Inbox: What moves will Dipoto make this winter?

November 15th, 2019

SEATTLE -- The General Managers Meetings are in the books, and the Mariners have a little more clarity on what they will be seeking this offseason.

Which means it's a perfect time for another Inbox. Let's get to your questions.

Although I really appreciate your logical approach to what lies ahead for the Mariners, what kind of crazy move might you predict this offseason?
-- Butch W., Tumwater, Wash.

By crazy, I assume you mean unexpected. For the most part, I do expect general manager Jerry Dipoto to be more limited in his Hot Stove maneuvering, as the goal is to allow the club’s young and promising prospects to begin making a bigger impact in 2020.

But that doesn’t mean Dipoto won’t bust a bigger move or two as well. I could definitely envision scenarios where the Mariners trade Mitch Haniger and/or Omar Narvaez for young pitching help. Both players have three years of club control remaining before becoming free agents in 2023, so there’s no rush to move them.

But that also means they have trade value and the need for pitching could make them expendable, given the promise of outfield prospects Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, Jake Fraley and Julio Rodriguez and the surprising emergence of catchers Tom Murphy and Austin Nola, as well as prospect Cal Raleigh.

The issue with Haniger is that you don't want to sell low while he's coming off his injury-plagued 2019, so it could make more sense to wait and let the 2018 All-Star return and prove that he's back to full health, unless some team club up elite pitching prospects this offseason.

On their way to using a record number of players this year, the Mariners had a lot of injuries, particularly among pitchers. Does this raise any questions about the training staff, particularly strength and conditioning coaches?
-- Wayne B., Jewell, Georgia

The Mariners did set MLB records by using 67 players, including 42 pitchers, in 2019. Some of that was injury-related, but a great deal of the roster churn had more to do with the trial-and-error process of looking at various players -- particularly in the bullpen -- and seeing who might be part of the future, or starting the year with veterans like Jay Bruce, Edwin Encarnación, Tim Beckham before shifting to younger prospects.

When it comes to injuries, the Mariners were fifth among MLB teams with 1,309 games spent by players on the injured list, with the Yankees topping that list at 2,136 games missed. But it’s worth looking a little deeper at that number, as the only starting pitcher to miss significant time was Félix Hernández, whose right shoulder simply seems to have worn out over the years.

That number includes 112 games missed by reliever Arodys Vizcaíno, who was already injured when acquired from the Braves in a trade for salary exchange purposes, as well as 97 games by Sam Tuivailala from Achilles’ surgery the previous year.

The most significant position player injuries were Ryon Healy’s lower back issue (111 games), Haniger’s ruptured testicle (95 games), Braden Bishop’s lacerated spleen (73 games) and Kyle Seager’s torn ligament in his hand (53 games). None of those seem to be something that can be linked to improper conditioning.

Assuming every outfield prospect reaches their reasonable ceiling, which ones do you think will be on the team in 2022?
-- Evan W., Marysville

I expect Lewis and Fraley to open the season in Seattle next season, assuming all goes well in Spring Training. Kelenic has a reasonable chance to join the big league club at some point this coming year as well, as a September callup if not sooner, and certainly should be in the picture by ’21.

The tougher call is when Rodriguez figures to be ready. The 18-year-old finished last season with a few weeks at Class A Advanced Modesto and then performed well in the Arizona Fall League. He would logically start out again at Modesto in 2020 and progress to Double-A Arkansas if he continues impressing, which would put him in position to at least be on the big league radar at age 20 in '21 and a more likely arrival at some point in ’22.

But predicting the progress and health of prospects is difficult, and it’s rare for everything to line up as expected, so put all those projections in pencil.

How do you think guys like Mallex Smith and Domingo Santana factor into our future plans with plenty of outfield prospects on the way? You think we see them as trade bait in the next year or so?
-- Sam P., Seattle

I’d be surprised if Santana isn’t traded this offseason, given that he doesn’t seem to fit into the outfield plans and does have enough offensive potential to draw interest. That could change if Haniger gets traded, or if Santana is viewed as a potential designated hitter instead of Daniel Vogelbach. The same could be true of Smith, though his speed and the versatility to play all three outfield positions provide more reasons to keep him as part of the immediate future at least.

Does the timeline of Kris Bryant’s free agency match the timeline of Seager’s contact ending and the Mariners looking for a high-priced free agent to complete their young roster and make a World Series run?
-- Blake L., Corvallis, Ore.

Yes, Bryant and Seager both will become free agents in 2022 unless either signs an extension, or if Seager gets traded his '22 team option becomes a $15 million player option.

For what it’s worth, Seager will be 34 in '22, while Bryant will be 30 at that point when he reaches free agency after his final year of salary arbitration with the Cubs. And, surely, the three-time All-Star and 2016 National League MVP Award winner will be a prime target of numerous teams if he remains healthy.