Dipoto on Seiya, pitching prospects, FAs

December 2nd, 2021

SEATTLE -- Beyond introducing his new ace in front of the bright lights and finalizing a four-year contract extension with a promising reliever on Wednesday, Jerry Dipoto held court with reporters at T-Mobile Park to discuss a variety of topics ahead of the 8:59 p.m. PT expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

After Robbie Ray’s $115 million deal became official, the Mariners' president of baseball operations outlined where things stand in Seattle’s busy offseason. Here are three highlights:

1) They’ve met with Seiya Suzuki
Despite what might appear to be an outfield logjam, the Mariners, via Zoom, have met with the star Japanese right fielder, who was recently posted by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball.

“I don't know where that will lead, but I can tell you we're interested,” Dipoto said. “He’s a great player. He's had a great career. And now that he's a free agent, it'll be interesting to see what he chooses. But yeah, I don't know what that'll be.”

Suzuki, 27, is coming off a 2021 season in which he posted career highs in OPS (1.079) and home runs (38) in 131 games for the Carp. He has experience playing the infield, but not since 2014. The Mariners have taken an approach this offseason of putting talent over fit, then sorting things out after. Adam Frazier, who the club traded for on Saturday, is a prime example, having played mostly second base but he’ll also contribute in left field.

“We think [Suzuki] is athletic enough to do a lot of different things,” Dipoto said. “And the wonderful thing about our outfielders is they've all played every position. All of them have experience playing a variety of different positions. So, we mix and match, get as much talent -- you want to get as much talent as you can.”

2) Top pitching prospects likely to debut, contribute in ‘22
Dipoto also confirmed that the Mariners will revert back to a five-man rotation next season after explicitly using a six-man unit last year in order to govern the innings accumulation for their younger arms. That’s why they would like to add at least another established starter to go with Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert.

But if they don’t, it’s possible that Matt Brash (the club’s No. 10 prospect) and Brandon Williamson (No. 7 prospect) could compete for that fifth spot.

“It's not impossible that, if we don't do anything else with our starting rotation, that the more advanced of that group might not wind up being our fifth starter to begin the season,” Dipoto said, noting that George Kirby (No. 3 prospect) and Emerson Hancock (No. 4 prospect) are a little more behind Brash and Williamson from an innings-accumulation standpoint.

Brash was called up during the final week of the season as a reinforcement but never appeared due to game circumstances. Before that, he made 10 starts each for Arkansas and High-A Everett this season, compiling a combined 2.31 ERA in 97 1/3 innings, striking out 35.1% of the batters he faced and 142 total. Overall, he held hitters to a .180/.285/.257 (.542 OPS) slash line.

Williamson was also a strikeout machine, with a 33% clip, and like Brash, he advanced from High A to Double-A last year. He had a 3.39 ERA in 98 1/3 innings while holding opponents to a .677 OPS.

“I do think that all those guys have an opportunity to contribute next year, and I would be mildly surprised if we didn't see them in the big leagues,” Dipoto said. “I'd like to say that ‘later than sooner,’ because that'll give them more time in development, and that probably means that our five-man rotation is both effective and healthy to start the year.”

3) Free agents more interested in Seattle than before
Dipoto said his front office was “knee deep” in negotiations and at T-Mobile Park until 9 p.m. PT on Tuesday, suggesting, in part, that it was a reflection of the interest that Seattle’s targets have in coming here. Ray alluded to it as much during his press conference, and Dipoto said that the reciprocation among the free agents he’s spoken to has been a pleasant surprise.

“That is the response that we've gotten with any player that we've engaged with,” Dipoto said. “They were watching at the end of the year, as Robbie said. You can't help but watch social media and the MLB Network that last homestand. He sat upstairs with me and walked in and he saw the ‘Believe’ sign hanging on the wall, and he said: ‘Really cool.’

“The league noticed and the players noticed, and I will say that the response we've gotten, we've sat down with, either live or virtual meetings, with probably close to 10 or 11 free agents and had conversations -- and not just one conversation, multiple conversations -- and they're engaged with what's happening here. And I think they all see that really strong things are happening in Seattle, and they want to be a part of it.”