Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
The Official Site of the Seattle Mariners
news

Mariners Pipeline

Curletta uses '18 to launch onto Mariners' radar

Seattle prospect earns organization's Minor League Hitter of the Year Award, invite to big league camp
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- While much has been made of the Mariners' newly acquired youngsters this winter, there are a few returning prospects to keep an eye on when Spring Training opens next month in Peoria, Ariz., as well.

One of those will be hard to miss, given Joey Curletta stands in at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, making him one of the biggest Mariners in camp in size, if not name recognition.

SEATTLE -- While much has been made of the Mariners' newly acquired youngsters this winter, there are a few returning prospects to keep an eye on when Spring Training opens next month in Peoria, Ariz., as well.

One of those will be hard to miss, given Joey Curletta stands in at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, making him one of the biggest Mariners in camp in size, if not name recognition.

Curletta isn't a hyped prospect. He's yet to crack the Mariners' Top 30 list from MLB Pipeline and hasn't advanced past Double-A despite being just about a month shy of his 25th birthday. But the Arizona native put together a breakout year last season for Double-A Arkansas, discovering new-found success and earning Texas League Player of the Year honors after restructuring his swing in an effort to better elevate the ball.

Whether there's a spot on the Major League club for Curletta this year remains a question, but the Mariners chose to promote him to their 40-man roster this winter rather than let him get away as a six-year Minor League free agent.

And with Nelson Cruz now departed and Edwin Encarnacion on the trading block, it's not crazy to think the Mariners might find some designated hitter at-bats somewhere in the future, if not a shot at first base should Curletta provide any hint that he could be part of the future nucleus general manager Jerry Dipoto is looking to build.

A sixth-round Draft pick of the Dodgers in 2012, Curletta didn't quite find his footing until midway through his first season with Seattle after he was acquired from the Phillies for switch-pitcher Pat Venditte in '17.

"It really started toward the tail end of 2017 in [Class A Advanced] Modesto," said Andy McKay, the Mariners' director of player development. "That second half, [Curletta] really started putting things together. You could see there was a bit of a transformation going on there.

"And he really never stopped in Double-A this past year. He just kept getting better. The Texas League is a really good league, and to be named the best player in that league is really saying something. We're very happy for him. Obviously we re-signed him and are glad he's still a Mariner."

Curletta slashed .282/.383/.482 with 23 homers and 94 RBIs in 129 games for Arkansas, by far the best numbers of his career. Despite the jump to Double-A ball, he greatly improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio as well, with 81 walks and 130 strikeouts in 556 plate appearances.

"Being OK taking pitches that I don't hit that well, that was a big thing for me," Curletta said after earning Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. Award as the organization's top Minor League hitter last season. "And trying to hit the ball in the air a little more. As the year progressed, I gained confidence and put it together and started believing in myself more than I had in the past."

Tweet from @ARTravs: #Travs players were honored at Safeco Field prior to the game last Friday for the @Mariners 2018 Minor League awards. Congrats @bradenbishop7 @jcurllll and @mfesta33 !Follow the link below for the 2018 season recap: https://t.co/fYnpIwuaBT pic.twitter.com/6HrrnPxDWt

The Mariners are starting to believe in Curletta as well, which is why they protected him on their 40-man roster. While he's a little older than most developing prospects, McKay notes that the new emphasis on elevating the ball and improving launch angles to increase power has helped unleash increased potential in a few players -- like Mitch Haniger and Braden Bishop in the Mariners' organization -- at later points in their careers.

"Right now, we are kind of in an era where you're able to find quite a few players that have really transformed their careers with some basic swing changes," McKay said. "Probably more so than in my 25 years in the game. The obvious is Chris Taylor, and they're all over the league.

"Basically, players are making a real effort to lift the baseball and get it up in the air, where probably the first 20 years of my life nobody talked about doing that. Now you're seeing players change the trajectory of their careers based on making a few changes. And Joey definitely falls into that category."

Whether he can advance that approach now in Triple-A or the Major Leagues remains to be seen. But after spending the offseason at home in Tempe, Ariz., Curletta will get an opportunity next month to take part in his first Major League camp and see where that leads.

The challenge will be not trying too hard, but just continuing his upward path at his own pace.

"I just have to continue to do what I did this last year, and show people what kind of player I am," he said. "Be true to myself, not try to do too much. Keep progressing in terms of maturity and understanding my swing and myself."

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

Seattle Mariners, Joey Curletta

Mariners 'pitch' working plan to land Kikuchi

Dipoto wants to limit innings in Japanese star's intro to MLB
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- While many fans wondered why the Mariners would pursue big-time Japanese free agent Yusei Kikuchi after unloading many of their former standouts this offseason, or why the 27-year-old lefty would cast his lot with a rebuilding club, it turns out Seattle's step-back posture actually played into what Kikuchi and agent Scott Boras see as a perfect landing spot.

Boras said most teams pursuing Kikuchi wanted to throw him straight into the fire in terms of needing a starter who would rack up big innings, but the Mariners offered a developmental plan that will limit his initial workload and help him transition from Japanese baseball, where pitchers typically only start once a week.

SEATTLE -- While many fans wondered why the Mariners would pursue big-time Japanese free agent Yusei Kikuchi after unloading many of their former standouts this offseason, or why the 27-year-old lefty would cast his lot with a rebuilding club, it turns out Seattle's step-back posture actually played into what Kikuchi and agent Scott Boras see as a perfect landing spot.

Boras said most teams pursuing Kikuchi wanted to throw him straight into the fire in terms of needing a starter who would rack up big innings, but the Mariners offered a developmental plan that will limit his initial workload and help him transition from Japanese baseball, where pitchers typically only start once a week.

Kikuchi excited for opportunity with Mariners

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto sold Boras on the club's willingness to slow play Kikuchi's leap into the Majors, knowing numerous Japanese pitchers have run into health and production issues after their initial seasons in Major League Baseball.

Video: Mariners could be creative with Kikuchi's workload

"You get a lot of that two-year burst and then there's a big drawback because we have not developed innings the appropriate way," Dipoto said.

The Mariners plan to pitch Kikuchi as part of a normal five-man rotation, but they will only use him for an inning or so about every fifth or sixth start.

Video: Mariners officially introduce pitcher Yusei Kikuchi

"He's pitched 160-180 innings over the last couple years in Japan, so we're not going to get super conservative," Dipoto said. "But we do feel over the course of 30-32 starts of a season, if every sixth start we back off -- so roughly once a month -- we make that more of a bullpen day where he throws a nice healthy bullpen between, stays on turn and prepares as a normal start, and then goes out and throws a one inning or 30-pitch start, it gives him a nice little breather without breaking turn or taking him away from his routine."

