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Inbox: What will Seattle's '19 rotation look like?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers questions from Mariners fans
December 17, 2018

The Mariners utilized 11 starters last year over a relatively healthy season for the rotation and 17 the year before. Most of the names beyond Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc and Felix Hernandez are no longer in the organization. Who else do we have that may be ready to

The Mariners utilized 11 starters last year over a relatively healthy season for the rotation and 17 the year before. Most of the names beyond Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc and Felix Hernandez are no longer in the organization. Who else do we have that may be ready to help this year?
-- Jim P., Kennydale, Wash.

Roenis Elias is another returner who could fill out the initial rotation, should none of the youngsters be deemed ready coming out of Spring Training. But I suspect it won't be long before we see Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson, the two highly regarded prospects acquired from the Yankees in the James Paxton deal.

If they don't crack the initial 25-man roster, those two will both open the year in Triple-A Tacoma. Justin Dunn, the promising right-hander acquired from the Mets in the Robinson Cano deal, will begin in Double-A Arkansas and is one to watch as well.
Tommy Milone, who has started 130 Major League games, is a lefty who signed a Minor League deal as a non-roster invitee, and I suspect they'll add another veteran or two like that to provide depth in Tacoma. You've also got Rob Whalen and Max Povse returning, and the Mariners acquired a 21-year-old lefty prospect they like from the Braves in Ricardo Sanchez, who'll likely start out in Double-A.
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Where will the Mariners turn to strengthen their bullpen from the left side? After Elias, the only candidate in the system appears to be Sanchez, who does not seem ready. Is a trade likely?
-- Mark M., Denver, Colo.

With James Pazos traded and Zach Duke departing in free agency, this definitely is an area that general manager Jerry Dipoto must bolster. As mentioned already, Elias could end up in the rotation at least on a temporary basis and Sanchez is more of a long-term rotation candidate. Milone could be an option, as he's pitched some in relief over his eight-year MLB career.
I doubt Dipoto wants to trade prospects at this point for short-term lefty relief help, so more likely they'll sign another veteran or two to low-end Major League deals or non-roster invites like Milone. Guys like Jerry Blevins, Boone Logan, Tim Collins and Hector Santiago are candidates, knowing they could get a good opportunity to land a 25-man roster spot, given Seattle's need.
I read that the Mariners value Dee Gordon for his interest in mentoring the new young players. I also know Gordon would need to recoup some value before the Trade Deadline next year before it makes sense to trade him, but does the value added by his leadership during the rebuild surpass the value of a return he would net through trade?
-- Nat L., Bainbridge Island, Wash.

If you're asking me if the Mariners will hang on to Gordon so he can help mentor young players no matter how high his trade value spikes in the coming months, my answer would be no. Dipoto clearly is open to moving any of his shorter-term veterans if he can get good future value in return. But with two years and $27 million remaining on his contract and coming off a rough season, the Mariners don't want to trade Gordon when his value is low.
They do love the energy and leadership Gordon brings when he's playing well, and they're happy to have some veterans like him and Kyle Seager to help set the tone for the new youngsters. If they're keeping veterans, they want guys who'll help show the way. But if the opportunity arises where those veterans provide lofty returns, I expect they'll take advantage and deal them, just as they did with Paxton, Mike Zunino and Alex Colome -- who also were good leader types, but were down to just two years of club control remaining.
Trying to figure out how the Mariners got a competitive balance Draft pick from the Indians along with Edwin Encarnacion in the Carlos Santana trade. I thought competitive balance picks could only be traded during the season.
-- Gil P., Spokane, Wash.

That is a bit confusing, as regular Draft picks can't be traded. But competitive balance picks -- which are extra picks designed to help small-market and low revenue teams -- can be traded once the exact Draft order is set. The Indians had a Competitive Balance Round B pick, which means an extra selection after the second Round, and they traded that to Seattle.
So the Mariners now will have a first-round pick (20th), a second-rounder (59th), the competitive balance pick (77th) and a third-rounder (97th) all in the top 100 in the Draft next June 3-5.
Do the Mariners have a "Winter Plan" for Kyle Seager, as it seems he will not get traded? Fitness, hitting, what is he working on?
-- Anne R., Montana

Every player is given an offseason plan to work on different things. In Seager's case, he headed home this winter to North Carolina with a very distinct agenda. His first order of business was letting his broken right big toe heal after a difficult season with his foot. Now, he's begun doing some different workouts in an effort to be more flexible, and has a new offseason hitting coach that he's tutoring with as well.
What is the outlook on Cal Raleigh? Can he be a contributing part of the rebuild?
-- Brett B., Frankfort, Ind.

It's always difficult to project the learning curve of catchers, but the Mariners are very high on last June's third-round Draft pick out of Florida State. He hit well at Class A Everett in 38 games after signing and is regarded as an advanced hitting prospect for a catcher, with work to do defensively.

Now, he'll be challenged a bit by getting bumped up, possibly to Class A Advanced Modesto. There's no question the 22-year-old could be part of the next wave of talent the Mariners are counting on to mesh together over the next few years if he continues developing on schedule.

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