SAN DIEGO -- Jerry Dipoto joked Monday at the Winter Meetings that the Mariners didn’t have any transactions in the red zone or even beyond midfield, but in the middle of a 45-minute session with reporters on Tuesday, Seattle’s president of baseball operations received a news alert that prompted him to suggest, “We might have something on a tee.”
The Mariners received clarity on their search for a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder after Mitch Haniger agreed to a three-year, $43.5 million deal with the Giants, ending a five-year run in Seattle. Mariners GM Justin Hollander was regularly in contact with Haniger’s agent, Adam Karon of Apex Baseball, but Haniger was swayed by the $14.5 million annually and chance to return to the Bay Area and play for his childhood team.
“Everything is always more robust than you think it's going to be, particularly if a guy is signing during this period of the year,” Hollander said. “I'm thrilled for Mitch.”
Haniger’s departure allows the Mariners to press on with the rest of their needs. Their top priority remains the righty-hitting corner-outfield role that he vacated, given that their other OF options -- Jarred Kelenic, Taylor Trammell and Cade Marlowe -- are lefties. They’d also like to add insurance for first baseman Ty France and third baseman Eugenio Suárez after the departures of backups Carlos Santana (free agency) and Abraham Toro (trade for Kolten Wong).
In a perfect world, the Mariners will land one player who can fulfill all of those needs, but it will more realistically require two.
“We have a pretty finite shopping list,” Dipoto said. “What it is we're trying to find is very specific, whereas in years past, especially in recent years, you come in with either A) more needs, or B) the notion that you're just going to find ways to improve.”
Adding that player would also allow a deeper DH rotation across their entire lineup to build in rest, a strategy they used early last year, before injuries dictated how they used the position.
“That’s the piece -- and we do need that piece,” Dipoto said. “That player doesn’t play for us right now. ... , I don't think we're going to set a timeline for ourselves, but we do want to improve in that area.”
But if there were questions on how much more the Mariners would do after acquiring Wong and Teoscar Hernández, it’s become clear that most of their impact shopping is done.
Operating with a roughly $130 million 40-man roster payroll, per Cots Baseball Contracts, and having committed a combined $484 million in long-term contracts to Julio Rodríguez, Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray and J.P. Crawford, the Mariners have already spent significantly. They’re also open to extending more of their younger players, though such conversations aren’t active, due to the needs for external acquisitions.
“Timing is everything,” Dipoto said. “If this week we would have signed Luis Castillo as a free agent, traded for Teoscar Hernández and Kolten Wong, you might have a fairly different opinion of how active we’ve been. We tend to act early. It is what it is. As much fun as the Winter Meetings are, through all the years we’ve been here, so often we do a lot of our work before we get to the Winter Meetings and then some afterward, but it’s been kind of slow.”
It all points to the Mariners scouring the trade market and/or lower levels of free agency to fill their final needs, rather than spend at the top of the free-agent food chain.
“If we're doing a deal, we're not going to do a deal because we were emotionally driven toward a deal,” Dipoto said. “We're not going to do a deal because somebody else did it and we feel like we have to. We're also not going to do it because we can. We're going to do it because we think it's the right thing to do.”
Those markets typically hinge on the biggest dominos dropping, but traction has picked up there with Justin Verlander and Trea Turner agreeing to massive deals on Monday. Aaron Judge, the largest free-agent prize, remains unsigned, but Dipoto and Hollander downplayed that the AL MVP might be holding up the market because “he’s his own market,” Dipoto said.
The Mariners wanted Haniger back, but the match didn’t manifest. Now, they have the clarity to perhaps reach the red zone with the rest of their offseason checklist.