Boras noted that one of his former clients, Daisuke Matsuzaka, came to MLB at age 26 and had two outstanding seasons for the Red Sox before running into arm issues. Shohei Ohtani needed elbow surgery in 2018 after debuting at age 23 with the Angels. Numerous other Japanese starters have seen similar problems.

"These guys are in their early to mid-20s and we're just seeing the Tommy Johns rack up," Boras said. "We're also seeing a performance level where the players with the greatest durability were the guys coming over at 30 or 31. So I really felt with a player of this ability, we had the opportunity to restructure a new format to acclimate him to this environment."

Dipoto let Boras know his team was highly interested in Kikuchi at the Winter Meetings in December, but the GM said it became clear about a week ago that having a progressive development plan could be the difference-maker.

"Jerry being a former pitcher, we raised this and talked about the data, and said let's do something that will help you long term and help the player to acclimate to a five-day program with rest stops maybe in the fifth or sixth start and limit innings," Boras said. "Jerry was all for it."

Video: Kikuchi on facing Ohtani, sticking to pitching

Dipoto said that program is frequently used in the Minor Leagues as pitchers adjust to their initial forays into professional ball and he believes it could be a growing trend in MLB, where teams are using more "openers" and limiting innings in various ways to keep arms fresh.

For the Mariners, being careful with Kikuchi fits perfectly with their expectation that 2019 will be primarily about getting experience for a new young nucleus of players that should peak together in 2020 and '21.

"Our goal is to go into this season and develop YK along with a lot of the other young players," Dipoto said. "We're going to try to win as many games as we can, but our focus is coming out in 2020 with a group of talented players who are ready to go compete at a much higher level, he among them."

Tweet from @Mariners: Well that was fun.Go behind the scenes of YK's big day. pic.twitter.com/nFsFxMIIxv

The Mariners could use Kikuchi's shorter starts to call up one of their new young prospects like Justus Sheffield or Erik Swanson to get them Major League experience this coming season while limiting their own initial workload, or they could keep one of those youngsters in the bullpen as a long man capable of building innings and experience that way.

Boras presented a unique contract that will allow the Mariners to benefit in the long run if Kikuchi develops into a top-end starter and stays healthy. The first three years of the deal are guaranteed for a total of $43 million. The Mariners then have the option of extending him for another four years at $66 million. If they decline, Kikuchi can either accept a one-year, $13 million player option for 2022 or become a free agent.

Seattle also must pay a $10.3 million posting fee to the Seibu Lions based on a percentage of the first four guaranteed years of Kikuchi's contract, though the Mariners will not owe anything more should they extend their own four-year option.

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

Seattle Mariners, Yusei Kikuchi

Kikuchi excited for opportunity with Mariners

Japanese star hopes to pitch in season-opening series in Tokyo
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Yusei Kikuchi introduced himself to Mariners fans for the first time on Thursday at an introductory press conference at T-Mobile Park. And the Japanese left-hander did so, impressively, while answering questions in English.

It speaks volumes about Kikuchi's confidence and long-term planning that he's been studying English since his high school days in Japan, wanting to be able to express himself directly to the media and fans in America once he got his shot to pitch in Major League Baseball.

SEATTLE -- Yusei Kikuchi introduced himself to Mariners fans for the first time on Thursday at an introductory press conference at T-Mobile Park. And the Japanese left-hander did so, impressively, while answering questions in English.

It speaks volumes about Kikuchi's confidence and long-term planning that he's been studying English since his high school days in Japan, wanting to be able to express himself directly to the media and fans in America once he got his shot to pitch in Major League Baseball.

That opportunity began in earnest once Kikuchi signed off on a unique contract that could keep him in Seattle for anywhere from three to seven seasons, depending on whether the Mariners extend a four-year option after the 2021 season.

"I've had the dream to play Major League Baseball since I was 15," Kikuchi said. "I have studied English ever since then."

Video: Dipoto impressed with Kikuchi, excited for future

The 27-year-old later apologized for not being able to give longer answers in English, but he expounded on that in his native language to Japanese reporters.

"Being here on the biggest stage of baseball in the world, it's a global stage and I wanted to ingrain myself with that and be available to everyone, and speak directly with everyone," he said through interpreter Shawn Novak. "So I worked hard. That was an important thing for me to do going forward. From high school, when I had the goal and dream of playing in the big leagues, I wanted to be able to communicate directly from the heart to the fans over here in English by myself."

One of Kikuchi's first orders of business after speaking with reporters was to meet Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in person for the first time. Kikuchi said the first professional game he attended as a teenager in Japan, he saw Ichiro playing for the Orix Blue Wave in 2000.

Video: Kikuchi excited to meet 'person in the sky' Ichiro

The chance to be a teammate of Ichiro this coming spring looms large in Kikuchi's mind. According to general manager Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners remain firm with their plan to let Ichiro compete for a roster spot this spring at age 45. As long as he stays healthy, Ichiro will be one of three extra players the club is allowed to carry for the two-game Opening Series in Tokyo against the A's on March 20-21.

Kikuchi unsure whether Ichiro is real or 'a person in the sky'

It's unlikely Ichiro will remain on the active roster once the club is required to cut down to 25 players for the remainder of the regular season, though Dipoto didn't rule it out. But however long Ichiro is on the club, Kikuchi plans to enjoy it.

Video: Kikuchi wants to pitch in Opening Series in Japan

"Mr. Ichiro is kind of a person in the sky, a legend. I don't know if he really exists," Kikuchi said. "So the first step is to be able to meet and talk to him. When I do have the opportunity to step on the field with him, it will be a great memory for me that I'll cherish forever."

Kikuchi will step into a long tradition of Japanese players with the Mariners, who have had at least one Japanese player on their roster every year since 1998, including Ichiro, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kenji Johjima, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Norichika Aoki, Munenori Kawasaki and Mac Suzuki.

Kikuchi got advice from Iwakuma in 2017 on a change he was making in his delivery, and now he could step into his role in the Mariners' rotation going forward, figuring to land a prominent spot as a power lefty in a group that also will initially include Marco Gonzales, Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc. In addition youngsters Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, Justin Dunn and others are waiting in the wings.

Tweet from @Mariners: That's a good look. #TrueToTheBlue pic.twitter.com/so7MId2Zhp

A year ago, the Mariners pushed hard to land Shohei Ohtani, who instead signed with the Angels. Now, Seattle has landed Kikuchi, who attended the same high school as Ohtani, though is three years older.

Kikuchi will have a chance now to compete against Ohtani regularly in the coming seasons in American League West battles.

"I'm looking forward to challenging him many times," Kikuchi said.

