SEATTLE -- As the Mariners look ahead to the second half and the impending July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, general manager Jerry Dipoto has made it clear he's looking to acquire pitching, if possible, to bolster his team both this year and beyond.The Mariners had their depth tested with a
SEATTLE -- As the Mariners look ahead to the second half and the impending July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, general manager Jerry Dipoto has made it clear he's looking to acquire pitching, if possible, to bolster his team both this year and beyond.
The Mariners had their depth tested with a rash of injuries over the season's first three months. Seattle has already used 31 pitchers and 13 starters and those numbers figure to increase if Dipoto can unearth a deal or two to add arms.
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"I don't think you'll see us add on the position players side, but we are going to go through the course of the next few weeks and see if there is a way that we can add to our pitching staff," Dipoto said. "Whether that is in the bullpen or rotation is TBD, but we know somewhere on that 12- or 13-man staff, we have to find a way somewhere between now and Opening Day 2018 to create more depth and impact with the group."
Dipoto says the Mariners have some prospects, financial flexibility and room on the roster to make deals, but clearly they have to weigh whether the current club can contend at 43-47 and four games out of a Wild Card berth at the break.
Dipoto insists his group is plenty capable of getting back in the hunt if it can get consistent pitching, and notes that the 2016 club made a late push and just missed a playoff berth despite playing a difficult end-of-season schedule as well.
"We're more talented than we were a year ago," he said. "There's no question in my mind about that. We are more athletic. We are more resilient in the ability to put together good at-bats. It's going to be about our ability to be consistent on the bump."
The Mariners aren't in the market for a rental player, but would definitely like to acquire a quality starter who is under contract behind this season, given that injuries to Drew Smyly and Hisashi Iwakuma leave the 2018 rotation uncertain and open some payroll flexibility. There are several high-profile trade candidates who fit that mold -- the A's Sonny Gray and the White Sox Jose Quintana top the list -- but they will be heavily pursued and require huge prospect packages, which is not a Seattle strength.
Dipoto added Ariel Miranda from the Orioles last July in a deal for Wade Miley and that sort of young, controllable starter with good upside could well be the target again. The Mariners have outfield depth to use as a trade chip and center fielder Jarrod Dyson will be a free agent at the end of the year, so he's one who might be shopped to a team looking for a speed weapon. First baseman Danny Valencia and reliever Steve Cishek are also pending free agents, though both would leave holes that need filling if the team is still hoping to contend.
What are they playing for?
Seattle's goal is clear. This is a franchise with the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball, having gone 15 years without a postseason appearance. With a veteran nucleus of Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez and Nelson Cruz, the club is in "win-now" mode and it wants to get into October games and see where it takes them.
The road ahead
The Mariners come out of the All-Star break with a six-game trek against the White Sox and Astros, two teams they always seem to have trouble with on the road. Then they return home for a 10-game Safeco stand that includes seven games against the Yankees and Red Sox. Those two weeks will be critical for a club trying to decide if it's still a Wild Card contender by the Deadline. Certainly it would behoove the Mariners to put themselves in the best position possible before embarking on a rugged August during which they play 20 of their 27 games on the road.
As Dipoto notes, the Mariners need to pitch better and with more consistency. And one of the biggest questions remains: How much can Hernandez contribute as he comes back from a first half in which he missed two months with shoulder bursitis? At 31, Hernandez isn't the dominant ace of his Cy Young Award-winning days. But he's still capable of being a quality starter and the Mariners need him to be a steady and effective presence atop their rotation. Hernandez showed exactly how valuable he can be by throwing six scoreless innings with two hits in Sunday's 4-0 win in his best outing of the season.
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Prospects to watch
Outfielder Tyler O'Neill, the Mariners' No. 2 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, has heated up of late for Triple-A Tacoma, though it's hard to see where he'd fit in with the big league club until September callups, and he's now dealing with a sore hamstring. No. 4 prospect Andrew Moore has already moved into the rotation and Max Povse (No. 5 prospect) spent a little time with the club in long relief and could return at some point. Hard-throwing reliever Thyago Vieira (No. 10 prospect) might be one to watch if Dipoto opts to jump a power arm from Double-A, as he did last year with Edwin Diaz and Dan Altavilla.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [