SEATTLE – There’s always a “what’s next?” with Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, and it’s no different after the blockbuster five-player trade late Wednesday that netted shortstop/leadoff hitter Jean Segura from Arizona.
“Obviously, the (rotation) depth is no longer enviable,” Dipoto said, “and we will need to look to the market, whether a trade or a free agent, to try to help create a little more depth. Perhaps at the back of our rotation.
“Perhaps we look to beef up the bullpen. Most of our focus, if not our primary focus, moving forward from now until opening day is probably going to left toward the pitching staff.”
The Mariners surrendered right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker, long viewed as their cornerstone for future rotations, and shortstop Ketel Marte in order to obtain Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger and lefty reliever Zac Curtis.
The trade underscored the Mariners’ desire to acquire a proven shortstop because Walker, even though he has yet to reach his potential, is a valuable commodity in what is generally regarded as a pitching-thin market.
“He’s sort of a prototypical starting pitcher that you want to have in your rotation,” Arizona general manager Mike Hazen said. “Good stuff, throws strikes, can eat a lot of innings – all of those things that we’re looking for.
“I think he’s still growing in terms of his repertoire. He’s still growing into his abilities as a starting pitcher.”
Hazen’s words echo the Mariners’ long-held views.
“We understand that Taijuan takes with him the upside to achieve something greater than we’ve seen,” Dipoto acknowledged. “He’s had some spectacular outings over the last couple of years.
“At some point, Tai is going to put it all together. We just feel at this point and at this time, this trade made more sense for where our roster is. Jean Segura fit this club about as well as any player we were looking at in the trade market.”
The Mariners believe they also landed a potential impact outfielder in Haniger, a right-handed power hitter with impressive minor league numbers, and an under-the-radar lefty bullpen piece in Curtis.
Dipoto noted that Haniger “threw up close to a 1.000 OPS (last season) with 30 home runs and got on base roughly 40 percent of the time. And he plays above-average defense with plus makeup.”
Curtis also arrives with a notable minor league resume that includes what Dipoto characterizes as “bat-missing skills” in averaging 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings over three seasons.
Haniger and Curtis also provide roster flexibility. Haniger, 25, has three options remaining, while Curtis, 24, has two.
Segura, 26, played second base last season at Arizona but will shift back to shortstop with the Mariners. He played shortstop over his four previous seasons in Milwaukee.
Dipoto said: “We believe pairing him with (second baseman) Robinson Cano gives us tremendous offensive potential in the middle of our infield.”
Adding Segura and Haniger to earlier off-season moves effectively completes the Mariners’ targeted priorities for their lineup and bench. Dipoto said the remainder of the off-season will be focus on bolstering the pitching staff.
Trading Walker leaves the Mariners with a projected rotation of Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ariel Miranda and Nathan Karns. On the surface, it’s an enviable mix of young and experience with a desired right-left balance.
Dipoto contends the organization remains “10 or 11 deep in guys we feel some sense of security in starting a major league game,” but the first alternative at this point appears to be swingman Cody Martin unless Andrew Moore makes a two-step jump from Double-A.
Finding another proven starting pitcher in this market could be prohibitively expensive, which suggests the Mariners are more likely to seek low-cost additions, including minor league free agents.
The Mariners are also still searching for a bankable lefty power reliever despite recent trades to acquire Curtis and James Pazos and the promotion of Paul Fry to the major league roster.
“I think the commonality (of those additions) is they’ve all had some degree of success or, in some cases, a lot of success at the minor league level,” Dipoto said. “But for the most part, none of them have yet broken through as major leaguers.
“We won’t hesitate as we continue forward in the off-season to add a veteran component or element to our bullpen mix. Actually, I would say that’s a great likelihood.”
So there. Dipoto is telling you what comes next. And note his track record; he said earlier in the off-season that he wanted to acquire a proven shortstop and some right-handed bats to balance a lefty-heavy lineup. (Check and check.)
As for when? Major League Baseball’s annual deal-making extravaganza, the Winter Meetings, begins Dec. 5 in Washington, D.C., and lasts for four days. Will Dipoto wait that long? Who knows?
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