But one thing Kikuchi won't attempt to do is follow in Ohtani's footsteps as a two-way player.

"I'm going to focus on my pitching," he said with a smile.

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

Seattle Mariners, Yusei Kikuchi

Kikuchi signs 4-year deal with Mariners

MLB.com

SEATTLE -- A rebuilding Mariners team added a strong piece to its pitching rotation as Japanese standout Yusei Kikuchi finalized a deal on Wednesday that will keep him in Seattle anywhere from three to seven years, depending on how it plays out.

The Mariners didn't release the financial terms of the contract and are listing it as a four-year contract, though a source confirmed to MLB.com that the unique deal is for $43 million over an initial three years, with a $13 million player option for 2022. But the option can potentially be replaced by an additional four-year, $66 million extension by the club that would convert the deal to seven years total.

SEATTLE -- A rebuilding Mariners team added a strong piece to its pitching rotation as Japanese standout Yusei Kikuchi finalized a deal on Wednesday that will keep him in Seattle anywhere from three to seven years, depending on how it plays out.

The Mariners didn't release the financial terms of the contract and are listing it as a four-year contract, though a source confirmed to MLB.com that the unique deal is for $43 million over an initial three years, with a $13 million player option for 2022. But the option can potentially be replaced by an additional four-year, $66 million extension by the club that would convert the deal to seven years total.

If Kikuchi declines the option for 2022 and the Mariners don't pick up the four-year extension, he would become a free agent at that point. If Kikuchi stays all seven years, he'd earn a total of $109 million, or about $15.6 million per season.

Get to know Kikuchi

The 27-year-old Kikuchi was one of the prime free-agent starters available this offseason, and he had to sign with an MLB team by 2 p.m. PT on Wednesday or he would've had to return to the Seibu Lions, his team in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball League, for the 2019 season. Under the new Japanese posting system, the Mariners will pay his former club a release fee that will be a percentage of his contract.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has traded away a number of prominent veterans this offseason while reworking his roster with younger prospects in taking aim toward a push in 2020-21, but he believes Kikuchi can be part of that future wave of talent.

"Yusei's combination of character, talent, experience and relative age made him a primary target in our roster building plans," Dipoto said. "He is an exciting young pitcher with the ability to impact the Mariners, both in the present and future."

Tweet from @Mariners: GM Jerry Dipoto on the signing of the highly-touted Japanese starter. pic.twitter.com/lb7pjFr8wB

Dipoto sees Kikuchi as being of similar age and remaining team control as All-Star right fielder Mitch Haniger, newly acquired center fielder Mallex Smith and fellow left-handed starter Marco Gonzales, who are part of the new core he's looking to build around after adding a number of young prospects via trades this offseason.

At this point, the Mariners' rotation for 2019 figures to include Gonzales, Kikuchi and veterans Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc.

But several promising prospects are now waiting in the wings to join Gonzales and Kikuchi in the longer term, including 22-year-old Justus Sheffield, who is ranked as the club's No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline, after he was acquired from the Yankees in a trade for James Paxton.

Justin Dunn, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Mets' top pitching prospect before being acquired by Seattle in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz deal, and 25-year-old right-hander Erik Swanson also figures into the mix after coming over from the Yankees in the Paxton deal.

Kikuchi went 69-45 with a 2.69 ERA over seven seasons in Japan. He features a mid-90s fastball and quality slider among his four-pitch repertoire.

Video: MLB Now on Mariners signing Kikuchi, outlook for 2019

"He's very good. His performance speaks for itself," Dipoto said at the Winter Meetings two weeks ago. "He's got real stuff, and he's had a lot of success in Japan. We've probably scouted him as much as any player in [Nippon Professional Baseball] in recent years, just because he's been there for a number of years and we've had a lot of volume."

The Mariners made a big push for two-way star Shohei Ohtani last offseason before he signed with the Angels. But Seattle has a strong history of Japanese players, and the club's majority ownership was the Japanese-based Nintendo of America from 1992-2016.

The Mariners have had at least one Japanese player on their roster every year since 1998, including Ichiro Suzuki, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kenji Johjima, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Norichika Aoki, Munenori Kawasaki and Mac Suzuki.

Iwakuma spent the past seven seasons as a starting pitcher with Seattle, though he dealt with right shoulder issues in 2018 and has returned to Japan to finish out his career.

Video: Dave Sims on Mariners signing Yusei Kikuchi

The Mariners don't have any Japanese players on their 40-man roster, though Ichiro closed out last season as a special assistant to the club's chairman. He will be invited back to Major League camp this spring and given a chance to earn a roster spot at least for the two-game season-opening series in Tokyo against the A's in March, when the club can carry two extra players.

That strong Japanese connection figured to be a plus in recruiting Kikuchi.

"I think so," Dipoto said at the Winter Meetings. "We're a great market for any player, really, but specifically a pitcher. And specifically a pitcher from Japan, because we offer a lot of comforts that make us unique among the MLB markets with our great diversity in the city, and the way our market has taken the star players from Japan and really maximized their potential, whether that's from a marketing perspective or within the community.

"Those players -- whether Kaz Sasaki, Ichiro, Kuma -- those players turned into stars. And some of that comes from the market. We do have a great Japanese-American community. We are heavy in our influence organizationally, whether it was Nintendo or those great players and the way they're still connected in some way to the organization."

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

Seattle Mariners

Seattle selects reliever Brennan in Rule 5 Draft

MLB.com

LAS VEGAS -- Looking for every opportunity to add young talent for their rebuilding efforts, the Mariners selected right-handed reliever Brandon Brennan from the Rockies in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.

Brennan, 27, split last year between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte in the White Sox organization and was recently signed by the Rockies to a Minor League contract. He was 4-3 with a 3.10 ERA in 40 outings (one start) with Birmingham and 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in four relief appearances for Charlotte.

LAS VEGAS -- Looking for every opportunity to add young talent for their rebuilding efforts, the Mariners selected right-handed reliever Brandon Brennan from the Rockies in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.

Brennan, 27, split last year between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte in the White Sox organization and was recently signed by the Rockies to a Minor League contract. He was 4-3 with a 3.10 ERA in 40 outings (one start) with Birmingham and 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in four relief appearances for Charlotte.

"He's a guy we went after as a six-year free agent," said Mariners vice president of scouting Tom Allison. "We lost out to the Rockies, but he's somebody we kept tabs on. Opportunity is probably what he needs the most, and we have that to give him."

Allison said Brennan has a fastball in the 89-92 mph range and a quality changeup they feel can be a difference maker.

"This was a really good collaboration with our scouting and analytics people," Allison said. "Brian DeLunas, our pitching director, feels we can make some tweaks with this guy. He has a really good offspeed pitch in the changeup and slider, and [we can] turn him into a valuable piece for us at the big league level in the bullpen."

