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Mariners examining all options to fill closer role

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

LAS VEGAS -- He was the Mariners' biggest success story last season, a 24-year-old fireballer who racked up 57 saves and was named the American League reliever of the year.

So how do you go about replacing Edwin Diaz, who was dealt to the Mets at the start of December as part of the Robinson Cano blockbuster? For the Mariners, the answer for now is you don't. The decision was made to part with their whip-armed closer in order to add a couple top prospects in Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn who could play huge roles in the rebuilding process.

LAS VEGAS -- He was the Mariners' biggest success story last season, a 24-year-old fireballer who racked up 57 saves and was named the American League reliever of the year.

So how do you go about replacing Edwin Diaz, who was dealt to the Mets at the start of December as part of the Robinson Cano blockbuster? For the Mariners, the answer for now is you don't. The decision was made to part with their whip-armed closer in order to add a couple top prospects in Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn who could play huge roles in the rebuilding process.

But while the Mariners might not be able to replace Diaz's imposing presence and results, somebody will have to fill his role and the only reliever on the current 40-man roster with more than one Major League save to his name is Anthony Swarzak, a 33-year-old right-hander who notched four saves for the Mets last season and has six in his career.

Video: Anthony Swarzak on being traded to the Mariners

Swarzak was one of five players the Mets sent to Seattle in the Cano/Diaz deal, and he's been a middle reliever most of his career.

The only other current Mariners reliever with a save is Shawn Armstrong, who closed out Seattle's season-ending 3-1 win over the Rangers last year when manager Scott Servais decided to give Diaz a break after he'd moved into a tie for second on MLB's all-time single-season saves list the previous night.

Servais shaved the hair on the sides of his head after losing a bet with Diaz last season on whether he could get to 50 saves. Now, the manager is hedging his bets on just whom his closer might even be in 2019.

Free-agent rumors

"We've got work to do in the offseason, as far as bringing in bullpen pieces," Servais said this week at the Winter Meetings at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. "Not only losing Eddie, but the back end of our bullpen was outstanding last year. And it allowed us to win the games we did.

"It's a business. It's part of it. We're trying to reload a little bit. And you've got to give up good players to get them. I haven't really looked at how the closing thing is going to work out. Our offseason is not done yet."

General manager Jerry Dipoto doesn't have an answer yet either, but expects someone to emerge from the group of relievers he'll accumulate before Spring Training.

"When somebody gives you opportunity and there is no net, that's when you can run with it," Dipoto said. "We're going to give somebody -- multiple somebodies, I'm guessing -- opportunity, and I can't say they're going to turn into Edwin Diaz. But I am confident that one of them will start running with it."

Hot Stove Tracker

The Mariners aren't in a situation where it makes sense to spend money on a proven closer for 2019, given their focus now is more on building toward 2020 and beyond. But Dipoto does expect to add several experienced relievers to the mix in the coming weeks and see how things shake out for the entire bullpen.

Armstrong and Swarzak already figure in that group, along with returners Chasen Bradford, Dan Altavilla, Nick Rumbelow and Matt Festa.

Video: TEX@SEA: Armstrong retires Alberto for 1st MLB save

The Mariners have traded away not only Diaz, but Alex Colome, Juan Nicasio and James Pazos, while also releasing Nick Vincent, so there are big holes to fill.

Dipoto noted that many relievers take a dip at some point in their career after dealing with a heavy workload, then rebound a year later with a fresh arm. Thus, he'll look to find some bounce-back candidates who might welcome the chance to pitch on a one-year deal and enhance their own futures, as well as potentially provide Seattle opportunities to flip them at midseason for more prospects.

"We're looking for veteran stability, guys who can pitch meaningful innings at leverage points in the game, and we are also looking for guys who are closely removed from high success in the hope we can turn a dial and get them back to where they were maybe six, eight, 12, 24 months ago," Dipoto said. "We'll see if we can rebuild a market for them, whether it be to stay in Seattle for a longer term or to potentially go elsewhere in July to gather more assets."

Expect Dipoto to close a few such deals later in the winter, when free agents are looking for landing spots.

Whether there is a future closer in that mix?

Stay tuned.

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

Seattle Mariners