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Who will be on Mariners' Opening Day roster?

@gregjohnsmlb
November 5, 2019

SEATTLE -- Projecting a team’s Opening Day roster before the Hot Stove season even heats up is risky business, particularly when dealing with ultra-active Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. But Dipoto has indicated things should be quieter this winter with a club now wanting to get a good look at

SEATTLE -- Projecting a team’s Opening Day roster before the Hot Stove season even heats up is risky business, particularly when dealing with ultra-active Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto.

But Dipoto has indicated things should be quieter this winter with a club now wanting to get a good look at many of its young prospects, so we’ll take an initial shot at how things could shake out come spring when Seattle opens its 2020 season on March 26 against the Rangers.

All of this comes with a large asterisk, of course, as some offseason moves will be made and injuries always can change the picture in a hurry. But here’s a projection of how the initial roster could shake out, remembering that teams will be allowed to carry 26 players instead of the previous 25 starting next season.

Catcher
Locks: Omar Narváez, Tom Murphy, Austin Nola
Possibilities: Cal Raleigh
Narváez and Murphy hit extremely well in a platoon tandem last year and will likely return together, though Murphy’s surprising emergence and defensive ability could make Narváez a potential trade chip for Dipoto as he looks for more pitching. In that scenario, utility man Nola would earn a lot more action as the backup catcher, which would mean less time at first base. The Mariners love Raleigh as a rising prospect, but he’ll likely open at Double-A Arkansas.

First base
Locks: Austin Nola, Daniel Vogelbach
Possibilities: Evan White
White, a 2017 first-round Draft pick, will get a long look in Spring Training. The 23-year-old is by far the best defensive first baseman in the organization and just needs to show he’s ready offensively to make the jump from Double-A. But the likely scenario is he opens at Triple-A Tacoma as Nola and Vogelbach handle first base again until he’s ready. The Mariners would prefer to keep Vogelbach primarily at designated hitter, however, and Nola could wind up catching a lot if Narváez were to be traded. So the door certainly could be open for White if he has a good camp.

Second base
Locks: Shed Long
Possibilities: Dee Gordon
Expect Long to be on the roster someplace -- either at second base or in left field -- and second base seems to be his best defensive option. But that will require Dipoto to find a trade partner for Gordon, who is entering the final year of a contract that guarantees him $13.8 million in 2020.

Shortstop
Locks: J.P. Crawford
This one will be in Crawford’s hands from Day 1 as long as he stays healthy, as 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 utility man Dylan Moore also capable of filling in.

Third base
Locks: Kyle Seager
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 -- makes it highly unlikely that Dipoto will move the 32-year-old.

Utility
Locks: Dylan Moore
Possibilities: Tim Lopes
Though his offensive game could use more work, Moore filled this role 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. Nola could also be regarded as a utility player, and the switch to 26-man rosters allows the Mariners to carry an extra position player, so he and Moore (or Lopes) should fit in the plans.

Outfield
Locks: Mitch Haniger, Mallex Smith, Kyle Lewis
Possibilities: Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop, Domingo Santana
Unless Haniger or Smith get traded, they should be in the outfield mix. And the rookie Lewis played so well as a September callup that he’ll be hard to keep out of the lineup going forward. Santana seems a likely trade candidate, given the impending arrival of more highly touted prospects. The Mariners would like to see what Fraley can do with a shot in center field, and No. 1 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) Jarred Kelenic could be knocking on the door by midseason if he continues his impressive progress.

Starting pitchers
Locks: Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Justus Sheffield
Possibilities: Justin Dunn, free agents or trade
If Dunn appears ready, he’ll get the fourth starter spot. But Dipoto will definitely add to this group with a couple of second-tier veterans in order to have needed depth and avoid pushing Dunn too quickly. Don’t expect the Mariners to shop in the top end of the free-agent market; they'll more likely bring in several non-roster invitees -- like Tommy Milone last year -- who are looking for an opportunity. This is one spot where Dipoto could bust a bigger move if he sees the chance to trade for a young starter with upside and several years of team control. The rotation has thinned considerably with Félix Hernández and Milone becoming free agents, Wade LeBlanc’s option not renewed and Mike Leake traded away. Even with some intriguing prospects on the way, led by Logan Gilbert, starting depth is always crucial.

Relievers
Locks: Sam Tuivailala, Matt Magill, Erik Swanson
Possibilities: Brandon Brennan, Dan Altavilla, Zac Grotz, Taylor Guilbeau, Art Warren, Reggie McClain, Matt Festa, Gerson Bautista, Sam Delaplane, 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 in midseason. Losing Austin Adams to late-season left knee surgery hurt, but Seattle developed a lot of relief options in 2019 and Dipoto likely will add a couple of veterans, as well as giving promising prospects like Delaplane and Warren a good look.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.