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Inbox: Will Mariners add to starting rotation?

Beat reporter Greg Johns fields questions from Seattle fans
December 18, 2017

Jerry Dipoto was more than happy to pay the $20 million posting fee, $3.5 million international signing fee and $500,000 salary for Shohei Ohtani. So why is he now saying he doesn't want to sign a starting pitcher? The money obviously isn't a problem at least for year one of

Jerry Dipoto was more than happy to pay the $20 million posting fee, $3.5 million international signing fee and $500,000 salary for Shohei Ohtani. So why is he now saying he doesn't want to sign a starting pitcher? The money obviously isn't a problem at least for year one of the contract. Why not sign Jeremy Hellickson for three years, $30 million or whatever to shore up a subpar rotation?
-- Paul G., Boise, Idaho

Dipoto has consistently said this offseason that he wanted to sign the most-impactful pitcher possible. Ohtani clearly was a unique situation, a top-tier talent with six years of team control at a relatively small initial cost.
With Ohtani out of the picture, the Mariners viewed a strong reliever like Juan Nicasio as providing more potential impact than someone like Hellickson, who is a good example of similar-priced starters available in free agency. Hellickson went 8-11 with a 5.43 ERA and 0.2 WAR in 30 starts for the Phillies and Orioles last season at age 30. Nicasio had a 2.85 ERA in 76 relief outings and 2.0 WAR at the same age.
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When are we signing a top-end starting pitcher like Yu Darvish, Jacob Arrieta or Lance Lynn?
-- Joseph N., Seattle, Wash.

This has been an off-stated question once Ohtani went to the Angels. And the answer is that the Mariners don't appear interested in throwing big-money, long-term deals at starters in their 30s, given the club still has two seasons at $27 million per year for Felix Hernandez at age 31.
Darvish and Arrieta are about the same age as Felix, and they are now expected to land $25 million-type money for the next five or six years. Lynn figures to sign for somewhat less money and years, but still will be a guy starting a big new deal at 30-plus with some question marks. Ohtani is 23 with his prime years ahead. He was a far different case.
Does Dipoto really think he can get away with our scant handful of starting pitchers and a rotating cast? We tried that last year, turned out not so well.
-- Dan G., Spokane, Wash.

This is really the crux of the previous two questions. Fans see the struggles the Mariners had last season when injuries sidelined the top four starters for much of 2017, and they assume the cupboard is bare. Dipoto sees a rotation that wasn't in place for most of last year, but has quality at the top and better depth than most teams now that all the pieces are together.

Mike Leake was outstanding in September after being acquired from the Cardinals. He'll be part of the rotation now from Day 1. Same with Erasmo Ramirez, who was solid in his two months. To Dipoto, those were part of a mid-rotation rebuild that started last August.
The Mariners have a legit No. 1 starter in James Paxton, who was one of the best pitchers in baseball in his 24 starts. Yeah, they need to get him to 30-32. And they have one of baseball's longtime aces in Felix Hernandez, though he'll need to pitch more like a savvy veteran and prove healthy as well.
As for depth, Ariel Miranda was solid last year until wearing down in his first full season as a starter. Andrew Moore was rushed at age 22, but he pitched well in four September starts against the Astros, Indians and Rangers. Don't toss him on the scrap heap before he has a chance. And Marco Gonzales was a fast-rising first-round talent who was pitching postseason games for the Cardinals three years ago before Tommy John surgery sidelined him. Another guy who deserves a little patience. So we'll see.
Has there been any updates with either Charlie Furbush or Danny Hultzen?
-- Jarett S., Kennewick, Wash.

The two lefties are a testament to how difficult it is for pitchers to recover from shoulder issues. Both had rotator cuff surgeries -- and more than once in Hultzen's case -- which is much tougher to return from than Tommy John surgery. Both have been out of baseball now for two years and neither is a member of any MLB organization at this time.

With Dee Gordon's trade, does that mean the interest in Jonathan Jay fell off? If we do in fact sign Jay, could you see Dipoto trading Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel, Taylor Motter or even Mitch Haniger?
-- Ryan H., Bellevue, Wash.

Acquiring Gordon eliminated the pursuit of Jay in free agency. The Mariners are quite happy with the young trio of Haniger, Gamel and Heredia splitting time in the corners, with Gordon taking over in center. Motter might be more of a trade possibility since the club acquired veteran Andrew Romine to compete for that utility role, but he also has Minor League options.
With new options at first base, does that mean the team does not see Dan Vogelbach in the Majors this year?
-- Lope A., Seattle, Wash.

Vogelbach appears in position this spring to just relax, show what he can do and let the chips fall where they may. Unlike last year, he's not coming to camp expected to share a first-base platoon. The Mariners acquired Ryon Healy to handle the everyday first-base job, then grabbed Mike Ford from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft as a potential left-handed option.
But sometimes things happen. Every year, players get hurt or underperform, plans change and a few guys you never expected emerge as key contributors at some point in the season. That's why teams acquire depth and options. That's true with Ford and it's true with Vogelbach as well.

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