The Mariners were among the majors’ most active teams last offseason as general manager Jerry Dipoto began executing a plan to “re-imagine” his roster. With the club now on the heels of a 68-win season, Dipoto has indicated it’s in for a much more modest winter this time around. However, that doesn’t mean the trade-happy Dipoto won’t consider parting with a couple of veterans still on the roster, as Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times writes.
Last winter was absolutely packed with trades for Dipoto, who shipped out Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura and Mike Zunino, among others. He has since parted with other established veterans in Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, who each joined the Mariners amid their blockbuster-filled offseason a year ago.
All of Dipoto’s wheeling and dealing has left the Mariners with just three players (second baseman Dee Gordon, third baseman Kyle Seager and left-hander Yusei Kikuchi) on guaranteed contracts. But Gordon is the only member of the trio who looks like a real trade candidate, Divish observes. Seager did enjoy a bounce-back campaign after a rough 2018, though he’s also a soon-to-be 32-year-old who’s owed $37MM over the next two seasons. Worse, his contract includes a clause that could make a trade an impossibility. As Divish covered last December, Seager’s $15MM club option for 2022 will become a player option if the Mariners deal him. In all likelihood, he’d exercise that option.
Like Seager, Kikuchi’s not going anywhere, having joined the M’s as their prized, big-money free-agent signing just last winter. Kikuchi went through a rough rookie season in 2019, but Seattle continues to regard him as a key long-term piece.
Gordon, meanwhile, looks superfluous to the club’s cause. Moving him would open up everyday second base duty for Shed Long, who was a bright spot for the Mariners in his first taste of the majors this year. The problem is that Gordon is still owed a guaranteed $14.5MM (including a $1MM buyout for 2021), which is an unpalatable amount when considering the 31-year-old’s recent output. The light-hitting Gordon has been a replacement-level player in each of the past two seasons, according to WAR. So, it’s probable that finding a taker for Gordon would require the Mariners to eat a portion of his contract. They’d “likely” pay half of his remaining money, per Divish, though it’s unclear whether that would be enough on their end. After all, there are several similarly or more productive veteran second basemen slated to reach free agency next month, and none of them should require sizable commitments.
Along with Gordon, outfielders Domingo Santana and Mallex Smith represent other potential trade candidates for Seattle, according to Divish. Dipoto acquired those two last winter, hoping they’d emerge as long-term building blocks, but both players disappointed this year. Thanks in part to elbow problems, Santana’s offensive production fell off a cliff as the season progressed. He also ranked as one of the majors’ worst outfielders, finishing with minus-17 Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-16.1 Ultimate Zone Rating (minus-16.1). Smith looked like a breakout center fielder for the Rays in 2018, but despite his 46 stolen bases this year, he only rated as a replacement-level producer.
The Mariners would be selling low on Santana’s last two years of arbitration eligibility and Smith’s three, but it’s possible they already have replacements on hand. Mitch Haniger and Kyle Lewis figure to be their main corner outfielders for next season. Smith could still occupy center if he’s still on the team, though Braden Bishop, Jake Fraley and an outside pickup may all be in the mix for that spot, Divish relays. They’ll line up behind an infield consisting of Seager at third, J.P. Crawford at short, Gordon or Long at second and Austin Nola at first. The 29-year-old Nola didn’t make his major league debut until mid-June, but it appears he’ll stick around after hitting .269/.342/.454 with 10 home runs 1.5 fWAR in his first 267 trips to the plate in the bigs. He could hold down first until the promotion of prospect Evan White, which Divish suggests is sure to happen by midseason at the latest. Elsewhere on offense, Daniel Vogelbach is in line to reprise his DH role, Dylan Moore is the front-runner for a utility job and the productive Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy are due to return behind the plate.
As for areas the Mariners actually could look to add to this winter, Dipoto cited pitching – both starters and relievers – as a need. It’s unclear just how much the Mariners will be willing to spend on a starter(s) to slot in with Kikuchi, Marco Gonzalez, Justus Sheffield and possibly Justin Dunn, though it seems doubtful they’ll be spending near the top of the market. In the case of the bullpen, Dipoto said the Mariners will be seeking “opportunity buys.” Dipoto took the same route last offseason when he signed Hunter Strickland, Cory Gearrin, Zac Rosscup and R.J. Alaniz to cheap contracts.
Odds are the Mariners won’t do anything this offseason that could realistically vault them into contention by 2020. With that in mind, chances are high they’ll increase their playoff drought to 19 years next season. However, thanks to the young talent the Mariners have collected (much of which joined the organization last winter), Dipoto believes they’re on the right track.