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was a fourth-round Draft pick by the White Sox in 2012 out of Orange Coast Community College in California.

The Mariners must now pay the Rockies $100,000 for the rights to Brennan, and he'll need to spend all of 2019 on Seattle's 25-man Major League roster or be offered back to the Rockies for $50,000. Players are only eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if they are not on a 40-man roster and have spent four seasons in pro ball if they initially signed when they were 19 or older, or five seasons if they were signed at 18 or younger.

Having traded away or lost a number of their relievers to free agency, the Mariners definitely have an opportunity for Brennan to land a roster spot next spring. Seattle has only made one Rule 5 Draft pick in general manager Jerry Dipoto's previous three seasons with the Mariners, selecting Yankees first baseman Mike Ford last year. But Ford didn't make the club in Spring Training and was sent back to the Yankees.

With Brennan's addition, Seattle's 40-man roster is now at 37 players.

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

Seattle Mariners

Dipoto eyes options until prospects are ready

Mariners seek veteran shortstop for depth as Crawford develops
MLB.com

LAS VEGAS -- The Mariners have some promising new prospects in their farm system, courtesy of the flurry of trades already completed this offseason by general manager Jerry Dipoto. But the club doesn't want to rush their new acquisitions, including shortstop J.P. Crawford, the 24-year-old who spent last season with the Phillies and is technically no longer a prospect since his rookie eligibility expired.

While the Mariners again made no moves Tuesday on the second day of the Winter Meetings at Mandalay Bay Resort, Dipoto said there was progress on a few fronts. The team is definitely testing the trade market on recently acquired first baseman Carlos Santana, while seeking bullpen help as well as a right-handed-hitting outfielder and possibly a veteran shortstop to allow Crawford further time to develop.

LAS VEGAS -- The Mariners have some promising new prospects in their farm system, courtesy of the flurry of trades already completed this offseason by general manager Jerry Dipoto. But the club doesn't want to rush their new acquisitions, including shortstop J.P. Crawford, the 24-year-old who spent last season with the Phillies and is technically no longer a prospect since his rookie eligibility expired.

While the Mariners again made no moves Tuesday on the second day of the Winter Meetings at Mandalay Bay Resort, Dipoto said there was progress on a few fronts. The team is definitely testing the trade market on recently acquired first baseman Carlos Santana, while seeking bullpen help as well as a right-handed-hitting outfielder and possibly a veteran shortstop to allow Crawford further time to develop.

"We had a number of sit-down discussions with potential free-agent targets and a handful of more discussions with possible trade targets," Dipoto said. "Nothing is imminent, but we made some progress today."

Among the items still on Dipoto's wish list is a shortstop with enough Major League experience to handle the starting role to open the season, should a decision come this spring to start Crawford out at Triple-A Tacoma.

"That would be ideal," Dipoto said. "If we could find that veteran, versatile player who has experience at shortstop it would be huge for us. We don't naturally want to block J.P., but we do need to provide ourselves some insurance and give him the time he needs. And if he makes it an impossible decision for us in a good way, then we'll make that decision."

There are several free-agent shortstops who could fill that bill, with someone like Alcides Escobar seeming to be the right kind of fit as a solid defender and good mentor who hit .231/.279/.313 in 140 games for the Royals last season.

Video: Alcides Escobar set to hit free agency in 2019

A right-handed-hitting outfielder would also be helpful, given the current crew consists of lefty-swinging Mallex Smith, Jay Bruce and Ben Gamel, along with right-hander Mitch Haniger. And Dipoto surely will add several experienced relievers to fill a gaping hole in his current bullpen.

The Mariners aren't chasing high-priced veterans who could hamper the long-term progress of the new prospects, but more stopgap solutions to bridge the gap on one-year deals.

The Mariners have already signed veteran lefty Tommy Milone and catcher Jose Lobaton to Minor League deals with camp invitations, and Seattle will add to that in the coming weeks.

"We have opportunity to offer, and that is appealing to veteran Major League players who maybe aren't coming off the best year of their career or veteran Minor League players who've had excellent careers and just can't find that jumping-off point," Dipoto said. "Some of them we've signed, guys like [utility infielder] Dylan Moore, who is 26 and really talented and always has been a really good player.

"The same with Ruben Alaniz. He throws upward of 97 mph, and it's a fun arm. We don't want to go with all inexperienced players, we want to find guys who can go out there and get us across the field so our young players are playing in competitive games when that time comes. It could be April, it could be June, it could be September. We don't want to rush it."

The same is true of the rotation, where promising youngsters Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn and Erik Swanson won't open with the big league club unless they force the Mariners' hand with their performance this spring.

Sheffield, the club's new No. 1-ranked prospect, and Swanson (No. 11) could open the year at Triple-A, while Dunn (No. 3) figures to be targeted for Double-A Arkansas to begin the year.

Video: Sheffield on being traded to Mariners, 2019 outlook

"We don't want to force-feed these guys into Major League opportunity," Dipoto said. "We want to make sure they come when it's their time. We'd rather have enough depth built up so if we need to take more time with those young players, we can. And if they are ready and it's their time to come make an impact, then we'll allow them."

The Mariners now could roll out a starting rotation of returners Felix Hernandez, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc, with swingman Roenis Elias capable of filling the fifth starter spot unless Sheffield or Swanson is deemed ready out of Spring Training.

Dipoto could also add another stopgap veteran or two to bolster that depth, which might be advisable given the potential of injuries to starting pitchers. Seattle stayed fairly injury-free in its rotation this year, but still used 11 starters by the end of the season.

At some point, the youngsters will arrive. The question for now is just the timing.

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

Seattle Mariners, J.P. Crawford, Justus Sheffield

Mariners happy to land Kelenic's talented bat

Seattle rated talented outfielder as top pick in 2018 MLB Draft
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Most of the young players the Mariners have received back in general manager Jerry Dipoto's flurry of trades this offseason either have some Major League experience or are on the verge of being big league ready.

Dipoto specifically targeted players he feels can be part of a wave of talent that crests in a year or two and pushes the Mariners past the middle place they've been stuck in recent years in the American League West.

SEATTLE -- Most of the young players the Mariners have received back in general manager Jerry Dipoto's flurry of trades this offseason either have some Major League experience or are on the verge of being big league ready.

Dipoto specifically targeted players he feels can be part of a wave of talent that crests in a year or two and pushes the Mariners past the middle place they've been stuck in recent years in the American League West.

