5 pressing offseason questions facing Mariners

November 5th, 2018

SEATTLE -- With free agency officially underway and the Hot Stove season preparing to be turned up to simmer, the Mariners appear to be facing more questions and potential moving parts than they've dealt with in years.
General manager Jerry Dipoto has acknowledged many decisions will be dependent on each other. For instance, the Mariners can't finalize where Dee Gordon or will play in the field until they determine what is possible this offseason.
"A lot of it is going to be judged by what the roster looks like as we go through the offseason," Dipoto said. "So many different things could happen from trades to free-agent signings, etc., that we can't pin ourselves in to one single idea or building around one single player. We have to take more of a broad view of our roster than that."
The many "if, then" scenarios have been discussed at length in the Mariners' baseball operations department over the past month, and the domino effect figures to start soon. MLB's General Managers Meetings are taking place through Wednesday in Carlsbad, Calif.
While many of the offseason deals won't get hashed out until around the Winter Meetings on Dec. 10-13 in Las Vegas, Dipoto has never shied from jumping into the fray early. He made his first trade last offseason at the GM Meetings when he acquired from the A's, so stay tuned.
Here are five of the biggest questions the Mariners must hash out in the coming days and weeks:
1. Is Boomstick part of the future?
's situation is one of the first hanging over the Mariners. Will they try to bring back the popular and productive 38-year-old slugger and keep his big bat in the middle of the order? Or is it better to begin shifting toward more of a youth movement and use that money to beef up the rotation or the outfield?

While Cruz's power would clearly be missed, his advancing age at some point becomes an issue. The Mariners could choose to use the designated hitter spot for Cano or Healy and others to get at-bats in the rotating DH approach many teams employ in order to reallocate that money and improve their roster flexibility.
2. Where does Gordon fit?
The speedster was clearly more comfortable and effective at second base than center field when filling in during Cano's 80-game suspension. But if Gordon shifts permanently to second base, what happens with Cano?
Cano said at season's end he expected to play second base again in the future. Dipoto and manager Scott Servais responded by saying that decision hadn't been made yet and would depend on what works best for the team.

At 36 and with five years and $120 million remaining on his contract, Cano eventually figures to move to first base or DH. If that shift begins now, it would solve the Gordon question as well as help out if Cruz isn't re-signed.
But the Mariners were winning games with Gordon in center field early in 2018 and they could ask him to return there, particularly given the shortage of center fielders on the market. Other than D-backs standout A.J. Pollock, the free-agent market appears thin.
3. Who could be on the trade market?
Dipoto made it clear he doesn't see a total rebuild in the works for a club that went 89-73, its best season since 2003. He's not interested in getting rid of younger centerpieces like Mitch Haniger, and , choosing instead to build around that group.
But while Cano, and  -- along with Cruz -- might no longer represent the franchise's core, those players are expensive and difficult to trade. So if Dipoto really wants to make a blockbuster move for younger impact, he'll likely have to part with someone like Gordon, shortstop or even No. 1 starter .
Healy, outfielder Ben Gamel and first baseman are younger players who certainly could be available. Dipoto has traded numerous prospects in his three years with Seattle and could do so again, though it seems unlikely he'd part with his top duo of Kyle Lewis and Evan White, rated No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the organization by MLB Pipeline.
4. Can money buy love (or pitching)?
Dipoto hasn't jumped into the free-agent fray too heavily in his Mariners' tenure, in large part because he inherited a club already locked in on big-money deals.
Even if Cruz doesn't re-sign, next year's payroll already has $117 million locked up on just seven veterans (Hernandez, Cano, Seager, Gordon, Segura, Mike Leake and ).
Thus it's hard to see Seattle diving into the deep end of the free-agent pool until Hernandez's deal ends after one more season at $27 million. But Hernandez was one of the least-effective starters in the Majors last year, and the club just let go, so it certainly appears the need is there for another starter to go with Paxton, Gonzales, Leake and .
If you want to dream, some intriguing rotation help is available on the market, topped by , , , Charlie Morton, J.A. Happ and .
And don't overlook the Mariners' strong Japanese connections as Yusei Kikuchi, a talented 27-year-old lefty, has been cleared to negotiate with Major League teams this winter, though he has not been formally posted yet.
5. Finalizing the coaching staff
With the dismissal of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and reassignment of hitting coach Edgar Martinez to an organizational instructor, Servais will need to fill those positions shortly.
Third-base coach Scott Brosius has assisted Martinez with the hitters the past two years, and bullpen coach Brian DeLunas and assistant coach Jim Brower both worked with Stottlemyre last year, so in-house candidates are available.
But the Mariners have been interviewing outside candidates and could add new coaches to head both of those areas soon if they find the right fit.