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

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016. Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.

5 Comments

  1. Jerry- The #s I came up with were a baseline, that’s why I provided the “should he keep every player from this year”… I’m aware that one or two of Trumbo/LoMo/Smith will be gone.

    In fact, my whole post was more of a response to shawnuel re: FA guys than anything… Maybe I should’ve made that more clear. Apologies.

  2. marinercoug: those figures you listed are based on the assumption that the M’s keep the roster intact. Morrison, Trumbo, and Smith earned $16 million, and will make more next year. Based on Dipoto’s comments, I’d expect to see the 1B/DH group culled a bit. Plus, its not a lock that all of the big contract guys stay.

    That said, I also don’t see them getting involved with the biggest name free agents. Especially hitters. I expect more trades for position players.

    If they do want to add guys through free agency, I hope its mainly pitching. I think Iwakuma is a very good bet to return. If they added a few guys like Scott Kazmir (a good #2 starter) and a few buy-low guys like Doug Fister and Mat Latos, we’d have very good rotation depth. That would allow the team to potentially include young starters in a trade for an OFer and/or to deal a starter at the trade deadline.

    Although we need at least two OFers, I think the cost for players like Heyward, Cespedes, Upton, and Gordon are going to get out of control. Instead, they would be wise to look for lower-profile value pickups and trades. Seattle is a lot more enticing destination for pitchers, and the pool of free agent talent is MUCH deeper. If I were Dipoto, I’d be looking to load up on pitching in free agency, and dealing for OFers.

  3. I would be pretty surprised if there was more than one QO guy signed this offseason, if any at all. Yes, they have approx. $20 mil coming off the books (Kuma/AJax/Rodney), which seems like a lot, but it won’t be that much to spend with Kuma and Seager getting raises. As for arb cases and/or under club-control salaries going up, we’ll call that natural inflation of payroll.

    If I were a betting man, I’d guess Dipoto will have about $10 mil in salary freedom to work with, should he keep every player from this year. If he chooses to go after a QO guy, that would eat up all of it. Thus, I think the addition of 3-4 players on smaller salaries, guys who help raise the floor of this team, is the much likelier outcome.

  4. My dream OF of players who are FA’s would be Alex Gordon in Left, Jason Heyward in Right and either Span or Gerardo Parra in Center. Guti and Miller are your reserves with Miller more of an all purpose guy.

  5. It’ll be interesting to see what they do.

    I think Iwakuma is a good bet to come back, maybe even at a discount. Guti’s been awesome this year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he returned. He seems to be settling in as a great part-time guy. Both seem to really like it here.

    It’ll also be interesting to see what they do at 1B, C and CF. Miller has been decent in a small sample in CF, and Zunino is a player they aren’t going to give up on right away. I could see them bringing in depth players at those spots, and reevaluating later on. 1B is more difficult. Montero could fit into the mix, but I still wouldn’t count on him. Trumbo is best there, but as you said, he could be a trade candidate too. They could address any or all of these three positions with more under-the-radar depth additions, give Miller, Montero, and Zunino a chance to compete for the jobs, and focus on other areas. I think the areas of bigger need are corner OF and at least one SP.

    I’m very interested to see how Dipoto addresses these needs. It might be wisest to just focus on trades involving non-core players, adding depth (especially bullpen arms), and focusing on lower-profile additions to shore up big weaknessess. I don’t think many of the big-name free agents make a ton of sense. Some interesting names, IMO:

    Free agents:
    C: Dioner Navarro, Jon Jaso, OF: Denard Span; SP: Kenta Maeda, Clay Buccholtz, Mat Latos, Scott Kazmir, Ian Kennedy, Tim Lincecum, Ian Kennedy, Brandon Morrow

    Trades:
    C: 1B: Carlos Santana, Jon Singleton ,Yonder Alonso; OF: Jay Bruce, Jackie Bradley Jr., Marcell Ozuna, Charlie Blackmon, CL Jonothan Papelbon

    Just some possible names that could be great fits. Obviously, if someone like Yasiel Puig became available, it’d be worth looking into. But I’m thinking that bargain free agents and non-blockbuster trades could be the way forward. Add some well-rounded, solid players, and see what happens.

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