The Mariners and the Winter Meetings

It’s that time of year again. No, not that time where we are questioning why the grocery store has been playing Christmas music for four weeks despite the fact December only just begun. That time when baseball free agency reaches it’s peak: the annual Winter Meetings.

This year thousands of executives will meet in Nashville, Tennessee for four days starting on Monday, and ending on Thursday with the Rule 5 Draft. We don’t know exactly what will happen over those four days, but we do know that David Price, Zack Greinke, Jeff Samardzija, and John Lackey won’t be part of numerous transactions that will take place.

As Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins recently discussed, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t wait for the first week of December to begin shaping his roster. Already, seven players have been acquired via trade, seven via free agency, and three via waivers.

Coming into the offseason, the outfield and pitching staff figured to be the primary issues needing to be resolved as well as the catching situation. Dipoto would be the first to tell you that the current iteration of the Mariners is far from ready for Opening Day, but let’s take a look at what has already been accomplished through the offseason’s first month and what still needs to be done.

Rotation: Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Nate Karns, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery
The only addition to the starting staff so far is Karns, who was the key piece coming back to Seattle in the multi-player deal that sent Brad Miller to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Reportedly, the Mariners are ramping up their efforts to retain free agent Hisashi Iwakuma. Seattle is said to be the preference for the right-hander, but given the contracts given out free agents thus far, it’ll probably take a three-year guarantee and $45 million to get a deal done. I wouldn’t blame the Mariners for being uncomfortable with either of those numbers. However, after missing out on Greinke, I wouldn’t expect Iwakuma’s draft pick cost to be an issue for the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants.

Regardless of Iwakuma’s situation, the Mariners need a No. 2 starter. Ideally, they get a No. 2 and a No. 3, which would allow Walker to start the year in the No. 4 slot. I wouldn’t expect Iwakuma to sign this week, but given how hot his market has become, it’s certainly possible. With Montgomery out of options, a couple depth pieces should also look to be added.

Bullpen: Joaquin Benoit, Carson Smith, Charlie Furbush, Tony Zych, Anthony Bass, Vidal Nuno, David Rollins, Justin De Fratus, Rob Rasmussen
Dipoto has already secured the eighth and ninth innings with the addition of Benoit. It’s not yet determined whether he or Smith will close, but the prevailing wisdom is that the veteran will begin the year in that role. Bass and De Fratus should fill the role in the pen left by the departed Tom Wilhelmsen and solidify things from the right side.

Some work will need to be done on the left side though as Furbush recovers from surgery and Nuno will likely be in the mix for a back-end rotation spot. Rasmussen and Rollins offer some depth, but the club is without a shutdown lefty that most elite bullpens offer.

Infield: Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger, Mike Zunino, Jesus Montero, Andy Wilkins, Robinson Cano, Ketel Marte, Kyle Seager, Luis Sardinas, Chris Taylor, Shawn O’Malley
The catcher’s position that shortened the M’s lineup to eight spots throughout 2015 has been adequately restored with the additions of Iannetta and Clevenger. The pair will allow Zunino to start the year at No. 3 on the depth chart and be able to work his way back to the majors; an ideal situation. Wilkins and Sardinas join Taylor as infield depth. A bounce-back season from Cano, who’s currently recovering from hernia surgery, would represent a major upgrade on it’s own.

With Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison dealt, the first base position currently rests in Montero’s lap. Dipoto has all but said the former top prospect won’t be the club’s Opening Day first baseman and is working to supplement the position via trade. If Trumbo hadn’t of been dealt, the infield would have presumably been set. With nothing having changed since then, that’s the only hole that needs to be filled within the base paths.

Outfield: Seth Smith, Franklin Gutierrez, Leonys Martin, Nori Aoki, Boog Powell, Daniel Robertson
In just a few weeks Seattle has a fresh outfield, with a couple familiar faces, that could run laps around the outfields constructed by the previous regime. Literally. Martin was a buy-low candidate after a rough season and will provide a huge boost in center field. Gutierrez was re-signed to platoon with the lone holdover, Smith, in one of the corners with the newly acquired Aoki in the other. Powell and Robertson provide depth that is stronger than what James Jones — who was non-tendered by the Texas Rangers — or Stefen Romero would offer.

The constant in the Mariners outfield acquisitions: athleticism, defensive skills, and the ability to get on base.

I would expect another outfielder to enter the picture as a depth piece, particularly if Seth Smith is dealt. Overall though, the outfield is positioned to be a plus for the Mariners in 2016. There wasn’t a Jason Heyward added, but it could easily be argued that all three spots have already been improved.

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz
One of the biggest benefits of the outfield re-haul is that it leaves little room for Cruz to be anything but a DH. This is a win-win scenario. Now, I don’t think there’s any reason to restrict Cruz as a DH-only. I have no problem seeing him in the outfield once, maybe twice a week at most. As it stands Cruz is the fourth or fifth best option to play the field instead of the second or third as he was last year. And I’ll say it because it bears repeating: Cruz is not going to become a first basemen. He simply doesn’t possess the capabilities to do so regardless of any predispositions that playing first is a mindless task.

Big picture, a lot of the heavy lifting is done. In speaking to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Dipoto expects at least one more trade to take place with multiple conversations having taken place or are ongoing. This makes sense as Dipoto suggests the club won’t be signing any marquee free agents this winter. Read: Chris Davis, most likely.

I see the same two major needs that everyone else does right now: a No. 2 starter and a first baseman. A stronger left-handed presence in the bullpen should also be targeted. The fact that the outfield picture is all but solved — perhaps the most daunting task the new GM faced — is a huge plus.

It’s been noted that Dipoto has yet to make a ‘signature’ move that will truly make the 2016 Mariners his team. With the presence of Felix, Cano, Cruz, and Seager there isn’t the need for more star power specifically. The current payroll situation likely doesn’t allow for another $20 million allocation.

If I were to guess on a potential big move that could take place, and this is pure speculation, it would involve a young controllable starter. Probably not a Jose Fernandez type since, Walker aside, the M’s don’t really have the kind of bullets required.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be a very fun next few days.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. During the baseball season, he can be seen often observing the local team at Safeco Field. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins
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