Mariners to be active in free agency, trades

Dipoto says front office has given green light to increase payroll

October 7th, 2021

SEATTLE -- If ever there was a time for the Mariners to significantly add impact Major League talent from outside of the organization, the 2021-22 offseason always seemed like the prime window.

General manager Jerry Dipoto has hinted at it often through the years, but following a 90-win season that reignited a passionate fanbase, he firmly reiterated those intentions in a season-ending press conference on Thursday.

“We thought we would start to turn a corner now, right about now, and I think we did that,” Dipoto said. “We achieved that goal, and now it's incumbent on us to go add where we can add and improve where we can improve. That's not lost on us. We'll visit every avenue to do that, whether it's the free-agent market, the potential for trades, but we do have payroll flexibility and we're going to use it to go out and make the team better.”

Dipoto added that he’s received a green light from ownership and managing general partner John Stanton to significantly increase payroll this offseason from the roughly $90 million that was on the books in 2021, per Cot's Baseball Contracts.

“Yes,” Dipoto said bluntly when asked.

If ’2019-20 were about acquiring and developing talent and '21 was about playing meaningful games late in the season, then the outlook ahead of ’22 will be about augmenting what they have from outside of the organization -- in addition to the churn out from their No. 2-ranked farm system -- which aligns with the direction Dipoto set out after the ’18 season, and ownership supported.

“In 2018, we had those assurances from ownership and here recently, it's been doubled down,” Dipoto said. “We are definitely committed to making this team better and John [Stanton] and our ownership group understands what that means, and that's an exciting thing for us because we did a lot of work over these last couple of years to create this opportunity, and we want to take advantage of it.”

The Mariners have operated with expensive payrolls in the past, most recently at roughly $170 million in 2018, when accounting each 40-man roster spot for competitive balance tax purposes. And they’ve been able to lure high-profile free agents to Seattle, such as Robinson Canó in the 2013-14 offseason.

“The fact that we did get to 90 wins, the fact that this place was electric for the final three days, but truly, this has to be a more appealing place to a Major League free agent than it has been in many years,” Dipoto said. “And that's going to help us a lot.”

This direction is far more aggressive than the one Dipoto operated under last offseason, when the club made offers to multiple veterans (most notably, infielders Kolten Wong and Tommy La Stella), but essentially came up short due to being out-bid in both dollars and years.

But with the return of ticket revenue after no fans were permitted in-person in 2020, as well as the competitive stage that the Mariners are in, entering their fourth season removed from the step-back, the time seems opportune to add.

“We think we're good, and we think we're closer than we've ever been,” Dipoto said. “And this was always our plan.”

So, with that in mind, what and how do they add?

The offense desperately could use upgrades after slashing .226/.303/.385, good enough for a .688 OPS that ranked fourth-worst in baseball. Most advanced metrics, such as their 93 wRC+ (league average is 100), outlined that the Mariners were notably below average.

This free-agent market is loaded with run-producing infielders, which is precisely what the Mariners intend to add. But the ever-aggressive Dipoto will also actively explore the trade market, which is typically where he’s made his most significant external additions, including the acquisitions of Ty France, J.P. Crawford, Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales and many more.

“One way to categorize our needs, we would like to add offense,” Dipoto said. “Wherever the offense comes from, it would be hard to imagine one of those players not manning some infield position. There’s an opportunity to use that DH spot in a creative way like we did this year. That's the game as well. But we're just looking to add talent.”

The Mariners will continue to exploit defensive versatility, especially with their bench. And the ability to move France, Abraham Toro and others around the diamond could open more opportunities in how to fill out the rest of their lineup.

“That’s going to give us a ton of flexibility going into this offseason, because it allows us to go find additional offense without having to focus on one specific position,” Dipoto added. “Because we have other players that can fill that void.”

There’s also a glaring need for starting pitching depth, even with the assortment of reinforcements coming in the Minors, such as top prospects George Kirby, Matt Brash and Brandon Williamson, all of whom, pending health, could contribute in 2022. The Mariners lost James Paxton, Nick Margevicius, Justin Dunn and Ljay Newsome to season-ending injuries of more than two months, and they needed to acquire Tyler Anderson at the Trade Deadline just to keep their heads above water.

“We don't naturally want to block the young guys from having an opportunity. … But I say that, and this year is a great example of don't plan on five guys running through the season without hitting a bump in the road, either from an effectiveness or an injury perspective,” Dipoto said. “So we're going to go out, and we're going to see if we can stabilize or add to our starting rotation.”

Of course, all of the Mariners’ ambitions this offseason will hinge on the Major League landscape in light of the collective bargaining agreement’s looming expiration on Dec. 1.

“All we can do is follow the rules and the market as it exists right now,” Dipoto said. “And our expectation is that the week after the World Series, the market will open, and we are going to be very aggressive going out. We always are. We tend to move pretty quickly. But we’re going to go out and we are going to be heavy in recruiting the free agents that we think make sense for us.”