The one exception? That would be Jarred Kelenic, the prize prospect with the most upside of any of the newest Mariners, though the longest path still to the Majors. Kelenic is the reason Dipoto was willing to deal closer Edwin Diaz to the Mets along with Robinson Cano, and the reason many Mets fans are upset about the swap, given Seattle also acquired promising right-hander Jason Dunn in Monday's deal.

Dunn is a 23-year-old who pitched at Double-A last year, and he figures to be knocking on the Major League door soon, along with lefty Justus Sheffield, the former No. 1 prospect of the Yankees who came to the Mariners in the James Paxton deal on Nov. 19.

But Kelenic? At 19, he's just seven months removed from high school. The players he grew up watching and modeling his game after? That would be Bryce Harper, who is all of 26, and the "venerable" Mike Trout, who is 27.

Video: Bruce, Swarzak, Kelenic and Dunn on joining Mariners

And, yeah, Kelenic lists Cano, as well, as a player whose smooth game he admired from afar. Which made getting traded for the eight-time All-Star a little surreal for a teenager whose pro ball experience consists of 56 games at the Rookie League level.

"Cano is somebody I grew up watching, ever since he was with the Yankees," Kelenic said. "Who'd have ever thought you'd literally get traded for Robinson Cano? It's pretty special. To be involved in that same trade is pretty crazy and pretty humbling. It's a positive thing in my career and I'm excited for what the future holds."

The Mariners are excited about that future as well. According to Dipoto, the club earmarked Kelenic as the best player in the MLB Draft last June. On the outside chance Kelenic might fall to them with their No. 14 pick, they flew him out to Safeco Field for a workout two days before the Draft.

"It was impressive to say the least," Dipoto said. "Really intense competitor, great kid, very focused on being a big leaguer. We got to know him very well."

But the Mets snapped up Kelenic with the sixth selection -- the first high schooler taken -- and the Mariners wound up with 21-year-old right-hander Logan Gilbert out of Stetson University.

"Obviously picking where we were, we knew it would be a long shot," Dipoto said. "We had it narrowed down on our Draft board to he and Logan Gilbert. We really didn't believe either was going to get to us. We were fortunate that one did and now we're fortunate to get the other as well."

Kelenic grew up in rural Wisconsin and he forged a quick bond with Mariners manager Scott Servais, who hails from the same area.

"I sat in his office and talked to him for an hour probably," Kelenic said. "He's a great guy. Having him from my hometown is pretty special. He's a great guy and great manager and hopefully I can play for him pretty soon."

How soon is the obvious question. The Mariners won't want to rush Kelenic, who posted a .286/.371/.468 line with six homers, 42 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in his 56 games of Rookie League ball, while displaying a strong throwing arm and athletic ability in center field. Dipoto said he'll open in Class A ball next spring and see where that leads.

Video: Jerry Dipoto on trades with the Mets and Phillies

Without question, a Mariners' farm system regarded as one of the thinnest in the baseball has beefed up in a hurry. In the past four weeks, MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Prospect list for Seattle has added Sheffield (No. 1), Kelenic (2), Dunn (3), right-hander Erik Swanson (11), outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams (16), left-hander Ricardo Sanchez (23), outfielder Jake Fraley (27) and right-hander Gerson Bautista (28).

It's a group Dipoto believes will begin making its mark by 2020 and '21.

"The only player we've acquired in the past month who might be pressed to get on the front side of that window is Jarred Kelenic," Dipoto said. "Everybody else should be making their way toward Seattle, if not immediately, then certainly by midseason of 2020.

"That was the timeline we were trying to set up. And then they join a group of players we already have in house, guys like Evan White and Kyle Lewis and Logan Gilbert and the like. We feel we have a good group here that now is expanded and by midseason 2020, we feel this group will be fun, energetic and a lot of fun to watch."

As for Kelenic? Dipoto figures he might not be far behind.

"It might be a push to anticipate Jarred reaching the big leagues by 2020," the GM said, "but if you see him swing a bat, he might change your mind. Because he can really hit."

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

Seattle Mariners

Mariners, Mets finalize blockbuster trade

Seattle gets Bruce, Swarzak, 3 prospects for Cano, Diaz
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- The final hurdles in the Mariners' blockbuster trade to send Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets were cleared Monday as the two clubs completed a seven-player swap that could change the course for both franchises.

Looking to bolster their future, the Mariners shipped the two All-Stars along with cash ($20 million, according to a source) to the Mets in exchange for veterans Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak, top prospects Jarred Kelenic (Mariners' new No. 2 prospect) and Justin Dunn (No. 3) and right-handed reliever Gerson Bautista (No. 28).

SEATTLE -- The final hurdles in the Mariners' blockbuster trade to send Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets were cleared Monday as the two clubs completed a seven-player swap that could change the course for both franchises.

Looking to bolster their future, the Mariners shipped the two All-Stars along with cash ($20 million, according to a source) to the Mets in exchange for veterans Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak, top prospects Jarred Kelenic (Mariners' new No. 2 prospect) and Justin Dunn (No. 3) and right-handed reliever Gerson Bautista (No. 28).

"This trade bolsters our player-development system with the additions of Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, while also providing immediate impact to our Major League club in Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak and Gerson Bautista," Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "We view Kelenic as a true five-tool player with a very high ceiling. Dunn is another former first-round Draft pick who we think has a bright future on our pitching staff. Bruce and Swarzak both bring proven production in the field and a veteran presence in our clubhouse. Bautista has demonstrated an impressive high-velocity pitch mix."

Video: Dipoto on the prospects acquired from Mets for Diaz

The trade is the biggest of the 84 deals made by Dipoto since he took over in Seattle in 2015, and it is an aggressive first move made by new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen, who was Cano's agent when Seattle signed the longtime Yankees star to a 10-year, $240 million deal in 2014.

But it wasn't the last major deal done by Dipoto on Monday, as the energetic GM sent All-Star shortstop Jean Segura and relievers James Pazos and Juan Nicasio to the Phillies for young shortstop J.P. Crawford and veteran first baseman Carlos Santana just two hours later.

Mariners acquire Crawford, Santana from Phils

Video: Dipoto on Mariners' return for dealing Segura

Dipoto has made six deals this offseason as he works to gain roster and payroll flexibility while breaking up an aging core of high-priced veterans that hadn't been able to snap the franchise's 17-year playoff drought, despite finishing 89-73 last season.

Dipoto has also dealt No. 1 starter James Paxton to the Yankees, catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia to the Rays and setup man Alex Colome to the White Sox. Now Segura, Cano and Diaz join the outbound list.

Those trades have added significant long-term assets for the Mariners. Young center fielder Mallex Smith and catcher Omar Narvaez both have four years of team control, while Seattle's farm system has been significantly boosted by the addition of pitchers Justus Sheffield (Mariners' new No. 1 prospect) and Erik Swanson (No. 11), outfielders Dom Thompson-Williams (No. 16) and Jake Fraley (No. 27) and now Kelenic and Dunn from the Mets.

