SEATTLE -- With less than six weeks until Mariners pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz., the roster plans are coming into focus.
General manager Jerry Dipoto figures to add another pitcher or two to the mix, but he has lived up to his promise of staying quiet this offseason for the most part, leaving the door open for numerous young prospects to get opportunities in 2020.
Although things obviously could change this spring, here’s an updated projection of how the Opening Day roster likely will look on March 26, when Seattle starts its season against the Rangers at T-Mobile Park.
Remember, due to a rule change, there will be 26 players on the active roster this season -- with a maximum of 13 pitchers -- which allows for an extra position player.
Locks: Tom Murphy, Austin Nola
Possibility: Cal Raleigh
One of Dipoto’s biggest offseason moves was trading catcher Omar Narváez to the Brewers for pitching prospect Adam Hill and a Competitive Balance Round B Draft pick, which opens the door for Murphy to step into a full-time starting role and the versatile Nola to slide into the backup spot after playing primarily at first base last year. Murphy hit extremely well in a platoon with Narváez last year and was the better defender, but this will be his first opportunity as a team’s primary backstop. The Mariners love Raleigh as a rising prospect, but he’ll likely open at Double-A Arkansas.
Lock: Evan White
Possibilities: Daniel Vogelbach, Patrick Wisdom, Austin Nola
White, a 2017 first-round Draft pick, became the clear front-runner after signing a six-year, $24 million contract in November that also includes three option years that could hike that total to $55 million if all goes well. The 23-year-old is by far the best defensive first baseman in the organization, but played all last season in Double-A and his biggest challenge will be showing his bat is ready for the jump to MLB. Should White appear in over his head, the Mariners could split time between Vogelbach, Nola and Wisdom and have White start the year at Triple-A Tacoma, but they’d prefer to have Vogelbach stick with designated hitter duties and let Nola concentrate more on catching.
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Lock: Shed Long
Possibility: Dee Gordon
The Mariners must figure out what to do with Gordon as he enters the final year of a contract that guarantees him $13.8 million, but the 24-year-old Long will likely be the primary second baseman after impressing the club with his bat speed and pop in September. Gordon, 31, could play a backup role at second and short -- or be traded if Dipoto can find a landing spot for him.
Lock: J.P. Crawford
This one will be in Crawford’s hands from Day 1, as long as he stays healthy, because the Mariners regard the 24-year-old as a key part of their young nucleus. Donnie Walton got a brief look in September and provides some depth if needed, with Dee Gordon and utility man Dylan Moore also capable of filling in.
Lock: Kyle Seager
Possibility: Patrick Wisdom
After missing two months following surgery on his left hand and then getting off to a slow start at the plate, Seager was Seattle’s best hitter in the second half (.260/.339/.524 with 17 homers and 45 RBIs in 68 games). The Mariners like his veteran leadership for their young group, and the two years and $38 million remaining on his contract -- plus a $15 million third-year player option if he gets traded -- make it unlikely that Dipoto can move the 32-year-old. If Seager does get dealt, Wisdom figures as the first option as a 28-year-old with some power potential but only 76 games of MLB experience with the Rangers and Cardinals.
Possibility: Daniel Vogelbach
After making the AL All-Star team last year, Vogelbach hit just .162/.286/.341 with nine homers in 59 games in the second half. So while he’s the early favorite to win the job again, the burly 27-year-old will need to show something this spring or risk losing that role, as he’s out of Minor League options.
Lock: Dylan Moore
Possibility: Tim Lopes, Sam Haggerty
Though his offensive game could use more work, Moore filled this position well as a rookie last year, and he’s capable of playing solid defense virtually anywhere in the infield or outfield. He could be challenged by Lopes, however, as the youngster slashed .270/.359/.360 in 41 late-season games and also is a versatile defender. Austin Nola could also be regarded as a utility player, though the Omar Narváez trade seems likely to bump Nola more to catching unless the Mariners add another backstop. And Haggerty, who assumed the final 40-man roster spot when he was claimed off Mets waivers on Jan. 10, can play all over the infield.
Locks: Mitch Haniger, Mallex Smith, Kyle Lewis
Possibilities: Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop
Haniger reinherits the right-field job, assuming he’s healthy again, while the Mariners are looking for a bounce-back year from Smith in center. Lewis played so well as a September callup that the rookie will be given a shot as the starting left fielder, with Domingo Santana having been released. Rookies Fraley and Bishop will be given long looks in center field and can back up the corners as well, while No. 1 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) Jarred Kelenic could be knocking on the door by midseason if he continues his impressive progress.
Locks: Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Kendall Graveman, Justus Sheffield
Possibilities: Justin Dunn or free agent
Sheffield will be one rookie starter in the rotation for sure. And if Dunn appears ready, he’ll get the fifth starter spot. But Dipoto would like to sign one more veteran who can either take that spot if needed or handle a swingman role to avoid pushing Dunn too quickly. The rotation thinned considerably with Félix Hernández, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone departing in free agency and Mike Leake traded away last July. Graveman, a two-time Opening Day starter with the A’s, was signed to take one spot as he returns from a year off following Tommy John surgery. Even with some intriguing prospects on the way, led by Logan Gilbert, starting depth appears a question. So expect another injury bounce-back veteran type like Taijuan Walker or Jimmy Nelson to be added.
Locks: Matt Magill, Sam Tuivailala, Erik Swanson, Carl Edwards Jr.
Possibilities: Brandon Brennan, Dan Altavilla, Zac Grotz, Taylor Guilbeau, Art Warren, Reggie McClain, Matt Festa, Gerson Bautista, Sam Delaplane, Wyatt Mills, Aaron Fletcher, Yohan Ramirez, free agents or trade
There really aren’t any locks in what figures to be a wide-open competition in the spring, though Magill was working effectively as the closer in the final weeks of the season and Tuivailala bounced back well from right Achilles tendon surgery. Magill and Altavilla are out of Minor League options, so that factors in as well, while Swanson impressed the Mariners after moving to the bullpen midseason. Edwards is an intriguing bounce-back addition after a rough season with the Cubs last year. Losing Austin Adams to late-season knee surgery hurt, but Seattle developed a lot of relief options in 2019, and Dipoto likely will add one more veteran free agent – perhaps former D-backs right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano -- as well as giving promising prospects like Delaplane, Warren, Fletcher, Mills and Rule 5 Draft pick Ramirez a good look.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.