SEATTLE -- When general manager Jerry Dipoto took over the Mariners two years ago, his immediate goal was to help the club get younger and more athletic while building up the foundation of players around the "core four" of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez.That vision hasn't
SEATTLE -- When general manager Jerry Dipoto took over the Mariners two years ago, his immediate goal was to help the club get younger and more athletic while building up the foundation of players around the "core four" of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez.
That vision hasn't changed, but merely sharpened, even while the club has undergone nearly a complete makeover with just seven players on the current 40-man roster remaining from the group Dipoto inherited at the end of the 2015 season.
Dipoto continued his quest to become more athletic this winter, adding speedster Dee Gordon, who has led the Major Leagues in stolen bases three of the last four years. He continued making the roster younger, adding 26-year-old first baseman Ryon Healy, who has five more years of club control, while the 29-year-old Gordon has three years and $39 million remaining on his contract.
The Mariners have gone from the oldest 25-man roster in the Majors two years ago to one of the youngest now, with Cano and Cruz the only starting position players older than 30.
"I like the fact that we're getting younger, that we're getting more control," Dipoto said. "We'll start the season with a projected 25-man roster, as we see it, with roughly 95 years of control. There's only one team in the American League that has more control on their 25-man roster, and that's the Chicago White Sox, who are rebuilding."
Players just hitting their prime -- like James Paxton, Mike Zunino, Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel, Edwin Diaz and now Gordon and Healy -- are emerging as the new nucleus, one the Mariners believe should be able to challenge for a postseason berth this year and beyond as that group matures and more talent is added.
Dipoto's challenge has been to build up that talent level surrounding his veteran stars without doing a total rebuild like the White Sox, Marlins and others are undertaking.
That effort took a little different twist this offseason, with Dipoto's focus more on putting his resources into upgrading the bullpen, where he signed veteran free agent Juan Nicasio and traded for young right-handers Nick Rumbelow and Shawn Armstrong.
With late-season addition David Phelps and holdovers Diaz, Nick Vincent, Marc Rzepczynski and youngsters like Dan Altavilla, Tony Zych and James Pazos, Dipoto envisions a "wolfpack" group of versatile relievers that can be used to help absorb innings and take pressure off the starters and each other by being used in rotating fashion.
"We're getting 10-12 deep with real guys with real stuff who have all done something in the big leagues to show they belong," Dipoto said. "And there's another group in back of them [coming up in the Minors]. That is an area of depth."
While concerns remain about the rotation -- which Dipoto added to last July and August with midseason trades for Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez and Marco Gonzales -- the overall vision has remained firmly focused on improving the pitching this winter by adding relievers he believes will have big impacts this season.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see what is happening in baseball today," Dipoto said. "Watch the postseason, watch the way the game is being played. Minimally, we'll line up with a bullpen with two or three mid- to upper-90s arms with multi-inning capability and that's a great asset in today's game. That's the way the game is going."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.