Dipoto on FAs, trades, more at GM Meetings

November 10th, 2021

SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto held court for over an hour on Tuesday, sitting in a metaphorical position that he hadn’t in quite some time as the architect of one of the most intriguing teams this offseason.

Seattle’s president of baseball operations is in Carlsbad, Calif., this week at the GM Meetings, a gathering where he and his front-office counterparts discuss possible rule changes, other protocols and, in part, scope the future of the game. Could this sun-soaked destination also be the site of the Mariners’ first offseason transaction?

Dipoto entered this offseason with as clean of a canvas as any GM, with just $70 million in payroll commitments next year, the No. 2 farm system in baseball and public backing from ownership to spend. He discussed that and a variety of other topics to media on site, including MLB.com’s Dodgers beat reporter Juan Toribio.

Here are five takeaways from that talk:

1. The outfield is in flux
Julio Rodríguez in center field? Evan White in left? Those options are being actively explored.

Rodríguez, who is just 20 years old and still growing, showed the physical development last year that could make him a candidate to play center, and Dipoto again didn’t rule out the possibility of him being on the Opening Day roster -- with the caveat that his role will hinge on what other talent they add this offseason.

And given that the club is committed to Ty France at first base after his strong season there in 2021, the Mariners have asked White -- who has begun ramping up his baseball activity -- to experiment with an outfielder’s glove.

“We know he's a Gold Glove first baseman, so it’s kind of like what the Dodgers did with Cody Bellinger,” Dipoto said. “It just presents you with the potential of plate appearances, it's just having the versatility to play three different spots on the field gives us the chance of maximizing opportunity for him.”

Most signs point to Kyle Lewis not being the everyday center fielder next season, at least at the start, and Jarred Kelenic doesn’t profile strongly there, a point Dipoto made Tuesday. And though that might appear to be an area that the Mariners could address in free agency, Dipoto said that’s unlikely given the organization’s outfield depth.

2. J.P. is firmly the long-term shortstop
The Mariners always seemed like they would have a seat at the table with this loaded free-agent shortstop class given their need for an impact bat, but if they do add one of these blue-chip players it won’t be at their incumbent position. That’s because that gig belongs to J.P. Crawford for the now and long term.

A year ago, that might not have been the case, but Crawford emerged as a consistent on-base threat as Seattle’s everyday leadoff man while starting in all but three games and putting together a fringe All-Star-caliber season. He’s also the heir apparent to Kyle Seager as the clubhouse leader among position players, and Crawford made it clear multiple times during the season that he was not interested in changing positions.

Tuesday’s declaration from Dipoto was his strongest yet in the 26-year-old shortstop. If Seattle is to pursue Trevor Story, Kris Bryant, Marcus Semien et al, it would be at second or third base. Dipoto is more focused on adding versatile impact talent than sorting out where they fit.

3. They like the Oakland guys
When 11-year manager Bob Melvin left the A’s for the Padres last week, it signaled the possibility of a major sell-off, which was reiterated Tuesday by MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, who reported that Oakland is willing to listen to trade talks on any of their arbitration-eligible players. Not only is that group comprised of All-Star talent, but many of those also explicitly meet Seattle’s needs.

Matt Chapman, arguably the game’s best defensive third baseman, taking over for Seager? What about starting pitchers Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea plugging a much-needed rotation void? Oakland GM David Forst said Tuesday, per Heyman, that, “This is the cycle for the A’s. We have to listen and be open to whatever comes out of this.”

And as for Dipoto? “We like them all,” he said, per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times.

4. After Kikuchi’s departure, they now need two SPs
Dipoto said he was “a little surprised” that Yusei Kikuchi declined to exercise his one-year, $13 million player option, and that the Mariners must now address the left-hander’s void, in addition to their intent on adding another starting pitcher this winter.

“I think he saw the possibilities what was happening with our team,” Dipoto said. “But at the same time, we knew there was the at least the risk of him leaving and going elsewhere and I wish him well.”

There are a throng of strong starting options on the free-agent market, but there’s also the possibility the Mariners pursue their need for two such arms via trades.

5. No extra urgency with the CBA’s expiration looming
Even with the Dec. 1 expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement on the horizon, Dipoto reiterated what other sources told MLB.com recently -- that they will operate as they typically have in years past despite the changes that could be coming once a new agreement is reached.

“I’m not really affected by the notion that there may or may not be a stoppage,” Dipoto said. “We always want to get things done. We tend to move pretty quickly. I can't really answer for other teams, but we generally move quickly, whether it's connecting with teams on trades and we've been pretty quick to the market on guys we feel like fit us. … I'm not really going to concern myself with what may or may not happen.”

Dipoto typically strikes early in free agency, and given that he’s surrounded by his peers this week, perhaps the first domino could fall soon.