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Mariners eye pitching as Winter Meetings near

Seattle shifts focus after missing out in bid to sign Ohtani
December 5, 2017

SEATTLE -- With the Winter Meetings looming next week in Florida, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and his crew now have to shift gears after learning Friday that top target Shohei Ohtani has chosen the Angels to pursue his dream of becoming a two-way standout in the Majors.But Dipoto has

SEATTLE -- With the Winter Meetings looming next week in Florida, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and his crew now have to shift gears after learning Friday that top target Shohei Ohtani has chosen the Angels to pursue his dream of becoming a two-way standout in the Majors.
But Dipoto has proven plenty capable of creativity and shifting gears before, as evidenced by Thursday's trade with the Marlins for Dee Gordon, and the Mariners still have pitching on their offseason wish list. So don't be shocked if Seattle again is in the midst of some of the wheeling and dealing when the front-office folks from all 30 MLB teams gather along with players' agents and other baseball officials for the four-day conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The Winter Meetings run Sunday night through Thursday. And unlike the previous few years when many of the top free agents were off the market early, the Hot Stove has been slow to develop this offseason.

That means things should really heat up for a lot of teams in Florida, though the ever-active Dipoto has already made five trades this winter. The third-year GM has filled both of his primary position vacancies by acquiring 25-year-old first baseman Ryon Healy from the A's and the 29-year-old Gordon, who will transition to center field, which leaves pitching as the primary pursuit.
Here's a look at how the Mariners line up heading into the Winter Meetings:
Club needs
Rotation: The Mariners aren't as shorthanded here as some might think, given that Dipoto added Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez and rookie Marco Gonzales in the final two months last season to bolster an injury-riddled group. With James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Ariel Miranda and Andrew Moore also returning, Seattle has seven starters with big league experience. But Dipoto would love to add a quality arm to that mix, if possible, though Ohtani no longer fills that bill.
Hot Stove Tracker
Bullpen: Dipoto says he'll definitely be adding another pitcher this winter, and if not a starter, he'd be willing to bolster the bullpen with another solid arm. Again, the Mariners have some depth returning, but a quality addition here could go a long way for a club that would like to lean more on versatile multi-inning relievers to help bridge the gap from starters to closer Edwin Diaz and the back end of the 'pen. Trades of Emilio Pagan and Thyago Vieira and the decision to non-tender Shae Simmons have thinned the herd a bit, so this certainly is an area that could get some further offseason attention.
Catcher:Mike Zunino established himself as the regular starter with a strong second half in 2017, but veteran Carlos Ruiz has departed in free agency and the club needs to find a backup. Mike Marjama, acquired from the Rays in August, could fill that bill already, and Dipoto also claimed David Freitas from the Braves this offseason as well.

Who they can trade if necessary
Gonzales: The Mariners are high on the young lefty acquired from the Cardinals last July, and they think he's poised for a strong step forward now that he's a second year removed from Tommy John surgery. But finding a rotation spot might be difficult, and Gonzales is out of Minor League options, so unless he's earmarked for a bullpen role, he could be moved for someone with more roster flexibility.
Ramirez: If Dipoto acquires another quality starter, Ramirez could find himself as the odd-man out, since he also is out of Minor League options. Ramirez is capable of pitching in relief, however, and that versatility gives him added value in the Mariners' eyes.
UTL Taylor Motter: The addition of veteran Andrew Romine, via waiver claim, creates some competition for Motter for the utility role. The Mariners signed Romine to a $1.05 million deal last week instead of non-tendering him, so clearly they place some value in the newcomer. Motter has Minor League options, but could also be dangled in trade.

1B Daniel Vogelbach: The plan to platoon Vogelbach last year didn't pan out, and now the Mariners have acquired Healy from the A's with the intention of making him their everyday first baseman. Vogelbach has proven he can hit at the Triple-A level, but there doesn't seem a clear opportunity now with Seattle as long as Nelson Cruz remains the designated hitter.
Top prospects
Dipoto already dealt three of his top 10 prospects, per, in the past week to bring in Gordon and additional international slot money. Gone are right-hander Nick Neidert (No. 2), shortstop Christopher Torres (No. 7) and catcher David Banuelos (No. 10). The remaining top 10 prospects are outfielder Kyle Lewis, first baseman Evan White, right-hander Sam Carlson, outfielders Braden Bishop and Julio Rodriguez, right-hander Max Povse and Vogelbach. Third baseman Joe Rizzo and outfielders Luis Liberato and Anthony Jimenez now round out the top 10.
Rule 5 Draft
The Mariners' 40-man roster is at 37, so they have room to add. But with the 14th pick in the Rule 5 Draft, it seems a long shot that Dipoto would tie up a 25-man roster spot with an unproven prospect on a team trying to push for a playoff spot. The Mariners didn't choose anyone in the Rule 5 Draft in Dipoto's first two years.
Big contracts they might unload
The Mariners have some large deals on the books with Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Hernandez, Cruz and Leake combining for $94 million in 2018. But those aren't players Seattle is able to or interested in moving. It's more possible Dipoto could look to gain a little flexibility by dealing one of his arbitration-eligible players such as Ramirez (expected to make about $4.5 million). Relievers Marc Rzepczynski ($5.5 million in the last year of his deal) and David Phelps (likely to get $5 million-plus in arbitration) are in a similar situation, though both are expected to be important parts of the bullpen as it stands now. This doesn't seem to be a club in cost-cutting mode.
Payroll summary
The Mariners' core group takes up a significant chunk of salary, with Seager getting an $8 million raise to $19 million and joining the big-bucks club of Cano, Hernandez, Cruz and Leake (who is earning $17 million, though the Cardinals are absorbing $6 million of that). Now you can add in Gordon, who will make $10.8 million this coming season.
Dipoto has room to work with this winter, thanks to some significant money coming off the books. Hisashi Iwakuma, Yovani Gallardo, Drew Smyly and Steve Cishek combined for $37 million last year, along with $18 million for Danny Valencia, Leonys Martin, Ruiz and Jarrod Dyson. Iwakuma was re-signed to a Minor League deal, and the rest of those veterans are gone.
Those players must be replaced, of course, with Leake, Phelps and Ramirez expected to take up more than $21 million already and Paxton and Zunino among those due for significant arbitration hikes. But by filling the first-base hole with an MLB-minimum earner in Healy, the Mariners still look to be about $5 million under last year's initial $155 million budget, even with Gordon's addition as well as raises and new additions figured in. CEO John Stanton has indicated a willingness to increase payroll, so it would appear the club still has the ability to add a decent veteran pitcher either through free agency or trade.

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