Will the Mariners look at Ichiro Suzuki to fill their backup outfield position?
-- Ed Q., Rogers, Ark.
This is a popular question among many Mariners fans since the Marlins declined Ichiro's option for next season, making him a free agent. But while general manager Jerry Dipoto is looking to add one more outfielder to the mix, everything I've heard is that it's highly unlikely there'll be any reunion with the 44-year-old right fielder.
Ichiro has said he wants to play til he's 50, but even one of the fittest and most-flexible players I've ever seen can't outrun the aging process forever. He declined to a .255/.318/.332 slash line last year with one stolen base and a minus 0.3 WAR in 196 at-bats, and the Marlins decided not to extend even a relatively modest $2 million deal for 2018.
The Mariners do need to replace -- or bring back -- Jarrod Dyson, but a team trying to get younger and more athletic doesn't seem like a very good fit for an aging outfielder. One scenario I could see is whenever Ichiro does decide he's done, perhaps Seattle signs him to a symbolic one-day employment contract so he could "retire as a Mariner," which is something they did with Mike Cameron in 2012 before he threw out the first pitch prior to that year's season opener.
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Now that Mike Zunino is arbitration eligible and after the improvement he made, do you think the Mariners should lock him up to a three- to five-year deal?
-- Gil P., Spokane, Wash.
The Mariners like the idea of buying out a players' arbitration years and their first year or two of free agency in order to lock up young talent, as they did with Kyle Seager and Jean Segura. James Paxton is another who could be under consideration for such a move this winter. But Paxton and Zunino are in a similar boat.
The Mariners have to judge whether their short successes are worth translating into a longer-term deal yet and the players have to determine whether they want security now or roll the dice on putting up the kind of numbers that would warrant larger contracts in arbitration and ultimately their early free-agent years. So both sides would have to agree on such a deal and there are risks both ways.
How important is the Draft pick we have and can the Mariners sign someone tagged with the qualifying offer?
-- David S., Des Moines, Wash.
New rules this year make signing another team's qualified free agent a lot less prohibitive. The rules are complex, but in the Mariners' case they'd give up only a third-round Draft choice rather than their No. 14 overall pick in the first round as in past years. So while the financial cost will be high for available qualified free agents who would fill Seattle's needs -- pitchers Jacob Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, first basemen Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana or center fielder Lorenzo Cain -- the Draft pick compensation is certainly not a deterrent.
Do you expect Dipoto will be going for players via trade this offseason, like in the past, or now that the core of the team is more established, looking more at free agency?
-- Iker B., Bilboa, Basque Country, Spain
I don't think Dipoto will ever stop trading when he sees a deal he thinks makes the 40-man roster stronger. But I do expect fewer trades and a little more activity on the free-agent market than last winter, when Seattle engineered 15 trades involving 41 players. The only free agents signed last year were relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Casey Fien. I expect Seattle to use free agency to land a first baseman, outfielder and at least one pitcher this winter.
Are the Mariners contenders for Cain?
-- Jim D., Renton, Wash.
Some have projected Seattle as the landing spot for the Royals' free-agent center fielder, but I'd be surprised if that happens. I could see the Mariners landing a relatively high-impact free agent, but they're more apt to use those resources at first base and/or pitching.
Dipoto feels Mitch Haniger and Guillermo Heredia would be fine in center field if Dyson doesn't return, so it's not as critical to land a center fielder as some believe. The Mariners could just as easily look to add a corner outfielder with more power than their current group provides. That said, Cain would be a strong addition and if they had a way to add him as well as fill their other needs, that would be quite a catch indeed.
What will the Mariners do at first base? Re-sign Yonder Alonso or look at a free agent?
-- Ray R., Erie, Pa.
They're definitely looking at free agents, including Alonso. I'd probably make him the slight favorite to return, just because he liked Seattle and the Mariners are familiar with him and his work ethic after acquiring him for the last six weeks of 2017. But it's a very wide-open field of free agents at first base, and I could see them making a push for switch-hitting standout Santana or seeing if Logan Morrison is interested in returning after hitting 38 homers for the Rays. Or they could pursue a shorter-term solution like a one-year deal on Lucas Duda, Mike Napoli or Mitch Moreland and make a bigger bang on pitching or the outfield.