7:33pm: Dipoto told MLB.com’s Greg Johns at the GM Meetings that this morning’s reports were “clearly over-dramatized,” adding that the Mariners are “just too talented” to completely tear down the roster. That said, Dipoto also conceded that the Mariners are “open-minded to different ways we can get better” and expressed a desire to “re-imagine” the team’s roster while “gather[ing] as much talent as we can.”
Generally speaking, it seems as though the Mariners will be open-minded to moving shorter-term assets — Paxton and Zunino both have only two years of control remaining — while also trying to gather some controllable talent in order to supplement the pieces of the roster that remain into 2019 and beyond. The GM also suggested that the Mariners won’t rule out a reunion with Nelson Cruz, whom he called a “super human being” and a “wildly productive” player. But the team also has other needs, specifically in center field, Dipoto noted.
The column is rife with quotes from Dipoto on the offseason direction and the agile approach the Mariners will take toward offseason roster maneuverings and is worth a look for Mariners fans and those hoping that various Mariners players become available in trades.
10:48am: Facing a difficult path to improving their roster sufficiently to compete in the AL West, the Mariners are said to be weighing at least a partial sell-off of veteran assets. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweets that the organization is “considering a full-fledged teardown,” while Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times characterizes the situation as one in which the club will pursue the somewhat less dramatic path of “culling the roster of a few players who could actually bring back some younger talent to the organization” while also maintaining a competitive assortment of MLB players.
Whatever the precise course, it’ll be a fine line to walk, and one that’ll require deft handling from Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto. It’s worth noting that both reports emphasize the variability remaining in the situation. The M’s won’t simply be auctioning players off, it seems. Rather, the club is going to be demanding value. And as Divish notes, there’s also a strong countervailing wind to the concept of a rebuild. The goal, as Dipoto has himself stated recently, is to make a legitimate challenge for a World Series as swiftly as possible. Accordingly, it’s at least possible that the organization will prioritize near-to-the-majors talent over far-away, high-upside prospects.
Regardless, it’s an interesting shift in the market just as it gets underway. No doubt, the allure of the trade market is factoring into the thinking for the Mariners’ front office. That seems to be an element of the Indians’ decision to consider offers on some key veteran pitchers. The market side of the reasoning here isn’t altogether different, though it’s quite a different competitive picture for the Cleveland organization, which still has a very clear path to the postseason. With few top-end starters and relievers available for the highest bidder, there certainly could be some opportunities to achieve value.
All indications of late had been that the Mariners would consider to push to contend. There’s real talent on the roster, to be sure, and the club did just win 89 games even after a late-2018 tailspin. Certainly, the organization’s slate of contract commitments represents that of a contending team, with large and lengthy commitments to several players. Those same factors, though, also can easily be interpreted as supporting a different approach. The 2018 club arguably outperformed its true talent level and still finished 14 games out of first place in the AL West. And a crowded payroll situation makes it hard to imagine ready solutions to some of the team’s ongoing areas of need.
So, what players could be on the move? The premium assets will certainly draw the most attention, though they’ll also be the hardest to pry loose. James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, and Marco Gonzales all come with ample excess value in their control rights. Surely, it would require the right deal to part with any of these players. Of them, Paxton seems the likeliest to move, if only because the others are all controlled for at least four move seasons while he has just two left to go. Indeed, Divish indicates it’s quite likely the power lefty will be shipped out. Diaz is a fascinating potential piece on the market, as he’d easily be the most valuable relief asset available. The 24-year-old just turned in an outstanding season and his trade value was boosted by the fact that he barely missed out on Super Two qualification, which would have greatly increased his overall arbitration earning power. Haniger is likely the team’s most valuable piece, though he might also be the hardest to part with. Moving Segura’s contract might offer a means of both dropping salary and adding younger talent in one fell swoop. There’s really not much reason for the Mariners to consider dealing Gonzales, who is amply affordable and controllable (and also just agreed to an unusual new contract).
Several other players will also surely be of keen interest on the market. Veteran reliever Alex Colome is not as good, or as cheap and controllable, as Diaz, but he’d be quite an interesting alternative to the open market options for clubs needing late-inning relief talent. Several other bullpen assets could hold appeal as well. Backstop Mike Zunino has his limitations as a player, but he’s a talented defender with huge power. It would be rather challenging for the club to move its most expensive veterans, though perhaps contract-swapping arrangements of some kind can be imagined. Plenty of rivals would like to have Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon, and Mike Leake on their rosters, after all, despite their suboptimal recent track records, though certainly the remaining financial obligations would need to be sorted out somehow.
The possibilities, truly, are endless, and will depend in no small part upon precisely what Dipoto and co. are looking to accomplish. It could well be a matter of seeing what’s possible on the market, rather than setting out specifically to prioritize the addition of new talent, say, as opposed to shaving payroll. Given Dipoto’s history of dealmaking, it wouldn’t be surprising to see quite a few moves to re-shape the roster in the coming months.