Churchill: Dipoto’s first moves

It’s still September, so expecting a blockbuster trade or even a major decision right away is asking too much. We could hear about decisions on Lloyd McClendon and some other scouting and player development changes in the next few days to few weeks, but we’re probably a month or more away from any significant player decisions by new Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Some already are speculating a blockbuster deal involving Robinson Cano or Nelson Cruz to start off Dipoto’s tenure in Seattle. Don’t count on it.

Not only are trades difficult to make, but president Kevin Mather stated all along that he doesn’t believe any kind of immediate tear down is necessary and it might be difficult for Dipoto to convince Mather and the ownership that trading Cruz or Cano isn’t just that — even though dealing one of them isn’t necessarily a sign of the club going all fire sale this offseason. I’d shop Cruz, too.

I fully expect the first official player moves to be minor, but once November hits I think three moves are more likely than anything else:

Hisashi Iwakuma
This, clearly, will be mandated to some level by ownership, and it’s a deal everyone expects to get done rather easily. We’re probably talking about a two-year deal, or at least something short-term that is more than merely a one-year deal for the right-hander.

Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith
Trumbo has been solid since his first-month struggles after the Mariners acquired the slugger. He batted .134/.165/.183 in June but .318/.356/.447 in July, .263/.345/.566 in August and through Monday was batting .305/.360/.463 in September.

Dipoto has traded Trumbo once already, but the reason it could happen again include Trumbo’s one-dimensional value, lack of fit for the ballpark and a projected arbitration-generated salary for 2016 that could land in the $8.5-9.5 million range. It’s a number the Mariners certainly can handle, but if Dipoto is looking to reallocate payroll to other areas, there’s an opportunity here.

Smith, who has had a solid season, too, is in the same boat, though his contract is for $7.5 million guaranteed in 2016 with a 2017 option. Don’t be shocked if both are moved, especially if Dipoto sees Miller as an outfield option.

Pitching
If Dipoto has been watching — and we know he has been, the dude is a junkie — he’s seen a lot of legitimate offensive performances over the past three-plus months. Beyond Cruz, Cano, Trumbo and Kyle Seager, Ketel Marte and Brad Miller have been consistent contributors. and even Jesus Montero has flashed a bit. The offense, generally speaking, no longer survives as the club’s most glaring weakness. It’s the run prevention that hasn’t done its job, and that starts with the pitching staff.

There will be trade candidates, free agents and reclamation projects available. Expect Dipoto to jump into this market early, well beyond re-signing Iwakuma. The bullpen needs to be rebuilt, the rotation needs at least one No. 3 starter and perhaps a veteran innings eater, too.

The outfield defense will get better under Dipoto, and probably immediately, but loading up on arms is unquestionably going to be something the new regime attacks aggressively.

Surprises?
I’m not saying Cruz won’t be traded, but it’s very unlikely, at least early in the offseason. But I could see a few surprise moves taking place, perhaps even trading Miller and/or right-hander Taijuan Walker. Walker may never be more valuable with five years of service remaining and now a solid 29-start campaign (3.83 FIP) under his belt.

I warn fans not be shocked, either, if the Mariners’ pursuit of starting pitching doesn’t reach the elite names including Johnny Cueto, David Price and Zack Greinke. I don’t expect the club to land any of them, necessarily, but I don’t believe the club is simply done with large contracts, either. I’ll discuss specific targets during the World Series.

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Jason A. Churchill

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