Iwakuma tops Mariners' to-do list
GM Dipoto turns attention to adding veteran starter
SEATTLE -- With the signing of Nori Aoki by the Mariners on Thursday, the next question for general manager Jerry Dipoto may well revolve around one of Aoki's good friends, free-agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.
Aoki jokingly noted at his introductory news conference at Safeco Field that he had a clause written into his contract that Iwakuma needed to be part of the Mariners as well. And that would be just fine with Dipoto, who has made re-signing the Japanese right-hander his top target in free agency this winter.
"We are continuing to move along with Kuma and we'll see where that takes us," said Dipoto, who has already engineered five trades and signed four free agents this offseason since replacing Jack Zduriencik.
Dipoto said the Aoki signing, along with previous acquisitions of center fielder Leonys Martin and catchers Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger, have filled the major position questions. He'll be in pursuit of a first baseman after trading Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison, but the remaining focus will largely be on bringing back Iwakuma or another veteran starter and adding to the bullpen.
"We've done a lot of roster reshaping," he said. "We didn't go into the garden with a spade, we kind of went in with a backhoe. I think we've effectively restructured the way our offense moves and the way our defense is positioned.
"From a position-player standpoint, we have one or perhaps two needs to address. One is how we're going to improve at first base, and two would be whether it is in-house or external how we're going to address the extra infield positon. But our outfield is now roughly complete, and the bulk of our everyday position player club is in place. Now we'll shift our focus to what happens to our pitching staff."
Iwakuma declined the Mariners' one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer and is seeking a multiyear deal. The 34-year-old is 47-25 with a 3.17 ERA in four seasons with Seattle. He missed 10 weeks with a strained lat muscle last season, but still posted a 9-5 record and 3.54 ERA in 20 starts, including the fifth no-hitter in franchise history against Baltimore in August.