SEATTLE -- For general manager Jerry Dipoto, the question is never a matter of if, but when? When will the next trade come for the Mariners' GM, who dealt standout southpaw James Paxton to the Yankees for a trio of prospects Monday?As he begins his fourth year in Seattle, Dipoto
SEATTLE -- For general manager Jerry Dipoto, the question is never a matter of if, but when? When will the next trade come for the Mariners' GM, who dealt standout southpaw James Paxton to the Yankees for a trio of prospects Monday?
As he begins his fourth year in Seattle, Dipoto has now made 82 trades involving 174 players since taking over on Sept. 28, 2015. But his first few deals this winter have taken on a different tone.
Instead of looking to build up the floor around his veteran core, Dipoto has shifted his sights more to the future after missing out on the postseason in 2018 despite an 89-73 record that stands as the sixth-best mark in franchise history.
Dipoto and his baseball operations staff took a hard look at where the franchise stood and decided that it made more sense to step back and reload for a push in 2020 and '21 than to continue down the same path, given the current strength of the Red Sox, Astros, Yankees, Indians and A's in front of them.
Dipoto shies away from calling it a "teardown," as he's not looking to deal from the younger nucleus of Mitch Haniger, Marco Gonzales or Edwin Diaz, like could be expected in a total rebuild. Nor is he likely to be able to shed some of the big payroll players like Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager.
But Dipoto has always been willing to listen to offers and isn't closing the door on any possiblities.
"We're going to stay open-minded to anything," he said. "Generally, never say never. But Marco, Mitch, Eddie, we'd have to be blown away to move players like that. Those are the kind of players we're trying to acquire."
The difference with Paxton and catcher Mike Zunino is that both have just two years of team control remaining before hitting free agency. Thus, they have a shorter window to help Seattle, but still carry maximum trade value for teams in win-now mode.
"Without having the ability to extend those players or build around a core group of players in their 30s, we had tough decisions to make and we made them," Dipoto said. "We're pretty excited about the direction we're taking."
Expect that direction to continue playing out this winter. The Mariners need a catcher, having only David Freitas remaining on their 40-man roster. So Dipoto undoubtedly is searching for a promising Major League-ready prospect, similar to what he did with the Yankees, who can grow with the new group.
Who fits that mold? Carson Kelly of the Cardinals, a 24-year-old who is regarded as one of the game's better young catching prospects, would make sense, as he's blocked by Yadier Molina for at least two more years in St. Louis.
The Cardinals are looking for a closer and the Mariners certainly could offer Alex Colome, an experienced closer who -- like Paxton and Zunino -- has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining before becoming a free agent.
Dipoto also figures to be open to dealing either Jean Segura or Dee Gordon in order to solve the logjam that has developed now that Gordon is moving back to the infield, where Cano is already at second base. There are lots of options there, including shifting Cano to first base or designated hitter. But if Cano stays at second, either Gordon or Segura almost certainly will be traded.
Gordon has two years and $28.1 million left on his contract, so he falls in the short-term window, similar to Paxton and Zunino. Segura has four years left at $60.4 million, and conceivably could be viewed in the longer-term, though there was talk that the Yankees were interested in him as part of the Paxton package at one point.
Segura was mentioned in a Tuesday tweet by MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal as being discussed in a package with the Padres that would also send Mike Leake to San Diego in exchange for outfielder William Myers, though sources indicated those talks don't appear close to fruition.
Bottom line, Dipoto surely will make more moves as he adds more building blocks for the future. Justus Sheffield already has been installed as Seattle's new No. 1 ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, while Erik Swanson is at No. 9 and Don Thompson-Williams is 14th, all having come over in exchange for Paxton.
The Mariners are also very high on Jake Fraley, a 23-year-old outfielder acquired along with Mallex Smith from the Rays in the Zunino deal. He's ranked as the club's No. 24 overall prospect.
Those newcomers, along with Seattle's recent top Draft picks, are lining up in what Dipoto feels can be a wave of fresh talent arriving over the next two or three years, along with the three prospects acquired from the Yankees and whoever else is added to the mix going forward.
"Clearly we've opted that 2019 is a year we step back, hoping to take two [steps] forward," Dipoto said. "When I say 2020 and '21, it's simply gauging the ages of players we're building around. Smith is  and Fraley 23. Logan Gilbert, Evan White, Kyle Lewis, they all start to pile up in the same general time zone. Couple that with Haniger, Diaz and Marco, we start to add up a pretty exciting group.
"We're adding impact players," he said. "And impact players don't generally take that long to begin making an impact."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.