Mariners have ‘a lot of work to do’ with pitching at the Winter Meetings

Dec 5, 2015, 6:11 PM | Updated: Jan 15, 2016, 10:14 am
The Mariners hope to bring back free agent Hisashi Iwakuma, but have a Plan B if he doesn’t s...
The Mariners hope to bring back free agent Hisashi Iwakuma, but have a Plan B if he doesn't sign. (AP)

The Mariners contingent heads to the Winter Meetings which begin Monday in Nashville with a clear picture of what needs to be added to the team between now and the start of spring training.

The lineup has been reworked, the catching position addressed, the outfield/DH mix solidified. While there is still a need at first base and the possibility of adding an extra infielder from outside the organization, the main focus going forward will be adding arms.

“We have a lot of work to do on the pitching side,” said general manager Jerry Dipoto following the Nori Aoki introductory press conference Thursday. “The one thing we have not done is get very aggressive in the starting pitcher market. We prefer to wait to see what happens with Kuma [Hisashi Iwakuma] because quite frankly, if we get him back we are very satisfied with the way our rotation looks at that point. If we don’t, then we will have to dig in on what we consider to be the next tier.”

Dipoto has been in constant contact with Iwakuma’s agents since the day he took over as general manager. While the Mariners have made it clear they want Kuma and Kuma is comfortable with both the organization and city of Seattle, it is far from a slam dunk that he returns. Iwakuma has suitors, and suitors with deep pockets including the Dodgers if national reports are correct.

Whether it is what Dipoto called Plan A in Iwakuma or a Plan B, which could mean signing two lower-tier starters, we could find out sooner rather than later as the market appears to be picking up. There will be at least one addition made to the Mariners rotation, which is at this moment Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Nate Karns, James Paxton and Roenis Elias/Vidal Nuno.

After reworking the lineup and putting together an outfield, it is go time for the pitching heading into the Winter Meetings. Pressure? Not for Dipoto.

“To me the Winter Meetings aren’t a particularly stressful time,” he said. “You get there, you have had months to work through your game plan. If you did it right that is where you finish deals, not create them.”

Another area of focus for Dipoto next week will be first base. While the Mariners have looked into the free-agent first basemen available, Dipoto said he has not actually contacted any of them. There have been talks with other clubs however, and the phone calls have increased since Mark Trumbo was traded to the Orioles.

“We certainly know the targets that we prefer at this point,” said Dipoto.

A Jesus Montero/Steve Clevenger duo was brought up as a possibility if they look to fill the position with what they already have on the roster. All indications are that they will at the very least add a platoon-type first baseman, however, if not a full time player. Could they bring in a player who had not played first base, or very little first base, and transition him to the position in spring training?

“I think that’s possible, probably not Plan A,” said Dipoto. “First base is not an easy position to pick up at a moment’s notice, but that being said there are players out there that have shown enough versatility in their careers and we do like that flexibility.”

What about players already on the roster? Would Nelson Cruz be an option?

“Not Nelson,” Dipoto answered. “I’m sure we will experiment with some other things. There are some guys in house who have put on a first-base glove, but if we take care of our business in the rest of the offseason we don’t need to get too too creative here.”

One thing we shouldn’t expect to see from the Mariners next week at the Winter Meetings is a surprise big ticket signing. While there are still a number of big name free agents available, it does not appear that Dipoto will be shopping on that aisle.

“Very unlikely,” he said. “And I was honest about that two months ago, we were not likely to be about marquee names and big signings. This was going to be about complementary pieces and guys who could build a winning environment and group. We’ve done our big game hunting in the past. (Cruz, Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez) are the core of our club. They are signed long-term and they are celebrated elite All-Star level players. That is the group we are building around. What we are doing is we are raising the floor around them.”

We have seen Dipoto go about the business of raising the floor in the moves he has made. The plan to this point has been executed seemingly easily and certainly quickly. Will Dipoto encounter his first bumps in the road in the next few weeks or will it be smooth sailing through what appears to be the final home stretch in putting the 2016 roster together? We shall see.

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Mariners have ‘a lot of work to do’ with pitching at the Winter Meetings