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With trades, Mariners step closer to postseason @RichardJustice

Jerry Dipoto had just completed one trade and was wrapping up another when he paused for a deep breath last week.

"I promise you there'll be more," the Mariners' new general manager said.

Jerry Dipoto had just completed one trade and was wrapping up another when he paused for a deep breath last week.

"I promise you there'll be more," the Mariners' new general manager said.

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On Monday, Dipoto's whirlwind continued when he acquired center fielder Leonys Martin from the Texas Rangers. In less than two months on the job, he has made three trades that brought Seattle a starting pitcher (Nathan Karns), a reliever (Joaquin Benoit) and a pair of outfielders (Martin and Boog Powell).

Dipoto also re-signed outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and continues to look for ways to deepen the lineup and shore up other areas here, there and everywhere.

The reason? The Mariners are close -- really close -- to being a postseason team. At least that's how Dipoto sees it. That's one of the first things that struck him when he began examining his roster. He had a feeling he'd seen it before.

"I was fortunate enough, when I went to the Angels in 2011, to inherit a good core group of players -- Torii Hunter, Kendrys Morales, Jered Weaver, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Dan Haren," Dipoto said. "That was a nucleus of championship-quality players on hand, ready to go."

Dipoto sees similarities in second baseman Robinson Cano, ace Felix Hernandez, right fielder and designated hitter Nelson Cruz and third baseman Kyle Seager. There's also a core of young Major League-ready talent in pitchers Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias and shortstop Ketel Marte.

There's still work to do, but in these first few weeks, Dipoto has pushed Seattle significantly in the right direction. And Martin is an important piece of the puzzle.

"We need to be more athletic in the outfield," Dipoto said. "We need to cover ground a little bit better than we have the last couple of years, particularly last year."

Martin had a tough year with the Rangers, injuring his hand and losing his job to Delino DeShields. But he's healthy again, and in terms of covering ground in center and throwing, he's way above average.

Memo to Mariners fans: You're going to love this guy. Martin is coming off a season in which he hit .219. However, he hit a respectable .268 in 2013 and '14 over a span of 1,091 plate appearances.

Dipoto got Martin and reliever Anthony Bass in exchange for outfielder James Jones, reliever Tom Wilhelmsen and a player to be named later. Texas liked the deal because Jones adds depth to the outfield and Wilhelmsen makes one of baseball's best bullpens even better.

Dipoto could still add an outfielder, but Powell, 22, could be in the mix at some point next season after being acquired from the Rays in the Karns deal.

Powell is not the only young player that has Dipoto excited. Two others are the 22-year-old Marte and 25-year-old reliever Tony Zych.

"I saw just a little of Marte, but he couldn't have played any better," Dipoto said. "He represents another guy who could be a top-of-the-lineup catalyst. Quite frankly, it's his time as well. He gave us the luxury of being able to trade [shortstop] Brad Miller to Tampa Bay in a deal to access some pitching [Karns] and what we believe is a future center fielder [Powell].

"Tony Zych was tremendous. He must have pitched three or four times the last week I was there. Mid- to upper-90s fastball, wicked slider. We probably don't have a real deep farm system, but we have some guys who are going to contribute right away."

Having previously served as general manager of the Diamondbacks and the Angels, Dipoto understands that the real long-term work begins in scouting and player development. While he's optimistic the Mariners can contend in 2016, he's also excited to begin getting his people -- and his system -- in place up and down the organization.

"The Major League roster is the result of doing things well," Dipoto said. "Scouting and player development is critical. It allows you to achieve. We're just starting. It's not going to happen overnight.

"What we'd like to do at the Major League level is build a roster that can compete right now at a high level. While that's going on, we're going to start working under the hood and do the things we've done in a couple of other stops. Just the productivity you're able to create and churn out young players -- it's critically important. You won't find it if you wait until free agency."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Seattle Mariners