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Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto: Trade is a start to a ‘more usable roster’

The addition of C.J. Riefenhauser, a 25-year-old lefty reliever, gives the Mariners depth in the bullpen after a rocky 2015 season. (AP)

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto joined “Danny, Dave and Moore” on 710 ESPN Seattle to discuss his six-player trade on Thursday, sending Brad Miller, Logan Morrison and Danny Farquhar to the Tampa Bay Rays for Nate Karns, C.J. Riefenhauser and Boog Powell. Below are some highlights from the interview, which you listen to in full here. For Shannon Drayer’s take on the trade, click here.

Karns will have the biggest immediate impact. Dipoto is very high on Karns, who he expects to build on a strong campaign in 2015 and round out a trio of strikeout-heavy pitchers in Seattle’s rotation. The 6-foot-3 righty was one of the American League’s best rookie pitchers last season, posting a 7-5 record, 3.67 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 145 strikeouts in 147 innings. “In Nate Karns we bring in a major league-ready starter coming off a very good first season in the big leagues. He has strikeout stuff. He’s big, he’s physical and steps into our rotation immediately,” Dipoto said. “He’s got an excellent curveball – he throws a knuckle curveball with a really deep spike action. He was roughly a strikeout-an-inning guy at the major-league level as a starting pitcher this year, which is really hard to do. That’s generally a rare air, and now that gives us what I would estimate are three elite-level strikeout starting pitchers with Felix (Hernandez), Nate Karns and Taijuan Walker in our rotation.” Dipoto added that the fact that Karns, who will turn 28 later this month, is still under five years of club control was a factor in making him part of the deal.

Dipoto sees Powell as the center fielder of the future. Boog Powell may share a name with a Baltimore Orioles legend, but there is no relation, both literally and figuratively. While John Wesley “Boog” Powell was a power-hitting first baseman in the 1960s and 1970s, Herschel Mack Powell is a 22-year-old speed-and-defense prospect the Mariners hope will anchor the top of the lineup for a long time. “Whether it’s in April or July or later in the season, (Powell) is guy who’s going to impact our 2016 and affect our organization, our ballclub for many years to come,” Dipoto said. “He’s hit everywhere he’s ever gone, he’s been on base everywhere he’s ever gone. He’s a plus runner with plus defensive skills and gives us a top-of-the-lineup type catalyst.” Dipoto is looking for a change in the Mariners’ style of play on the field, and Powell fits that mold perfectly. “When we set out to create a model, a style of play, Boog Powell fits that style. We want to play a fast, crisp style of baseball.”

Overall depth was the motivating factor. With the three players Dipoto brought in, he addressed a need in three areas where Seattle was shallow in 2015. “We talked about the idea that we wanted to get deeper in the starting rotation, more flexible in our overall roster and more athletic in the outfield while also paying attention to our ability to get on base and change our style of play. This addresses all of those elements,” he said. With Riefenhauser, who bounced between Triple-A and the Rays last season, the Mariners have a left-handed specialist who would have come in handy when Charlie Furbush hit the disabled list in July. “C.J. Riefenhauser has really neutralized left-handed hitters throughout his time in the minors. He’s 25 years old and has not yet turned the corner in the big leagues … He gives us another solid depth piece in our bullpen, and you can never have too many good left-handers down there.” The additions are a start to a “more usable roster,” Dipoto said.

Mariners traded from areas of “surplus.” It may have been surprising at first to hear that the Mariners had parted with shortstop-turned-utility man Brad Miller and first baseman Logan Morrison, both in their late 20s with plenty of untapped potential, but Dipoto said the organization was set well enough in their positions to part with them. “With Logan, Mark Trumbo, Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith and Jesus Montero, we felt like the corner bats was an area that we could afford to make a move if it answers other needs,” he said, noting that Morrison had just one year left on his deal, making him more “palatable” to trade. “The emergence of Ketel Marte gave us some confidence, and (with) Ketel Marte and Chris Taylor, we felt like we had three shortstops on our roster. Brad was an asset that was going to help us answer other issues.”

Trade opens up more financial flexibility. The salaries of the players involved in the trade help the Mariners more than the Rays, who now have more money freed up as the free-agent signing period approaches. “In this case we’re adding two guys who are priced right about the league minimum. We haven’t done anything to shift our payroll needle, so we still have the ability to make additions,” Dipoto said. “It also now gives us the ability to look towards the offseason viewing it as either surplus to put in play as assets or function to build around. It just creates nice flexibility to build a more balanced team.” He mentioned that could “hopefully” mean bringing back veteran starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma (who they extended a qualifying offer to on Friday), “or going out and exploring other trades and free-agent signings.” And if Seattle can’t bring back Iwakuma, they’re in pretty good shape as it is with Hernandez, Karns, Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias and Vidal Nuno giving the team “a nice pocket of starting pitching depth,” Dipoto said.