything else we want to go into spring with a degree of momentum rather than with a great deal of change. We have already changed enough for these guys. There’s going to be change, but it’s not going to be an overhaul, and that I think will be step one in building something more lasting.”

For long stretches this year, Seattle’s pitching seemed to be anything but a strength, and in a season in which almost everyone agreed the Mariners would go as far as their pitching could carry them, it was the offense that carried the team instead. What we saw throughout the year with the arms is one thing, but what they finished with was another. The bullpen seems to be sorted out with the exception of one huge need being a situational lefty. The rotation, question marks aside about the individuals, is six deep, something Dipoto called “enviable depth” at the Major League level. Enviable perhaps because with a free-agent pitching class that is rated to be one of the worst ever, numbers and potential all of a sudden have more value.

As for the position players, as always, the Mariners could use a corner outfielder. While he is sure to look for outside help, Dipoto believes there is help close by in the near future.

“We became more athletic in the outfield as the season unfolded,” he said. “By September, we saw the ‘hands team.’ Those aren’t guys who are going to be hands team players forever. Guillermo Heredia is an excellent athlete who can really play the outfield. He’s going to have a career in this league. Ben Gamel is going to be an everyday player. He can hit and play the outfield and has got some electric to him on the bases. That’s something to look forward to.”

Also something to look forward to is minor-league outfielder Tyler O’Neill, who changed his approach at the plate and won just about every Double-A award this year. It is tough to see a situation in which the Mariners would jump him directly to the big leagues. The belief is that he needs time at Triple-A, but how much time? Something exciting to watch next year.

In addition to free agents and option players, another thing to keep an eye on are the players who are considering offseason surgery. We should hear in the next couple of days if Taijuan Walker will undergo surgery to address the foot injury that caused irritation and forced him to miss time this year. Steve Cishek is considering surgery on his hip labrum, and Tony Zych will most likely have a procedure that has been termed a “clean-up” on his shoulder. All players would be expected to be ready for spring training.

“Fortunately we are not looking at anything with guys who are dealing with medical (issues) long-term in nature, so hopefully quick bounce-backs, easier rehab,” Dipoto said.

Nelson Cruz will not require surgery on his wrist. Dipoto said there doesn’t appear to be anything structurally wrong and that rest would do him good. Cruz played through a tremendous amount of pain in the final weeks of the season, something Dipoto marveled at.

“What he was able to do, watching him swing at the high ball, it looked painful. It’s like he had to get back in the box and breathe so he could actually see again, and then he’s hitting the ball 500 feet,” Dipoto said excitedly. “It was absolutely phenomenal and again, a testament to a guy who did not want to lose. Maybe as much as anyone in that clubhouse, he and Robinson (Cano), the way they led, it was phenomenal to watch.”

For a third straight offseason, the middle of the Mariners’ order will not have to be addressed. This time around, though, the needs around it are more defined. This should be a different yet still very interesting offseason in Year 2 for Dipoto.

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