Video: MLB Pipeline scouts Kelenic, Dunn and Bautista

The 19-year-old Kelenic figured as a key element to the Mariners' end of the latest deal, as he is a widely acclaimed five-tool prospect who was the sixth overall selection in last June's Draft as a high schooler from Wisconsin.

Kelenic flew to Seattle last June to take part in a pre-Draft workout at Safeco Field, though he wound up getting selected by the Mets eight spots before the Mariners. Now he finds himself in Seattle, traded for one of the players he idolized growing up.

"Who'd have ever thought you'd literally get traded for Robinson Cano," Kelenic said. "It's pretty special. He's definitely one of the best players in the game of baseball. To be involved in that same trade is pretty crazy and pretty humbling. It's a positive thing in my career, and I'm excited for what the future holds."

Dunn, 23, was the 19th overall selection in the 2016 Draft out of Boston College and finished last season at Double-A Binghamton. He racked up 156 strikeouts in 135 1/3 innings, re-establishing himself as the Mets' top pitching prospect after a rough first year in pro ball in '17.

Like Kelenic, Dunn was heavily scouted by the Mariners going into the Draft, though they wound up taking outfielder Kyle Lewis with the 11th overall pick that year.

"As a New York kid, it was always my dream to play and debut here," he said. "But if you'd asked three years ago, it looked like I'd be a Mariner when I was drafted and I was excited about that. And now it's come full circle."

Kelenic is ranked by MLB Pipeline as No. 62 overall prospect, while Dunn is ranked No. 89.

Video: WSH@NYM: Bautista notches his first career strikeout

Bautista is a 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic who features a 100-mph fastball, but he has struggled with his command. He made a brief appearance in the Majors last year, giving up six runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings over five outings. He posted a 2.38 ERA in 11 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League.

It remains to be seen whether Bruce and Swarzak stick with the Mariners or are flipped for more prospects, though both said they expected to remain with the club from what they've been told. Both are coming off disappointing injury-plagued seasons.

It remains to be seen if Bruce and Swarzak stick with the Mariners or are flipped for more prospects. Both are coming off disappointing injury-plagued seasons.

Bruce, 31, hit .223/.310/.370 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 94 games, but he's just a year removed from slugging 36 homers and 101 RBIs for the Indians and Mets in '17.

"This is my third trade, and it doesn't hold quite the shock value as the first, for sure," he said. "But I'm excited and ready to go. I love Seattle. I grew up idolizing Ken Griffey Jr. and played with him in Cincinnati my first year and have stayed in touch with him a little. This is definitely a change of pace for my family and myself, and I'm looking forward to it."

Video: Mariners acquire Jay Bruce in blockbuster deal

Swarzak, 33, signed a two-year deal with the Mets to bolster their bullpen last year after putting up a 2.33 ERA in 70 appearances in 2017, but he had a 6.15 ERA last season in 29 outings.

The price for those five players was steep. Cano, an eight-time All-Star second baseman with five years and $120 million remaining on that contract, figures as the headliner in the deal. But Diaz surely was the toughest piece for Dipoto to relinquish, as the 24-year-old right-hander emerged as one of the game's elite closers last season and is under team control for four more years. He earned close to the MLB minimum at $570,000 in 2018 and won't be eligible for arbitration for another year.

But Dipoto is gaining both prospects and financial flexibility for the future, as the Mariners are essentially saving about $63.5 million from the $120 million they would have owed Cano over the final five years of his deal.

Bruce is owed $28 million over the final two years of his contract and Swarzak has one year at $8.5 million remaining on his deal, so the Mariners will inherit $36.5 million of short-term salary, in addition to sending the Mets $20 million. But Seattle will clear Cano's $120 million off the books, providing added resources in two years when Dipoto is aiming to have a new, younger nucleus of players ready to make its push.

Diaz, who racked up 57 saves with a 1.96 ERA in 2018, could have remained as part of the future wave Dipoto wants to build toward a playoff push in 2020-21 and beyond. But the Mariners included him in the deal in order to obtain a significant prospect haul as well as to get out from under some of Cano's contract in the same move.

Cano served an 80-game suspension last season for violating the Major Leagues' Joint Drug Agreement, but the eight-time All-Star still posted a .303/.374/.471 line with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs in 80 games.

Cano wound up earning two All-Star berths and putting up a .296/.353/.472 line with 107 home runs and 411 RBIs in his five seasons in Seattle, and now returns to New York, where he spent the first nine seasons of his MLB career with the Yankees.

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

Seattle Mariners, Jay Bruce, Justin Dunn, Jarred Kelenic, Anthony Swarzak

Mariners trade for pitching prospect Sanchez

MLB.com

SEATTLE -- It won't exactly quash the Robinson Cano trade rumors, but Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto pulled off a minor deal Thursday by acquiring 21-year-old left-hander Ricardo Sanchez from the Braves in exchange for cash.

Sanchez was designated for assignment by the Braves on Monday to open room on their 40-man roster after signing third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Brian McCann.

SEATTLE -- It won't exactly quash the Robinson Cano trade rumors, but Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto pulled off a minor deal Thursday by acquiring 21-year-old left-hander Ricardo Sanchez from the Braves in exchange for cash.

Sanchez was designated for assignment by the Braves on Monday to open room on their 40-man roster after signing third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Brian McCann.

The deal puts Seattle's 40-man roster at 36 players and is Dipoto's third of the offseason, as he previously dealt catcher Mike Zunino to the Rays as part of a five-player exchange and lefty James Paxton to the Yankees for three prospects.

Video: Callis discusses Mariners' return for Paxton

Dipoto initially signed Sanchez as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela in 2013 when Dipoto was general manager of the Angels, then traded him to the Braves two years later.

Sanchez was a highly regarded prospect with a mid-90s fastball in his initial years in the Minors, but has since struggled to find his command. He was 2-5 with a 4.06 ERA in 13 starts at Double-A Mississippi in the Southern League last season, with 44 strikeouts, 24 walks and a 1.54 WHIP in 57 2/3 innings. Sanchez was listed as the Braves' 26th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. 

Sanchez also made three rehab starts at the Rookie League level last season, going 1-0 with a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings after dealing with a shoulder issue.

In five Minor League seasons, Sanchez is 17-35 with a 4.56 ERA in 84 games, including 79 starts.

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

Seattle Mariners

Mariners prospects honing skills in winter ball

Outfielder Miller, first baseman White among names to watch
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- While the Mariners don't have a large group of youngsters taking part in winter ball this offseason, those that have gotten in extra work have made the most of their opportunities, including seven prospects who recently helped Peoria win the Arizona Fall League championship.

