Dipoto has history of Winter Meetings activity
SEATTLE -- As Jerry Dipoto prepares for his first Winter Meetings as the Mariners' general manager, a lot of roster reconstruction has already taken place, and more seems imminent.
Dipoto hit the ground running when he replaced Jack Zduriencik at season's end. Though the Winter Meetings used to be regarded as the time the Hot Stove season really kicked in, Dipoto didn't wait for the four-day gathering that starts on Monday in Nashville, Tenn.
Seattle already has been one of the most active teams in the Majors, with Dipoto making five trades -- acquiring veteran closer candidate Joaquin Benoit, young right-handed starter Nathan Karns, center fielder Leonys Martin, infielder Luis Sardinas, catcher Steve Clevenger, reliever Anthony Bass and outfield prospect Boog Powell -- as well as signing free-agent catcher Chris Iannetta and re-signing left fielder Franklin Gutierrez. Free-agent outfielder Nori Aoki also has agreed to a one-year deal.
Dipoto has made it clear he wants to add depth across the board, improve the defense and athleticism, and find players who can get on base to help the nucleus of talent he inherited with the Mariners, a well-regarded and well-compensated core of Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.
The Mariners don't figure to be players for top-end free agents, having already invested heavily in their Big Four and having spent another $12 million on the additions of Benoit and Iannetta. Seattle currently has nine players under contract for $91.25 million for 2016, with three arbitration-eligible players projected by MLB Trade Rumors to command another $6.7 million.
But Dipoto freed up about $9 million by dealing Mark Trumbo to the Orioles on Tuesday. Assuming the Mariners are prepared to push last year's $125 million payroll up again, Dipoto thus has some money to work with, and he puts the re-signing of free-agent right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma at the top of his wish list.
"We're still focused on the obvious," said Dipoto, "which is the potential of bringing Kuma back. We'll continue to focus there, as well as everything we've talked about openly since I've arrived. And we'd like to get deeper in terms of pitching. That is likely to happen in addressing bullpen needs, whether via trade or free agency.
"We're not done making moves. There's still a lot to do to get where we need to be by Opening Day. But I feel we're making good progress."
Given how much he's already done, it remains to be seen how much noise the Mariners will make in Nashville. But Dipoto hasn't been shy in previous Winter Meetings for the Angels. He shocked the baseball world in his first year with the Halos in 2011, signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson for a combined $331 million on the final day of that December gathering in Dallas. In 2012, Dipoto signed pitchers Sean Burnett and Joe Blanton at the Meetings, and he had talks that set the stage for the subsequent surprise signing of Josh Hamilton a few days later.
In 2013, Dipoto traded Trumbo to acquire young left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. And though the Angels expected to be quiet last December in San Diego, Dipoto wound up making three trades, including sending longtime second baseman Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers for top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney.
So while blockbuster free-agent signings seem highly unlikely, don't be surprised if Dipoto does more deals to continue reshaping his roster. He believes he's already strengthened the Mariners up the middle with the trade for Martin to patrol center field and signing Iannetta to be the primary catcher, to go along with young Ketel Marte and the veteran Cano at shortstop and second base, respectively.
But in addition to the never-ending push for pitching, first base now appears an open-ended situation following the trades of Trumbo and Logan Morrison, so that could be a prime Winter Meetings pursuit. And Dipoto seems intent on bolstering depth and bringing in his type of players wherever possible.
"There's still a lot of offseason left," Dipoto said. "What we do between now and Opening Day in developing our roster is still a bit of a work in progress."
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 5 p.m. PT. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 8 a.m. PT and the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 10 at 7 a.m. PT.