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Dipoto eyes options until prospects are ready

Mariners seek veteran shortstop for depth as Crawford develops
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

LAS VEGAS -- The Mariners have some promising new prospects in their farm system, courtesy of the flurry of trades already completed this offseason by general manager Jerry Dipoto. But the club doesn't want to rush their new acquisitions, including shortstop J.P. Crawford, the 24-year-old who spent last season with the Phillies and is technically no longer a prospect since his rookie eligibility expired.

While the Mariners again made no moves Tuesday on the second day of the Winter Meetings at Mandalay Bay Resort, Dipoto said there was progress on a few fronts. The team is definitely testing the trade market on recently acquired first baseman Carlos Santana, while seeking bullpen help as well as a right-handed-hitting outfielder and possibly a veteran shortstop to allow Crawford further time to develop.

LAS VEGAS -- The Mariners have some promising new prospects in their farm system, courtesy of the flurry of trades already completed this offseason by general manager Jerry Dipoto. But the club doesn't want to rush their new acquisitions, including shortstop J.P. Crawford, the 24-year-old who spent last season with the Phillies and is technically no longer a prospect since his rookie eligibility expired.

While the Mariners again made no moves Tuesday on the second day of the Winter Meetings at Mandalay Bay Resort, Dipoto said there was progress on a few fronts. The team is definitely testing the trade market on recently acquired first baseman Carlos Santana, while seeking bullpen help as well as a right-handed-hitting outfielder and possibly a veteran shortstop to allow Crawford further time to develop.

"We had a number of sit-down discussions with potential free-agent targets and a handful of more discussions with possible trade targets," Dipoto said. "Nothing is imminent, but we made some progress today."

Among the items still on Dipoto's wish list is a shortstop with enough Major League experience to handle the starting role to open the season, should a decision come this spring to start Crawford out at Triple-A Tacoma.

"That would be ideal," Dipoto said. "If we could find that veteran, versatile player who has experience at shortstop it would be huge for us. We don't naturally want to block J.P., but we do need to provide ourselves some insurance and give him the time he needs. And if he makes it an impossible decision for us in a good way, then we'll make that decision."

There are several free-agent shortstops who could fill that bill, with someone like Alcides Escobar seeming to be the right kind of fit as a solid defender and good mentor who hit .231/.279/.313 in 140 games for the Royals last season.

Video: Alcides Escobar set to hit free agency in 2019

A right-handed-hitting outfielder would also be helpful, given the current crew consists of lefty-swinging Mallex Smith, Jay Bruce and Ben Gamel, along with right-hander Mitch Haniger. And Dipoto surely will add several experienced relievers to fill a gaping hole in his current bullpen.

The Mariners aren't chasing high-priced veterans who could hamper the long-term progress of the new prospects, but more stopgap solutions to bridge the gap on one-year deals.

The Mariners have already signed veteran lefty Tommy Milone and catcher Jose Lobaton to Minor League deals with camp invitations, and Seattle will add to that in the coming weeks.

"We have opportunity to offer, and that is appealing to veteran Major League players who maybe aren't coming off the best year of their career or veteran Minor League players who've had excellent careers and just can't find that jumping-off point," Dipoto said. "Some of them we've signed, guys like [utility infielder] Dylan Moore, who is 26 and really talented and always has been a really good player.

"The same with Ruben Alaniz. He throws upward of 97 mph, and it's a fun arm. We don't want to go with all inexperienced players, we want to find guys who can go out there and get us across the field so our young players are playing in competitive games when that time comes. It could be April, it could be June, it could be September. We don't want to rush it."

The same is true of the rotation, where promising youngsters Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn and Erik Swanson won't open with the big league club unless they force the Mariners' hand with their performance this spring.

Sheffield, the club's new No. 1-ranked prospect, and Swanson (No. 11) could open the year at Triple-A, while Dunn (No. 3) figures to be targeted for Double-A Arkansas to begin the year.

Video: Sheffield on being traded to Mariners, 2019 outlook

"We don't want to force-feed these guys into Major League opportunity," Dipoto said. "We want to make sure they come when it's their time. We'd rather have enough depth built up so if we need to take more time with those young players, we can. And if they are ready and it's their time to come make an impact, then we'll allow them."

The Mariners now could roll out a starting rotation of returners Felix Hernandez, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc, with swingman Roenis Elias capable of filling the fifth starter spot unless Sheffield or Swanson is deemed ready out of Spring Training.

Dipoto could also add another stopgap veteran or two to bolster that depth, which might be advisable given the potential of injuries to starting pitchers. Seattle stayed fairly injury-free in its rotation this year, but still used 11 starters by the end of the season.

At some point, the youngsters will arrive. The question for now is just the timing.

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

Seattle Mariners, J.P. Crawford, Justus Sheffield