We're just 10 days away from Spring Training and the market for Edwin Encarnacion has been quiet. Will he be with the Mariners on Opening Day?
-- Mason L., Portland, Ore.
General manager Jerry Dipoto would still like to flip Encarnacion to another team, but the market for designated hitters is limited, particularly one who is 36 years old and earning $20 million for 2019, with a $5 million buyout for 2020. The Astros and Rays would appear the likeliest matches, but both have the option of using a rotation of players to fill that role.
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That said, Encarnacion remains a potent right-handed bat -- hitting .246/.336/.474 with 32 homers and 107 RBIs last year with the Indians -- and Dipoto presumably would be willing to eat some of the contract if he got a decent prospect in return.
The Mariners will be a better team this year if they keep Encarnacion and use him at DH and occasionally first base. But my guess is they'll try hard to move him before Opening Day and use the DH at-bats to give Daniel Vogelbach a legitimate shot to be part of the future, as well as some time for Jay Bruce to rebuild his own trade market.
What young flame-throwers in the farm system would you think might make a good closer?
-- Richard R., Port Angeles, Wash.
It's not easy to unearth another Edwin Díaz, but there are a couple youngsters who'll be interesting to watch. Gerson Bautista, one of the five players acquired from the Mets in the Diaz/Robinson Canó deal, has touched 100 mph with his fastball, but needs to command that heat and further develop a slider to offset it.
Art Warren was opening eyes in Class A before running into arm issues last season, so this will be a big year to see how he bounces back. Joey Gerber, an eighth-round Draft pick last June, is a 21-year-old worth keeping an eye on in the lower ranks.
But if you're looking for the most-intriguing Diaz comparison, it'll be interesting to see if they ponder moving Justin Dunn back to a relief role at some point. The 23-year-old will likely open the season at Double-A Arkansas as Seattle's No. 3 ranked MLB Pipeline prospect after also being acquired in the Diaz deal. Dunn was a reliever at Boston College with a mid-90s fastball before converting to the rotation in his final season and then being drafted by the Mets in the first round in 2016.
What are your thoughts on Denard Span? Do you think the Mariners will re-sign him? If not, who do you think is eyeing him now?
-- Cooper C., Wellington, Fla.
Span was a quality midseason addition for the Mariners last year, a real pro both in his approach at the plate and presence in the clubhouse. At 34, he's no longer the speedster of his youth, but he's still very capable of contributing. But Span doesn't fit in the Mariners' longer-range outlook and their outfield is pretty set.
Span is still looking for a landing spot in a free-agent market where Bryce Harper, Marwin Gonzalez, Adam Jones, Carlos González and Melky Cabrera are among the numerous remaining outfield job seekers, so it's hard to say where he might wind up.
If the Mariners had clinched a playoff spot last year, would this offseason have looked different?
-- Wes N., Shelton, Wash.
Interesting question. They knew eventually the nucleus of last year's team would need to be overhauled, but had that group won the 97 games required to earn a Wild Card spot last season, there's no way they'd have blown it up. One of Dipoto's primary reasons for his "step-back" plan is his belief that last year's team overachieved to win 89 games, and it wasn't realistic to expect that group could make up the additional ground required to catch the AL's elite over the next year or two without further crippling the farm system.
Now, had the A's not gone on their incredible run and the Mariners made the playoffs at 89 wins, that would be a tougher scenario as the Mariners would be looking more at just being a second Wild Card-type competitor with an aging core. But blowing up a team coming off any postseason berth is hard to imagine.
With the Tigers recently claiming Kaleb Cowart, does this mean the backup infielder's job is Dylan Moore's to lose?
-- Inigo O., Manila, Philippines
The Mariners seem very high on Moore, a 26-year-old who was in Triple-A with the Brewers last year. Veteran Kristopher Negrón is the other primary utility contender, and he played well after being acquired from the D-backs last September. Dipoto intends to give Shed Long a chance at multiple positions, but the promising 23-year-old prospect seems likely to open the year at Triple-A as primarily a second and third baseman, and they'll want him to play every day.
Is Kyle Seager part of the 2020 plan?
-- Poji J., Port Orchard, Wash.
Seager certainly could remain part of the longer-term core group if he bounces back from a rough 2018. At 31, he's still under contract for three more years, plus an option for 2022, so he essentially fits the same window as Mitch Haniger, Mallex Smith and others, even though he's a few years older. Much will depend on how Seager performs this season, but don't count him out. He's a far better player than we saw last year.