So now what?
The sting of losing Shohei Ohtani still lingers for the Mariners. To put that much effort, time, resources and emotion into wooing one player only to see him wind up with one of your American League West rivals is a storyline similar to an angst-filled teenage melodramatic movie.
Now all the possibilities that seemed within reach for the Mariners with Ohtani seem much farther from their grasp with another stacked team in their division to go with the already-loaded, defending World Series champion Astros.
Unlike so many aspects of the world today, there is no participation certificate for the Mariners that reads: “Good job, good effort. You almost had him.”
But there is little time for lamentation in the results-based world of professional sports. General manager Jerry Dipoto will now have to immediately pivot into the “acquisition mode” that he’s been quite proficient with in his first two off-seasons with the Mariners. And there is no better place to do that than at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings, which start on Monday at the Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando. Dipoto and most of his staff were scheduled to arrive Sunday for the often-hyped chaos.
Two days before the Ohtani announcement when Seattle could still dream of landing the most unique talent to come to MLB in years, Dipoto spoke on a conference call to local media as a preview for the upcoming meetings.
Asked about his team’s expected needs of a starting pitcher and outfielder going forward regardless of the Ohtani outcome, Dipoto was candid as always.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever used starting pitcher as the reference,” he said on Wednesday. “We will add a pitcher and we will add an outfielder. Whether that is a starting pitcher or a reliever is still yet to be determined. On the outfield, our first choice is to find someone we feel can man center on an everyday basis, but we are not limiting ourselves to just that class of player.”
A day later, he acquired the centerfielder in the form of Marlins’ All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon. The plan is to convert the former Gold Glove winner to the outfield’s most important position, capitalizing on his speed and athleticism.
The addition of Gordon means the Mariners’ projected every day lineup is largely in place as of now. Gordon will be flanked by youngsters Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger in left and right field. Both showed promise and potential in their rookie seasons.
The infield will feature Kyle Seager at third base, Jean Segura at shortstop, Robinson Cano at second base — all former All-Stars — newcomer Ryon Healy, who was acquired from the A’s in a trade, at first base, Mike Zunino at catcher and Nelson Cruz at designated hitter.
It’s a better-than-average lineup in most spots with the capability of being potent.
So Dipoto’s focus has now turned to that pitcher or pitchers he’s looking to add. It seems as though Ohtani’s decision forces Dipoto’s determination of the type of pitcher to acquire. He would have been slotted for the starting rotation, joining James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake and probably Erasmo Ramirez. Now the projected rotation is those four pitchers with either lefties Marco Gonzales or Ariel Miranda or right-hander Andrew Moore. Adding an established arm to push Ramirez to the No. 5 and even Leake to No. 4 would be beneficial.
Last season, the Mariners’ projected starting rotation was beset with injuries. Hernandez, Paxton, Drew Smyly and Hisashi Iwakuma made just 46 starts and pitched a combined 253 2/3 innings. Seattle used 17 different pitchers for starts last season — the most in baseball.
This wouldn’t be the first offseason that Dipoto scoured the market for starting pitching. In his first offseason, he acquired Wade Miley from the Red Sox to be an innings eater. It didn’t happen and the best thing that could be said about Miley’s brief tenure was that they at least got Miranda out of it thanks to a midseason trade to the Orioles.
Last offseason, Dipoto maneuvered to get Smyly, trading top pitching prospect Luiz Gohara and another minor leaguer to the Braves for outfielder Mallex Smith and reliever Shae Simmons. Dipoto then sent Smith and two minor leaguers to the Rays for Smyly. It seemed like a strong acquisition until Smyly’s elbow came up lame after pitching in the World Baseball Classic. After a hoping to rehab the injury to full strength, Smyly suffered a setback in June and later needed season-ending Tommy John surgery. He never threw a pitch for the Mariners in a regular season game.
So the trade route hasn’t provided the best results thus far. Given the Mariners’ farm system, which is lacking in prospect depth, and teams’ reticence to trade away established starting pitchers because of a limited supply in baseball, going through free agency might be the logical option.
The uttering of free agent starting pitchers elicits cries for Yu Darvish from Mariner fans. Even with his postseason struggles, the big right-hander remains the go-to starting pitcher on a less-than-stellar free agent market.
Darvish posted a combined 10-12 record with a 3.86 ERA between the Rangers and Dodgers. He’s 30 years old and two years removed Tommy John surgery.
Signing Darvish would require a massive financial commitment of at least six years and around $150 million for a team payroll that is bloated. The Mariners aren’t paupers. But given the money owed to Cano ($144 million through 2023), Seager ($76 million through 2021) and even Hernandez ($54 million through 2019), taking on another longer-term deal with a massive financial commitment might be something they want to avoid.
Former National League Cy Young winner Jake Arietta could also be viewed as choice 1A in the free agent market. He posted a 14-10 record with a 3.53 ERA in 30 starts in 2017 for the Cubs. He’s made 30 starts or more the last three seasons. Arietta, who turns 32 on March 6, is also likely want at least four years and into the $100 million dollar range.
From there, right-handers Alex Cobb (Rays) and Lance Lynn (Cardinals) and lefties Clayton Richard (Padres), Jaime Garcia (Cardinals), Jason Vargas (Royals) and 37-year-old CC Sabathia are the next best offerings. They aren’t as likely to command the years or the dollars as the top two pitchers.
Dipoto put a mild damper on the Darvish dreams without mentioning him specifically.
“With Marco Gonzales, Andrew Moore, Max Povse, Ariel Miranda in addition to James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez and Mike Leake, our pitching is probably a little deeper than most are giving it credit for being,” he said. “The addition of a household name is probably not forthcoming. But we do intend to add to our pitching staff whether it be in the ‘pen or the rotation.”
Hmmm, so is someone like Cobb, who the Mariners like a lot, a household name? It might be in the households of diehard baseball fans and seamheads.
It’s unclear where Dipoto goes with his search for pitching. And maybe adding one arm isn’t enough. While adding a starter seems to be necessary, an additional right-handed reliever might be beneficial. The Mariners’ set-up men to Edwin Diaz were pretty beat up by the end of 2017. David Phelps is recovering from elbow surgery, Tony Zych finished the season on the disabled list with a flexor strain and Nick Vincent was clearly fatigued from overuse.
“It’s a possibility, if not a strong possibility,” he said. “We aren’t necessarily limiting ourselves to right-handed depth or even right-handed arms. We’ll just take the best pitcher we can get.”
Dipoto isn’t the type to sit around and lament the loss of Ohtani for days. He’s already in the process of moving forward. It’s difficult to imagine him settling for just the one move for a pitcher. The possibility more roster maneuvering and deals to supplement the back-end of the 40-man roster seems plausible. The meetings are a good place to get that action.
“If history tells you anything, it’s that there’s always more activity when we all get together,” he said. “In this particular case because it has been a slow to develop market, I think there will be a flurry of action because there has been so little to this point. My guess as we get closer to this weekend, … history tells us that as teams start to make their way toward the winter meetings that there tends to be an uptick in the activity. I’d be surprised if that wouldn’t be the case this year as well.”
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