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Dipoto dispels 'teardown' talk for Mariners

GM refutes reports: 'We're just too talented to do that'
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb and @mi_guardado

SEATTLE -- On the day election signs across the country came down, it sounded for a while as if Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto had replaced them on the baseball front with a "For Sale" sign in front of his roster of players.

At least that was the sense after a Tuesday morning tweet by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports saying the Mariners were "considering a full-fledged teardown" this winter and would be willing to move just about any of their players if the price is right on the trade market.

SEATTLE -- On the day election signs across the country came down, it sounded for a while as if Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto had replaced them on the baseball front with a "For Sale" sign in front of his roster of players.

At least that was the sense after a Tuesday morning tweet by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports saying the Mariners were "considering a full-fledged teardown" this winter and would be willing to move just about any of their players if the price is right on the trade market.

Tweet from @JeffPassan: Sources: The Mariners are considering a full-fledged teardown this winter. If trade market is strong, they���ve told teams they���re willing to move just about anyone. And if that happens, they have indicated they���re willing to wait a few years to build a competitive team again.

But not so fast, Dipoto said Tuesday afternoon at the General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., tapping the brakes on the notion there is a "teardown" or "sell-off" in the works.

"Clearly over-dramatized is the best way to put that," Dipoto told MLB.com at the GM Meetings. "We're open-minded to different ways we can get better, but what we're hoping to achieve is to reimagine our roster to look at it in terms of what is our quickest path to a championship club.

"We know what the Astros, Red Sox, A's, Yankees and Indians look like. We don't want to be a perpetual competitor for the second Wild Card. We want to build a championship roster. If that means in 2019 we field as competitive a team as we can while earmarking and gathering talent, we're not looking to rip our club down. We're just too talented to do that."

In other words, the Mariners will indeed be active this winter on the trade market, and some familiar faces will be gone by the start of next season. But that shouldn't come as a surprise.

• Five pressing offseason questions facing Mariners

In three seasons since taking over the Mariners' baseball operations on Sept. 28, 2015, Dipoto has made 80 trades that brought 77 players to Seattle's organization while sending 88 others packing.

The majority of those deals have involved Minor League players or big leaguers on the fringes of the 40-man roster, but Seattle's churn has been constant as Dipoto has made more moves than any GM in MLB over that three-year span.

The Mariners are in a different situation this winter. Dipoto indicated from the start of the offseason that his focus now involves building around his younger core of players -- such as Mitch Haniger, Edwin Diaz and Marco Gonzales -- instead of the aging and expensive core of Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

As of now, the Mariners have made it sound as if Cruz's return is not imminent in free agency.

"Never say never," Dipoto said. "Our direction might be different in two, four, six weeks than it is today. We love Nelly. That contract signing, by Jack Zduriencik at the time, wound up being one of the most productive free-agent contracts in recent memory.

"Super human being, he's great in the clubhouse and still a wildly productive player. We would never say no to that. But I don't know what our roster is going to look like as we move forward because we're trying to re-imagine ways we can become as competitive as we can."

At 38, Cruz may not be part of the future. But Haniger and Gonzales are among the players acquired by Dipoto in previous trades and exactly the kind of young, talented, controllable players he wants to add, not subtract.

"Whether through free agency or trade, we want to gather as much talent as we can," Dipoto said. "Clearly we feel we're a little short in the outfield, particularly center field. That's an area we need to address. And we need to sort through the positional distribution between Robbie Cano, Dee Gordon, Jean Segura and the like.

"But just the fact I named those guys -- Dee, Robbie, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Marco, Haniger … there's so much talent on the club that we don't view ourselves as a teardown candidate. We're just trying to figure out how over the course of these next 1-3 years we can maximize the potential of this roster while building something that has a chance for sustainability."

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Trading to get younger isn't an easy scenario, since Cano, Hernandez and Seager have large contracts that will be difficult to move unless Seattle takes on significant salary in the exchange. Cruz is a free agent, so his $14 million deal is coming off the books, but Dipoto will need to be creative in order to do a significant overhaul of his more-expensive older veterans.

It would be simpler -- and more likely -- to deal younger talent with upside. Paxton, the club's No. 1 pitcher, and starting catcher Zunino could be potential trade chips, as both have two seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining and thus haven't reached their maximum earning potential in free agency yet.

Segura would presumably be of interest to some teams, though he has a no-trade clause in a deal that still has four years and $57 million to run. Gordon also could be marketable with two years, $26.5 million remaining on his contract.

Throw in Ben Gamel, Ryon Healy, Daniel Vogelbach and indeed there are potential trade chips for the Mariners. But while Dipoto surely will be active, as always, that doesn't mean all those players will be moved or that a "sell-off" and complete stripping of the roster awaits.

"There's a reason why we've been able to win games. We do have talent," Dipoto said. "We just have to figure out how to take the core of this roster and catch up with the Joneses, so to speak, because the Joneses are really good."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.

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