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Inbox: Is Zunino part of Mariners' plans in '16?

Beat reporter Greg Johns fields questions from fans

How did Mike Zunino do during his time in Arizona after the season? Does he have a chance to come up any time in 2016?
-- Alex C., Edmonds, Wash.

Zunino just went to Arizona to continue working on his swing for a few weeks with some coaches who were in Peoria during the instructional league period, but he didn't play in any games. I think he'll almost definitely be called up at some point next season, and it wouldn't surprise me if he winds up playing a bigger role than expected.

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The idea behind acquiring veterans Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger is to take the pressure off Zunino, give him time to work on his hitting approach in Triple-A Tacoma and develop at a more normal rate after being rushed to the big leagues earlier in his career. But knowing Zunino, he'll come to camp ready to compete, and he's too good a catcher to be left in Triple-A for long. Catching depth is critical, as that's a tough position. I definitely wouldn't count Zunino out, particularly if the new situation allows him to relax and just play.

Who do you envision holding down the two-hole in the batting order?
-- E.J., Seattle

My early guess would be Kyle Seager, hitting behind Nori Aoki. But Ketel Marte might wind up in that spot eventually, if he can show new skipper Scott Servais he's ready for it, as having a switch-hitter who can run and force the action behind Aoki and in front of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Seager would be pretty nice. It also would allow Seager to hit fifth and lengthen the heart of the lineup as well.

With all that's been done to date, where do the Mariners stand with their payroll for 2016?
-- Lavon W., Tumwater, Wash.

This is a popular question, so here's what I know. They have 13 veterans under contract now for a combined $115 million for 2016, plus a potential of $11 million more in roster incentives for Steve Cishek, Iannetta, Aoki and Franklin Gutierrez. Four arbitration-eligible players -- Leonys Martin, Charlie Furbush, Anthony Bass and Evan Scribner -- are expected to earn a combined $7.2 million, per's projections. Another 23 minimum-wage players on the 40-man roster will combine for about $12 million. Or if you just include the 25-man-roster guys, that would be about another $4 million.

Last year's 25-man roster made about $125 million, and the Mariners already are over $126 million in base salary for that group. So while the belief is that the club is willing to bump its payroll up a bit from last year, it doesn't appear to have a lot of room left for major additions. And that goes along with general manager Jerry Dipoto's statement that his roster is pretty close to being set now after a busy early offseason.

I find it interesting that Dipoto would give the closer spot to Cishek just like that. Shouldn't the manager be the judge of that?
-- Johnathan S., Biloxi, Miss.

Dipoto talked to the media after signing Cishek. But rest assured, he talked to Servais before talking to the media. And before signing Cishek. The entire Mariners organization was together in Nashville, Tenn., for the Winter Meetings last week, talking nonstop about what they wanted to do. They've been discussing these things since the day Servais was hired. Dipoto is actually very good about seeking out the opinions of all his people and then making decisions. Clearly, the Mariners feel that going into Spring Training with Cishek at closer and Joaquin Benoit in a setup role is their strongest option, and that belief is one of the reasons Cishek chose to sign with Seattle.

Dipoto has said the roster makeover is almost complete. But I feel the bullpen still needs major work. Do you think more changes are needed there?
-- Pieter V.W., Hong Kong

With Cishek adding an experienced presence at the back end, I think the bullpen is now pretty close to complete. I suspect Dipoto will add a veteran lefty to the mix, as the only southpaws now are Furbush, Vidal Nuno and David Rollins. With Furbush coming back from shoulder problems and Nuno a starting candidate if anything goes wrong in the rotation, that's an obvious area of concern. Otherwise, there's a pretty good collection of right-handers between Cishek, Benoit, Bass, Justin De Fratus, Scribner, Tony Zych and Jonathan Aro. And bullpens always seem to produce some surprise candidates in spring, so we'll see.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.
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