Dipoto’s 'multiyear' FA offers come up short

Mariners linked to veterans Wong, La Stella before each signed in NL

February 19th, 2021

SEATTLE -- Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto made it no secret all offseason that the club was seeking a left-handed hitter who could play second base and/or left field, and on Thursday, he loosely detailed why those negotiations didn’t manifest into a deal.

Dipoto didn’t tip his hand on who the Mariners targeted, but a source told MLB.com that the club actively pursued Kolten Wong and Tommy La Stella before each signed multiyear deals elsewhere at the beginning of February. Wong landed with the Brewers for two years and $18 million with a club option, and La Stella signed with the Giants on a three-year, $18.75 million deal.

“We were hyper-focused on one niche,” Dipoto said from Peoria, Ariz., where the Mariners had their second day of Spring Training. “We wanted a left-handed hitter who could balance out our lineup, who could ideally play second base left field, and in magical circumstances, potentially both. The more versatility, the better, because we didn't want to block the young players from getting opportunities.”

Left field is waiting for No. 1 prospect Jarred Kelenic, but he likely won’t be in the big leagues until at least May. Second base has the most uncertainty of any position on the Mariners’ roster, with Dylan Moore entering camp as the front-runner for the starting job. Moore had a nice 2020, hitting for a 139 OPS+, but manager Scott Servais has recognized that the Mariners’ best makeup might be with Moore in a utility role.

“We were exhausted and chasing the right addition to our lineup. We just fell short at every turn,” Dipoto said. “We had a series of targets, each of which we thought were ideal fits. We put them in an order that we thought best represented the way we saw that player, and then we tried to go out and get them.

“In all of those cases, we offered multiyear contracts that seemed to fit what we were trying to do not just for 2021, but for 2022 and potentially beyond that. We were aggressive in that market. We just failed to bring in the offensive piece we were looking to add.”

Missing out on Wong and La Stella, in part, allowed the Mariners to allocate the $8.5 million deal for James Paxton that they finalized on Thursday.

But can they still reel in a big league bat?

“We're not likely to move on and pursue at least a Major League contract with an offensive player to fill that void,” Dipoto said. “We're going to go with what we have in house.”

Gilbert unlikely to break camp in rotation
Mariners top pitching prospect should be up with the big league club at some point in 2021, but it likely won’t be on Opening Day. Servais said Thursday that the club won’t stretch out Gilbert to the typical 5-6 innings most pitchers do by the end of camp.

“We need to be careful on his ramp up, I think, and he's probably one of the guys we're most locked in on to make sure he's got fuel in the tank come August and September,” Servais said.

The Mariners are cognizant of innings allocation among even their most veteran arms, but that will be particularly true of their No. 4 prospect. Gilbert, who ranks as one of MLB Pipeline’s top right-handed arms, threw a career-high 135 innings in 2019, which is about the threshold the Mariners will let him reach after he spent ’20 at the alternate training site, where he threw on a six-day program and topped out at 5-6 innings.

Gilbert will still make Cactus League starts, but the addition of Paxton brings the Mariners to seven starters for their six-man rotation, which reduces urgency to push Gilbert now when they’ll need him later.

Seattle short hops
• Flamethrowing reliever Andrés Muñoz was placed on the 60-day injured list to make room for Paxton on the 40-man roster. Muñoz, who the Mariners are bullish on for his 104 mph velocity peak, is recovering from Tommy John surgery that he underwent last March with the Padres. He was acquired in the Austin Nola deal at last year’s Trade Deadline and is on pace for a return in June, with the chance to be a key piece in a suddenly high-velocity Mariners ‘pen.

• Reliever Ken Giles has reported to camp and will conduct the rehab from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in October from the club’s Peoria facility. Giles last week agreed to a multiyear deal worth a guaranteed $7 million over two years, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, including a $9.5 million option with a $500,000 buyout for 2023.

• Shortstop J.P. Crawford, right fielder Mitch Haniger and left fielder Jake Fraley were among a handful of position players to arrive early to camp. Fraley has trimmed down quite a bit, per Servais, while Crawford has put on muscle, which was his objective this offseason.

• Servais said that the Mariners will consider the league’s new protocol allowing for shorter Spring Training games, if circumstances like pitch counts dictate. For the first two weeks of Cactus League play, games can be shortened to seven or five innings if both managers agree. There are also options for roll-over innings.

• Given the demands of the Cactus League schedule -- 26 games in 26 days during one stretch -- Servais said that the Mariners will ease their everyday position players into action. That could mean early playing time for top prospects Kelenic, Julio Rodríguez, Taylor Trammell and Cal Raleigh.