Busy Mariners set for active Winter Meetings

Dipoto will be especially focused on shoring up bullpen

December 7th, 2018

SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto didn't bother waiting for the Winter Meetings to crank up his offseason makeover of the Mariners, having already made six trades while setting a new direction for a club coming off an 89-win season.

But that doesn't mean Seattle's ultra-active general manager will rest quietly in his suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas next week when agents and executives from all 30 Major League teams gather for four days of discussions and dealings.

Dipoto's plan to revamp his roster isn't done yet, despite having already dealt nine prominent players, including former All-Stars , , and Alex Colome, as well as No. 1 pitcher , starting catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder .

Hot Stove Tracker

The Mariners may not make any more blockbuster moves, unless another team offers up a package too good to turn down for right fielder Mitch Haniger or young lefty . But Dipoto definitely has more work to do, even if just to shore up a bullpen that took a major hit in his recent flurry of dealings.

In addition to Diaz and Colome, Dipoto also traded relievers and , released Nick Vincent and let Zach Duke, and depart in free agency. and are the only two remaining relievers on the 40-man roster out of the nine who made 20 or more appearances last season.

"I can't say as we're completely done, but I think most of the heavy lifting is done," Dipoto said after completing the trades involving Cano, Diaz and Segura earlier this week. "We'll likely continue with conversation about the possibility of doing other things, but I suspect we'll be generally quiet until we get to the Winter Meetings and then focus on back-filling our needs, most especially in the bullpen."

Club needs: Pitching clearly is the priority now. Not only does the bullpen need help, but Dipoto may well add another starting pitcher to the mix so that newly acquired prospects , Erik Swanson and Justin Dunn don't need to be rushed. Several relievers will surely be added as well. And while the club clearly isn't likely to be chasing costly free agents in their current rebuilding mode, Dipoto could find some lower-tier veterans to help bridge the gap. Catcher appears another area where depth could be added.

Whom might they trade? Recently acquired veterans , and certainly are available, given they were included in trades primarily to offset the outgoing contracts of Cano and Segura. Santana appears the most likely to go, as the 32-year-old is coming off another solid season and there appears to be some market for his bat, though Seattle likely would need to absorb some of his two-year, $40 million contract. Or if Santana stays, could be a trade candidate, given the logjam at first base.

Are there roles for Bruce, Santana in Seattle?

Dipoto also could continue to look for ways to get younger and better built for the future, with starter Mike Leake certainly a trade possibility, given the Mariners still owe him $27 million over two more seasons. (three more years at $56 million) and Dee Gordon (two years at $26.5 million) are also veterans with remaining multi-year deals, but neither is coming off good seasons and the Mariners prefer to give them a chance to bounce back rather than selling low.

Prospects to know: The Mariners have finally beefed up their prospect list with the flurry of recent deals. Dipoto doesn't figure to be moving any of his youngsters, if possible, given the desire to build toward a 2020-21 push.

Mariners' Top 30 prospects

Rule 5 Draft: The Mariners have made just one pick in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft in Dipoto's first three seasons, taking Yankees first baseman last year, and they sent Ford back to the Yankees before the season started. But that trend could change this year, with the club in rebuild mode. There are a couple of intriguing catchers available, though it would be tough to carry an inexperienced backstop for a full season. The bullpen figures to be the likeliest target. As for prospects Seattle might lose, right-handed reliever Art Warren (No. 19 ranked prospect) wasn't protected, though he missed most of last season with a shoulder issue.

Payroll summary: After all the wheeling and dealing, the Mariners still have eight veterans making a combined $115 million, plus they have to pay the Mets $5 million this year out of the $20 million they're sending in the Cano deal. So their 2019 budget won't be a whole lot less than last year's $157 million total, with Dipoto estimating they'll be running in the $140 million range.

They will have considerable savings in the coming years, with 's $27 million a year off the books next season and the long-term deals for Cano and Segura no longer hanging overhead. That said, Dipoto won't be looking at spending much in free agency this year and certainly won't be interested in multi-year signings, looking instead to retain future payroll flexibility so he can time up any significant free-agent additions for when the young core appears ready to contend.