The early exit polling this off-season suggests the Mariners are unlikely to make a big splash either through a trade or a free-agent signing.
Sure, polling in general absorbed a major hit earlier this month. So nothing is certain, but the forecast in this case comes from general manager Jerry Dipoto, who has already significantly tweaked the roster with two under-the-radar deals.
“The core of our team has not changed a great deal,” he said, “and we don’t intend for it to change a great deal. We did have some questions to answer.”
Those questions prompted the Nov. 6 trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers to acquire veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz for lefty reliever Vidal Nuno, and last Friday’s deal with Oakland to get Danny Valencia for minor-league pitcher Paul Blackburn.
“I can’t say this is the last roster move we’ll make,” Dipoto said after the Mariners landed Valencia, who projects as a platoon partner for rookie first baseman Dan Vogelbach but is is likely to see time at all four corner positions.
“But I do think with Carlos as the backup catcher, and Danny coming in as a near-everyday player, it gives us some balance against left-handed pitching that I think we were lacking last year.”
With those two moves, the Mariners’ 2017 roster is already coming into focus, and likely will including Southridge grad Shawn O’Malley as the team’s utility infielder. The biggest remaining need is a late-inning lefty reliever, although the Mariners remain interested in a veteran shortstop to buy development time for Ketel Marte.
The Hot Stove rumor mill threw up free-agent lefty Brett Cecil as a possible acquisition target last week while Dipoto and the other general managers convened for their annual meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz.
While Cecil seems a logical fit, there’s a Sportsnet report from Toronto that contends he already has a three-year offer in hand to remain with the Blue Jays.
The report didn’t include the financial terms, but Cecil made $3.8 million this season and looms as second only to Aroldis Chapman among lefty relievers on the free-agent market.
Since Cecil has spent all 10 of his professional seasons in the Toronto organization, any offer to lure him elsewhere will likely need to beat whatever the Blue Jays are offering.
Increasingly, that seems likely to be more than than Mariners are willing to pay.
The trade market is still developing, but one name to watch is Pittsburgh lefty Tony Watson, who is believed to be available. He has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining after making $3.45 million.
Watson, 31, was an All-Star in 2014 and ended this season as the Pirates’ closer while going 2-5 with a 3.06 ERA in 70 games with 38 saves/holds in 43 chances.
Sources confirm the Mariners remain interested in Cincinnati shortstop Zack Cozart, whom they nearly acquired prior to the Aug. 1 trade deadline in a multi-player deal involving left-handed pitching prospect Luiz Gohara.
Cozart, 31, ended last season on the disabled list because of injured right knee that required surgery and limited him to 121 games. He has one more season of arbitration eligibility, after making $2.925 million, before becoming a free agent.
Reds general manager Dick Williams made it clear last week that Cozart is available by telling USA Today: “It’s something we’d have to consider. We’ve shown the willingness to trade guys who have been with us if it helps us get better.”
Several major-league sources cited the Mariners as the most-likely fit for Cozart, who batted .252 this season with 16 homers and 50 RBIs. He is also viewed as a good defensive player; he rates at plus-34 in runs saved over the last three seasons.
All of this comes with a qualifier, though.
“We don’t need a shortstop,” one Mariners official said. “We have Marte, and we think he’s going to be fine in the long term. Now could he benefit from some additional development time in the minors? Yes.
“We did that with (Mike) Zunino, and we think that really helped him. But it’s not the same. Zunino absolutely needed that development time. With Marte, we think it would be beneficial, but it’s not a must.”
Beyond a lefty reliever and, perhaps, a veteran shortstop, the Mariners might spend the rest of the winter merely adding organizational depth in large part because they believe the trade that netted Valencia addressed multiple issues.
Valencia is a proven right-handed bat who provides veteran protection at first base for Vogelbach and in left field for rookie Ben Gamel. Valencia could also serve as part of the right-handed platoon in right field for Seth Smith.
The Mariners might sift through possibilities to add another outfielder, likely a right-handed hitter to serve as a partner for Gamel and Smith, who are both left-handed hitters.
But they already have Guillermo Heredia, a right-handed hitter who offers two desirable skills: speed and defense. In effect, Heredia serves as the bar for any further outfield acquisition.
2017 roster projection
It’s only mid-November, but here’s an early roster projection:
Rotation (5): Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and either Nathan Karns or Ariel Miranda. At this point, Karns rates an edge for the last spot because Miranda could add a power lefty arm to the bullpen.
Bullpen (7): Edwin Diaz will be the closer with right-handers Steve Cishek and Nick Vincent lined up as locks for set-up roles. Right-handers Evan Scribner and Dan Altavilla rate as likely possibilities. Add Miranda and an as-yet-undetermined power lefty for the seven-man unit.
Tom Wilhelmsen, if he remains with the club, could also claim a spot.
Also in the picture: right-handers Arquimedes Caminero, Tony Zych and Cody Martin; switch-pitcher Pat Venditte; recent left waiver claims Ryan Weber and Dean Kiekhefer.
Catcher (2): Mike Zunino and Carlos Ruiz.
Infielders (6): Dan Vogelbach and Danny Valencia at first base; Robinson Cano at second base; Ketel Marte or someone yet-to-be acquired at shortstop; Kyle Seager at third base; and Shawn O’Malley as the utility infielder.
Outfielders (4): Ben Gamel in left field, Leonys Martin in center field, Seth Smith and Guillermo Heredia or someone yet-to-be acquired in right field.
Designated hitter (1): Nelson Cruz projects as the primary DH, but he is likely to see additional time in right field against left-handed pitchers in place of Smith. That allows Cano, Seager and Valencia to draw occasional DH duty.