Outfielder Ian Miller, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Mariners' No. 23 prospect, has continued on to the Mexican Winter League after his AFL experience and is off to a hot start for Culiacan, batting .423 (11-for-26) with three doubles and a home run in his first six games.

SEATTLE -- While the Mariners don't have a large group of youngsters taking part in winter ball this offseason, those that have gotten in extra work have made the most of their opportunities, including seven prospects who recently helped Peoria win the Arizona Fall League championship.

Outfielder Ian Miller, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Mariners' No. 23 prospect, has continued on to the Mexican Winter League after his AFL experience and is off to a hot start for Culiacan, batting .423 (11-for-26) with three doubles and a home run in his first six games.

The 26-year-old center fielder hit .261/.333/.327 with 33 stolen bases in 114 games for Triple-A Tacoma last season, then batted .246/.368/.351 in 18 games in the AFL before venturing on to Mexico.

"Ian continues to make solid progress," said Mariners director of player development Andy McKay.

Video: SRR@PEJ: Miller, Hiura key rally to tie the game

First baseman Evan White was the biggest Mariners name in the AFL group. Seattle's No. 3 prospect posted a .257/.333/.429 line with two homers and 14 RBIs in 18 games, though he was slowed by a sore hip in the final weeks.

It was a solid showing for the 22-year-old defensive standout, who made the jump from Class A Advanced Modesto and held his own in the AFL against some of the top prospects in baseball.

"Evan definitely showed he can compete with those players," said McKay. "Everybody we talk to keeps saying, 'Wow, this is a really good baseball player.' He opens eyes every time he goes out there."

Video: Evan White on improving swing in Fall League

Chris Mariscal, a 25-year-old infielder, took advantage of his AFL experience to hit .381 (16-for-42) in 11 games. The Fresno State product posted a .261/.343/.360 line with seven homers and 60 RBIs in 120 games for Double-A Arkansas last season and while he's not ranked among the Mariners' Top 30 Prospects, he remains a player to watch.

"Chris has been a really good player for us and certainly is on our radar," McKay said. "He's a real prospect and he's proved it by his performance every year. In limited playing time, he really took advantage of his opportunities [in the AFL]."

The Mariners were also pleased by the progress of converted catcher Joe DeCarlo, who hit .262/.418/.333 with 12 walks in 14 games for Peoria. DeCarlo was drafted in the second round in 2012 as a high school third baseman but moved to catcher two years ago. He played this past year at Double-A.

"He's getting more and more catching reps, which is really what he needs," McKay said. "When you watch him catch now, he doesn't look like a converted infielder anymore. He looked like a Fall League-caliber catcher, which is great."

Video: SRR@PEJ: Diaz, DeCarlo turn double play in the 1st

Seattle also had several pitchers perform well in the AFL, led by young side-arming reliever Wyatt Mills out of Gonzaga. Mills, a third-round Draft pick in 2017, posted a 1.93 ERA with eight hits in 9 1/3 innings over eight relief outings for Peoria. The 23-year-old right-hander is the Mariners' No. 11 prospect.

Anthony Misiewicz (No. 30 prospect) rebounded from a rough first outing to post a 2.76 ERA in five AFL starts. The lefty allowed just one run on 10 hits over 15 innings in his final four appearances.

David McKay went 2-1 with a 3.72 ERA in 10 relief appearances for Peoria, striking out 11 in 9 2/3 innings, while Matt Walker struggled with a 10.00 ERA in nine relief appearances after pitching well for Arkansas in the regular season.

"Every one of the pitchers had enough positive things going on that they can walk out feeling very confident that this is about the highest level you can get to outside of Majors and they all did some good things," said Andy McKay.

Video: Top Prospects: Wyatt Mills, RHP, Mariners

Liberato heats up
Outfielder Luis Liberato, the Mariners' No. 27 prospect, finally warmed up over the weekend in the Dominican Winter League as he went 4-for-7 with a double, triple, home run and three RBIs in back-to-back games for Leones del Escogido.

The 22-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, who played for Modesto last season, is batting .233/.298/.419 with one homer and four RBIs in 19 games for Escogido.

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

Seattle Mariners, Ian Miller, Evan White

Newly acquired Swanson put on 40-man roster

Part of Paxton deal, 25-year-old righty pitched in Triple-A last season
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Erik Swanson, the right-handed pitcher acquired by the Mariners on Monday from the Yankees, was promoted to the club's 40-man roster Tuesday in order to protect him from next month's Rule 5 Draft.

The 25-year-old was part of a three-prospect package sent from the Yankees in exchange for lefty James Paxton. Justus Sheffield, the 22-year-old left-hander acquired in the same deal, is already on the 40-man roster. Outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams, the third prospect, has only been in pro ball for three seasons and won't be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for two more years.

SEATTLE -- Erik Swanson, the right-handed pitcher acquired by the Mariners on Monday from the Yankees, was promoted to the club's 40-man roster Tuesday in order to protect him from next month's Rule 5 Draft.

The 25-year-old was part of a three-prospect package sent from the Yankees in exchange for lefty James Paxton. Justus Sheffield, the 22-year-old left-hander acquired in the same deal, is already on the 40-man roster. Outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams, the third prospect, has only been in pro ball for three seasons and won't be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for two more years.

Swanson split last season between Class A Staten Island, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the Yankees' system, going 8-2 with a 2.66 ERA in 24 games, including 22 starts.

With the addition of Swanson, Seattle's 40-man roster is now at 35 players. The club promoted outfielder Braden Bishop to the 40-man roster last week in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. No other players are expected to be promoted prior to Tuesday's deadline.

Bishop is Seattle's No. 6 ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline, while Swanson has been installed at No. 9 after his acquisition. Other Top 30 prospects in the system who will be eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft are right-handed pitchers Art Warren (No. 17) and Rob Whalen (21), outfielders Ian Miller (23), Anthony Jimenez (26), Luis Liberato (27) and Ronald Rosario (29) and left-handed pitcher Anthony Misiewicz (30).

The Rule 5 Draft will be held Dec. 13, the final day of the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. Any player selected must be kept on that team's 25-man Major League roster for the entire 2019 season, or be offered back to his original club.

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

Seattle Mariners, Erik Swanson

Mariners get 3 Yankees prospects for Paxton

Promising left-hander Sheffield among players acquired in deal
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto's plan to rebuild his roster with an eye toward the future got serious on Monday as the Mariners' general manager uprooted the man known as "Big Maple," dealing standout left-hander James Paxton to the Yankees for a trio of prospects -- left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield, right-hander Erik Swanson and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams.

