We’ve been reviewing AL West hot stove action all week. Now, it’s time to shift our focus to the offseason moves made by the Seattle Mariners thus far. As noted in previous reviews, it’s wise to emphasize “thus far” because there’s always time for deals to happen — especially with general manager Jerry Dipoto on the job.
The Mariners remained in wild card contention until game-161, but fell short of reaching the postseason for a fifteenth consecutive season. That’s the longest active postseason drought in major league baseball. Only the Buffalo Bills of the NFL have a longer dry-spell (17 seasons) among the major US sports leagues.
With that in mind and knowing Dipoto’s aggressive tendencies, it’s not surprising he’s made 12 trades and added 15 new players to his 40-man roster since the conclusion of the World Series.
Needs: SP, RP, OF, SS, 1B
The centerpiece deal of the offseason sent starting pitcher Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger, and left-handed pitcher Zac Curtis.
Segura provides a speedy presence at the top of the order and is a defensive upgrade over Marte. Whether the 26-year-old can repeat his career-best 20 home runs and .319/.368/.499 slash is unknown. Even if he regresses some, Segura represents a significant improvement over last year.
Dipoto believes the 26-year-old Haniger can be a starting outfielder. During his big league debut last season, the right-handed hitter had 123 plate appearances and recorded a pedestrian .713 OPS. Statistically, his defense was above average albeit in a small sample size.
Another move expected to influence the top of the order and improve outfield defense is the addition of Jarrod Dyson. The 32-year-old was a defensive stalwart in center field with the Kansas City Royals last season, but he’ll shift to left field with incumbent Leonys Martin remaining in center.
In 2016, the left-handed hitting Dyson had just 34 plate appearances against southpaws as a platoon player. Yet, he managed to steal 30 bases in 107 games. With Seattle, he’s projected to play more often.
To provide roster insurance, the club acquired Danny Valencia from the Oakland Athletics. The veteran started 15 or more games at first base, third base, and right field last season slugging 17 home runs and slashing .287/.346/.446.
The majority of Valencia’s playing time will come at first base where he’ll platoon with left-handed hitting rookie Dan Vogelbach. If Vogelbach scuffles, the right-handed hitting Valencia could find more playing time there. Otherwise, the 32-year-old will have opportunities to play the corner outfield positions and occasionally spot Kyle Seager at third base.
The Mariners needed rotation help prior to the Walker deal, so adding starting pitching was a priority throughout the offseason. The biggest names added were Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo. Both are coming off down seasons and join Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton in the rotation.
Hernandez struggled through an injury-shortened 2016 and has seen his effectiveness decline since 2014. With that in mind, the 12-season veteran rededicated himself to improving his physical readiness during the offseason.
In 2016, Iwakuma was the club’s most durable starter making 33 starts. However, the right-hander has an injury history and turns age-36 in April. Also worth noting, his ERA and FIP have been creeping upward over the last three seasons.
Paxton has also suffered from the injury bug, although the big southpaw did put together his best professional season last year. The 28-year-old’s 2.80 FIP was best in the AL among major league starters with 120-plus innings pitched. Only Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, and the late Jose Fernandez were better.
If the rotation falters, Dipoto has acquired depth pieces with Ariel Miranda, Chris Heston, Rob Whalen, Dillon Overton, and Max Povse waiting in the wings. Having said that, all either lack significant big league experience or have a history of inconsistency.
The left-handed throwing Miranda had a 3.44 ERA and held hitters to a .273 OBP in 10 starts with the Mariners. With the arrival of Smyly and Gallardo, Dipoto could use him in the big league bullpen or as a starter for Class-AAA Tacoma.
Heston was effective during his rookie season in 2015 and even threw a no-hitter. But, he lost his rotation spot the following Spring Training and was in Class-AAA Sacramento by the end of April due to control issues.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Whalen and Dillon (5 major league starts each), plus Povse (never pitched above Class-AA ball) will join Heston as part of Tacoma’s rotation when the regular season begins.
In the bullpen, the major get was Marc Rzepczynski. The southpaw faced right-handers almost as often as he confronted lefties last year, but the numbers suggest that’s not a good idea. The eight-year veteran had a 22.6-percent walk rate and 5.25 FIP against righties compared to a 5.3-percent walk rate and 2.35 FIP against opposite-handed hitters.
Two other new lefty relievers are James Pazos and Zac Curtis. Each is 25-or-younger and has proven to be capable of missing bats in the minors. Assuming the club opts to carry a second left-hander and Miranda isn’t an option, both pitchers along with Tacoma Rainier Paul Fry will vie for a chance to break camp with the Mariners.
Although the club’s relievers performed well during their stretch run last year, adding another power arm to deepen the back of the bullpen would hedge against any sophomore slippage from closer Edwin Diaz and give manager Scott Servais another option on days when the 22-year-old isn’t available.
Newcomer Carlos Ruiz will back up starting catcher Mike Zunino. “Chooch” continued to demonstrate good on-base ability last year despite playing in his age-37 season. The veteran has caught the likes of Pedro Martinez, Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Cole Hamels during his 11-year career and represents a significant upgrade to the reserve catcher spot.
The Mariners were the busiest AL West team during hot stove season. They should have been. The club’s June collapse highlighted the importance of pitching depth and a deeper, more athletic bench — thanks to September call-ups — fueled their late-season surge.
Dipoto’s aggressive — yet disciplined — approach addressed both of these areas. Now, the Mariners have their most competitive roster in over a decade. The issue going forward is whether he did enough to get Seattle back to the postseason for the first time since 2001.
In late January, it’s hard to tell. A lot hinges on the success of unproven players — such as Vogelbach and Haniger — and the durability and effectiveness of their relatively unproven bullpen and enigmatic rotation.
Still, Mariners faithful can take comfort in knowing Dipoto will do everything within reason to end that dreaded drought. Having said that, I suspect a fan’s definition of “everything within reason” and Dipoto’s may differ.
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