SEATTLE -- Having finished their step-back season, a year spent resetting themselves, the Mariners now begin moving forward into a future they believe is brightened by a strong group of prospects ready to impact the roster.
With many of their long-term pieces now either in place or nearing the end of their Minor League development, it figures to be a less chaotic offseason for general manager Jerry Dipoto and his crew. But that doesn’t mean the winter won't hold much intrigue as things start coming together now that the World Series has ended and free agency and the Hot Stove season get underway.
Here are five questions facing the Mariners this offseason:
1. How many of the prospects are ready?
While much of 2019 was spent with veteran placeholders filling out roster spots while waiting for prospects to develop, next year will be more about the arrival of the new nucleus. Some of that already began, as outfielder Kyle Lewis, second baseman Shed Long and starting pitchers Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn received considerable playing time in the closing weeks of the season.
Those four will be given every opportunity to earn permanent jobs from Day 1 next spring, while outfielder Jake Fraley is another player who’ll get a strong look after a right thumb injury derailed his September audition.
First baseman Evan White will also get a shot at a spot in Spring Training, though the defensive standout has yet to play above Double-A. Starting pitcher Logan Gilbert, catcher Cal Raleigh and reliever Sam Delaplane are three more who appear on the fast track.
2. Is the merry-go-round really ready to stop?
Dipoto says to expect less roster churn this winter, but does anybody believe him? They should, as Dipoto is typically pretty consistent once he makes a plan.
Even after an offseason makeover, only 13 of the original 30 players who traveled to Japan in March were still on the roster when the regular season ended, as an MLB-record 67 players suited up for Seattle over the course of the year.
Dipoto will make moves this winter, but unless he chooses to deal outfielder Mitch Haniger or catcher Omar Narváez, he doesn’t have the kind of veterans who can bring a big trade return -- like Robinson Canó, James Paxton, Jean Segura and Mike Zunino last year -- and he is in a position now where he wants to give the up-and-coming prospects a path to the big leagues.
3. Will Haniger and other vets remain in the mix?
Haniger appears to remain part of the master plan, though that could change after missing the final four months of the season due to a ruptured testicle and an ensuing back issue. The Mariners will monitor his winter recovery closely, but he’s expected to be fully recovered in time for Spring Training.
Seattle, however, has already made moves to release several other veterans as infielder Ryon Healy, who underwent hip surgery in August after missing most of last season, opted for free agency after having his contract outrighted to Triple-A.
Relievers Anthony Bass (Blue Jays) and Matt Wisler (Twins) were claimed off waivers after also being moved off the 40-man roster, while outfielder Keon Broxton also opted for free agency after being outrighted.
Second baseman Dee Gordon has one year and $13 million remaining on his contract, but he and outfielder Domingo Santana are both candidates to be traded, given there are young prospects coming up who could be long-term fits.
4. Who fills out the rebuilt rotation?
This is one area where Dipoto likely will look to add a veteran or two via trade or free agency in order to supply some depth, given Félix Hernández and Tommy Milone are both free agents, and Wade LeBlanc has been informed that his $5 million club option won’t be picked up.
Players officially became free agents on Thursday -- the day after the World Series ended -- though they can’t sign with new teams until Monday at the earliest.
Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi and Sheffield figure to fill three spots in the rotation, and Dunn will be given every opportunity to earn a spot in spring. But Gilbert likely isn’t ready this quickly, and Dipoto figures to again bring in some experienced arms like Milone and LeBlanc who can help next year and prevent Dunn, Gilbert and other prospects from being rushed.
5. Who shakes out in the bullpen jam?
The Mariners had considerable turnover in their relief crew, but they uncovered some interesting candidates over the course of the season and were much stronger by the end. Sam Tuivailala, Matt Magill, Erik Swanson, Brandon Brennan, Taylor Guilbeau and Zac Grotz were among the newcomers this year who could be part of the future.
Add in promising youngsters like Art Warren, Joey Gerber and Delaplane, and there’ll be no shortage of competition next spring, even with Austin Adams not expected back until midseason after tearing his right ACL.
But this is also an area Dipoto says he’ll add to this winter, as he did last offseason in acquiring veteran Hunter Strickland as a potential closer and then swapping him for prospects at the July 31 Trade Deadline.