Dipoto said about two-thirds of the Major League teams checked in on acquiring Paxton over the past few weeks, and the Mariners parlayed that into a pair of young pitchers they believe could be part of the rotation for years, as well as a promising young position player.

SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto's plan to rebuild his roster with an eye toward the future got serious on Monday as the Mariners' general manager uprooted the man known as "Big Maple," dealing standout left-hander James Paxton to the Yankees for a trio of prospects -- left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield, right-hander Erik Swanson and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams.

Dipoto said about two-thirds of the Major League teams checked in on acquiring Paxton over the past few weeks, and the Mariners parlayed that into a pair of young pitchers they believe could be part of the rotation for years, as well as a promising young position player.

"Pax did draw a ton of interest," Dipoto said. "This is something we worked on since early October, when we determined the idea of where we wanted to go with our roster -- the idea of taking a step back to take two steps forward."

Dipoto said the Mariners are targeting a push toward the 2020 and '21 seasons as they accumulate promising young players with longer windows of opportunity. Paxton had two years until he hits free agency, while the three newcomers all have six years of team control.

Sheffield, the No. 31 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline who was also No. 1 in the Yankees' system, is a 22-year-old who is close to being Major League ready after going 6-4 with a 2.56 ERA in 20 games (15 starts) at Triple-A last season. He appeared in three games with the Yankees in relief in September.

"Justus Sheffield has an unquestionable prospect pedigree," Dipoto said. "With a combination of high-end velocity to go along with an advanced slider and a developing changeup, we think Justus has a chance to pitch at the upper portion of our rotation soon."

Video: BOS@NYY: Sheffield seals Yankees' win in MLB debut

Swanson was the Yankees' No. 22 prospect as a 25-year-old, who also appears close to being ready for a Major League opportunity. Thompson-Williams is a 23-year-old who batted .299/.363/.546 with 22 homers and 74 RBIs in 100 games between Class A Advanced and low Class A last year.

Dipoto said he expects both young pitchers to compete for rotation spots at some point next season, while Thompson-Williams caught the Mariners' eyes as a change in his swing approach resulted in some dramatic improvement last season.

"He's a five-tool athlete who has just broken out and started to scratch the potential of what he might be," Dipoto said. "Like Jake Fraley or Mitch Haniger, he fits the criteria of a guy who has experienced some swing change, and it's resulted in some significant impact. He was hitting the ball a lot harder and more consistently. We're excited about his future as well."

The Astros' refusal to include Forrest Whitley in their offer for Paxton precipitated the Mariners' decision to trade Paxton to the Yankees, a source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

Paxton figured to be Dipoto's prime trade chip this offseason. The 29-year-old lefty, who is eligible for arbitration for two more seasons, is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $9 million in 2019.

The lanky Canadian went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 28 starts for the Mariners last season, with 208 strikeouts in 160 1/3 innings. He threw the sixth no-hitter in club history on May 8 against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, a week after racking up a career-high 16 strikeouts against the A's.

"It seems to me that Seattle is trying to go young right now and building for the future," Paxton said in a conference call with Yankees reporters. "My window is only for the next two years through arbitration, so I think that they're going young. That being said, my experience in Seattle was fantastic. It was really special. Seattle will always be a special place in my heart. I'll always have a love for the city and wish them nothing but the best."

Paxton's biggest issue throughout his career has been staying healthy, but he provides the Yankees' rotation a huge boost as potentially one of the premier left-handers in the American League.

Paxton went 41-26 with a 3.42 ERA, 617 strikeouts and 168 walks in 102 starts over six seasons with Seattle, but he has made seven trips to the disabled list in the past four seasons.

Dipoto was willing to move Paxton as he attempts to shift the Mariners' focus to younger players with a longer window of opportunity in order to build around Haniger, Marco Gonzales and Edwin Diaz. Last week, the Mariners traded catcher Mike Zunino, who like Paxton has two years of team control remaining, for young Rays center fielder Mallex Smith in a similar move.

Paxton is a blockbuster deal, however, and he brings a big return in a pair of young starting pitchers.

Sheffield was a first-round pick by the Indians (No. 31 overall) out of high school in the 2014 Draft, and he was shipped to the Yankees in '16 as part of a four-prospect package for Andrew Miller.

Sheffield said he's never been to Seattle, but joked about the rain and "will go shopping tomorrow" for a rain coat. As for what Mariners fans should expect from him?

"Just kind of a bulldog mentality," Sheffield said. "No matter what jersey I'm wearing, I'll go out and compete and do what I can do for my team that day. My ultimate goal is to pitch deep in games, have a lot of innings under my belt and just come and compete."

Swanson was selected by the Rangers in the eighth round of the 2014 Draft out of Iowa Western Community College, then he was traded to the Yankees in '16 in a three-prospect deal for Carlos Beltran.

Swanson and Thompson-Williams were teammates for a year at Iowa Western, and he's also become friends with Sheffield after pitching alongside him in the Minors this past season.

"We just pushed each other and picked each other's brains in the dugout all the time," Swanson said. "Justus is a phenomenal person and really good teammate. I'm pretty excited that he's coming over with me."

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

Seattle Mariners

Star prospect Bishop added to 40-man roster

MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Outfielder Braden Bishop, the Mariners' No. 5 ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, was promoted to the team's 40-man roster on Friday in a move that will prevent him from being exposed to other teams in next month's Rule 5 Draft.

With Bishop's addition, the Mariners' 40-man roster is now at 34 players. The deadline to protect eligible players from being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft is Tuesday.

SEATTLE -- Outfielder Braden Bishop, the Mariners' No. 5 ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, was promoted to the team's 40-man roster on Friday in a move that will prevent him from being exposed to other teams in next month's Rule 5 Draft.

With Bishop's addition, the Mariners' 40-man roster is now at 34 players. The deadline to protect eligible players from being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft is Tuesday.

Bishop, 25, posted a .284/.361/.412 line with eight home runs, 33 RBIs and five stolen bases in 84 games for Double-A Arkansas last season before being hit by a pitch that broke his right forearm in mid-July.

Bishop has recovered from season-ending surgery to repair his arm and is expected to be fully healthy for the start of Spring Training.

Bishop, who was a third-round Draft pick out of the University of Washington in 2015, has impressed the Mariners with his offensive development as well as his speed and ability to play center field.

Bishop was given the Dan Wilson Community Service Award at the end of the 2018 season for his off-field efforts, both in the Little Rock, Ark., community and with the 4MOM charity he has led to raise money and awareness to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

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

Seattle Mariners

No. 2 prospect White (hip) out third AFL game

22-year-old first baseman slated to return Saturday for Fall Stars Game
MLB.com