What's next for Mariners with Kikuchi signed?
Seattle wants to add relief help, middle infielder
SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto has had to change some of his daily routine since landing in the hospital during the Winter Meetings in December, but the Mariners' general manager hasn't slowed his efforts to reshape the club's roster.
The 50-year-old Dipoto isn't allowed to run for the time being, so he's looking for new ways to exercise. And he's on medication to deal with the blood clots that doctors discovered in his lungs after dealing with severe chest pains while in Las Vegas for baseball's annual winter gathering.
But Dipoto took his annual family vacation to Maui over the holiday season and says it's back to business as usual now, though he had to fly home to Seattle earlier than expected to finalize the signing of Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi last week.
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"I feel good," Dipoto said. "I can't run just yet, but most of the rest of it is fine. I'm breathing fine. I take blood thinners, perhaps forever. But that's part of it. I'm really fortunate they sent me in. I wouldn't have gone by myself, so I'm glad they did."
Dipoto has made eight trades this offseason involving 28 players, in addition to signing Kikuchi already this winter, overhauling a roster that is being rebuilt for 2020 and beyond. But the Mariners still have a few moves to make for '19 in the five weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, and that's the work Dipoto is focused on now.
With the starting rotation set with Kikuchi, the bullpen stands as the biggest area of immediate help following the trades of Edwin Diaz, Alex Colome, James Pazos and Juan Nicasio and the release of Nick Vincent.
Dipoto won't trade prospects to bolster his 'pen in the short term, given the focus is now on the future, but he's definitely in the market to add veteran help via one-year free-agent contracts for players who might still be looking for landing spots as the offseason plays out.
He'd also like to add an experienced shortstop who can fill that role temporarily if the club decides to give newly acquired J.P. Crawford some time at Triple-A Tacoma to start the regular season.
"We're still very active, at least in our conversations, in the free-agent market," Dipoto said. "We will sign somebody. We're likely to sign both Major and Minor League contracts. I'd be shocked if we don't sign at least one Major League reliever. And I'd be surprised -- heavily surprised -- if we didn't sign one middle-of-the-field type stabilizer in the infield to provide protection and allow J.P. Crawford to transition at the appropriate pace."
While the Mariners are going young in 2019, they aren't going to rush the 23-year-old Crawford, who got 187 at-bats with the Phillies over the past two seasons. They also won't push new pitching prospects Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn and Erik Swanson too quickly, though all are close to Major League ready.
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Dipoto sees the real target as 2020, when the new group could be ready to mesh.
"We're cognizant of how this roster develops," he said. "We're not going to put young players in a position to sink. We want them to swim."
As for trades? Dipoto does figure to slow down now on that front, having already dealt Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel, as well as Diaz, Colome, Pazos and Nicasio.
The likeliest remaining trade chip is designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, one of the veterans acquired in the flurry of previous moves. Encarnacion, who turned 36 on Monday, has more home runs than anyone in baseball over the past seven seasons and hit .246/.336/.474 with 32 homers and 107 RBIs in 137 games and 500 at-bats for the Indians in 2018.
With one year at $20 million, plus a $5 million buyout for 2020 remaining on his contract, Encarnacion doesn't fit in Seattle's long-term plans.
But if they can't make a reasonable deal now, the Mariners certainly can use Encarnacion at DH, just as they will use Jay Bruce some in left field and first base and Anthony Swarzak in relief, with the possibility of flipping the newly acquired veterans for more prospects if they perform well during the first months of the season.