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Mariners poised to land free-agent reliever

Dipoto in 'deal-making zone' with bullpen piece at Meetings
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Jerry Dipoto acknowledged the obvious disappointment of not landing top target Shohei Ohtani as the Winter Meetings opened on Monday, but the Mariners' general manager never sits still for long and believes his club is now close to landing an impact pitcher -- most likely a reliever -- to bolster his staff.

"We're hopeful we can get something done on the pitching front while we're here," said Dipoto after a day spent talking with agents and other team executives. "I can't say that's imminent, but I feel we're at least in a deal-making zone in at least one case. Hopefully, we can bring it across the line while we're here."

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Jerry Dipoto acknowledged the obvious disappointment of not landing top target Shohei Ohtani as the Winter Meetings opened on Monday, but the Mariners' general manager never sits still for long and believes his club is now close to landing an impact pitcher -- most likely a reliever -- to bolster his staff.

"We're hopeful we can get something done on the pitching front while we're here," said Dipoto after a day spent talking with agents and other team executives. "I can't say that's imminent, but I feel we're at least in a deal-making zone in at least one case. Hopefully, we can bring it across the line while we're here."

The Meetings run through Thursday, and the market for relievers is heating up after the signings of Brandon Morrow to the Cubs and Pat Neshek to the Phillies in the last two days.

Dipoto firmly believes the Mariners' rotation is in solid hands with James Paxton, Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake at the top, a trio he said stacks up against the top three of any American League team. Erasmo Ramirez appears targeted for the No. 4 spot, with Ariel Miranda, Marco Gonzales and Andrew Moore competing for the final opening.

Dipoto doesn't sound like a guy suddenly in the chase for one of the high-priced free-agent starters like Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta now that Ohtani is off the board. Instead, he's looking at adding a quality bullpen piece to the mix.

Many teams have focused more on bullpen construction in recent years, and there are some valuable arms available -- including Addison Reed, Juan Nicasio, Anthony Swarzak and Jake McGee -- who would certainly bolster a crew that already returns closer Edwin Diaz and veteran setup men Nick Vincent and David Phelps, along with a cast of youngsters. Another free-agent option was Bryan Shaw, but the former Indians right-hander reportedly agreed to a deal with the Rockies on Tuesday.

"There's a lot of really talented pitchers out there," Dipoto said. "We'll just see how much impact we can add."

Video: Johns on Mariners' plans for the Winter Meetings

As for Ohtani? His decision left many MLB executives shaking their heads, wondering how the Angels wound up being the winner of a derby that clearly didn't go the way many experts expected.

In the end, nobody knew what Ohtani was looking for, and the Mariners, like the other seven finalists, made their best pitch early last week and then waited. Ohtani and his representatives spent two hours meeting with each of the chosen seven clubs, but the 23-year-old didn't visit any of the team's stadiums or cities except for the Angels before making his choice on Friday.

No question Ohtani's decision to land with the rival Angels stung a team that felt it had a strong shot to land him, but Dipoto isn't one to linger on that disappointment.

"He's made his selection," Dipoto said. "He's a member of the Angels. We're going to have to watch him 19 times a year, whether it's as a pitcher or as a hitter, and we'll have to figure out how to get the better of him. He's a great player."

The Mariners accumulated $3.55 million in international pool money in an attempt to improve their chances at luring Ohtani. That isn't actual cash now in Seattle's coffers, but an increase in the available amount they can use to sign international players between now and the June 15 deadline for current year spending.

The Mariners will likely use some of that pool money to pursue the handful of remaining noteworthy international prospects, which includes well-regarded Cuban outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez, who is expected to become available soon.

Dipoto also could trade some of that acquired pool money to other clubs that have used up their available international funds, if he finds teams willing to give up prospects in return.

Having already acquired Ryon Healy to handle first base and speedster Dee Gordon to transition to center field, Dipoto feels his position group is now basically set. He's even comfortable with the trio of Mike Marjama, David Freitas and Tuffy Gosewisch providing the necessary backup to catcher Mike Zunino.

So, yes, the arms race now will carry his focus and this time he's leaning away from the trade market.

"We've been engaged with a number of free-agent pitchers," he said. "We have been really since the onset of free agency, and it's only magnified here in the last week to 10 days because we have a sense the market is now starting to pick up a little bit."

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

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