Colton Swanson, Online Reporter
General Manager Jerry Dipoto and other Mariners front office members will be taking a trip to Maryland early next month. GMs from all 30 major league club will convene at the annual Winter Meetings inside the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center from Dec. 4-8 to discuss trades, and free agent signings among other important issues. While the offseason may seem boring, the Winter Meetings offer a week of excitement for both fans and executives.
The 470,000 square foot hotel that the team personnel stays in what looks similar to an indoor park surrounded by condos. The trees inside will be decorated with lights and hotel goers will have a great view of the Potomac River. The convention center is near the White House, Lincoln Memorial and many other historical landmarks that can be found in the Washington D.C area. The Winter Meetings also consist of a trade show and job fair along with non-stop media coverage and many more events. MLBNetwork covers all the news and trades throughout the day from the event itself. They also hold interviews with executives and players during the show Major sports journalists like Ken Rosenthal can be found hunting down agents and other personnel to give him his next big story.
As for the Mariners and Dipoto, there’s no telling what will happen. Dipoto was notorious during the 2015 offseason for making trades. In fact, he concocted the most trades in baseball during that time. When asked if he slept at all during last year’s meetings, Dipoto replied “No. But I don’t usually sleep anyway so it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
After a year where the Mariners barely missed the playoffs, the course for Dipoto is clear. He has already made it clear that the Mariners will look to fill in a corner outfield position, a veteran shortstop, and a left handed reliever. Players who occupied those roles last year, such as Franklin Gutierrez and Vidal Nuno, are no longer members of the team.
The 2016-17 free agent class is one of the weakest in years according to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. That’s not a problem for the Mariner GM, who has always relied on acquisitions via the trade rather than free agent signings. In an interview with members of the Seattle Times Dipoto claimed that free agency has now become a way to augment a roster due to the average age that players are entering their free agent years. However, that doesn’t mean that he’ll not look for help on that front. The M’s have already been linked multiple names and have already made multiple moves. Left handers Brett Cecil and Boone Logan have come up as early targets of the M’s as well as first baseman Mike Napoli, although that spot has since been filled. Due to the nature of this year’s free agent class, the value of players made available via trade will sky rocket. However, this won’t deter Dipoto from making a move if he feels that it can create a more competitive team on the field. Both Dipoto and owner John Stanton have said that the payroll won’t go south in 2017, meaning that at the very least, the Mariners will stay somewhere in the ballpark of the 2016 budget. He had made contact with the Cincinnati Reds about shortstop Zack Cozart before the trade deadline in August and it seems likely that the talks will be revisited during the Winter Meetings. Should the Mariners complete the trade, current shortstop Ketel Marte would be sent down to Triple-A Tacoma to refine his skills.
A right handed power hitter is something the Mariners should be on the lookout during the meetings. J.D Martinez of the Tigers is said to be available along with teammates Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera. While a trade for Cabrera is nothing more than a pipe dream, Upton and Martinez remain feasible.
Martinez, 29, has one year left on his contract and has become a star in Detroit. Martinez hit .307 with a .373 on base percentage and 22 home runs in 460 at-bats in 2016. Numbers like that could augment a core of Mariners that already consists of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. A trade for Martinez will cost the M’s some young, controllable talent but for a team that now has the longest playoff drought in baseball, Dipoto may be willing to give that up.
Upton, also 29, is a bit of a longer story. Just a few months into his new contract with the Tigers, Detroit GM Al Avila claims to have been shopping the struggling left fielder. That doesn’t bode well for the relationship of Upton and the Tigers organization moving forward. Upton finished the year with 31 home runs and a .246 average. Those numbers are somewhat consistent to Upton’s career norms however his .246 batting average is well below his .268 mark for his career. The slugging outfielder still has five years left on his contract, however he was given an opt out clause when signing the deal, meaning he can void the contract after 2017 if he so chooses. The M’s tried to acquire Upton back in 2013 from the Arizona Diamondbacks however Upton used his No-Trade Clause to nix the deal.
While left field may remain the biggest target for Dipoto at the Winter Meetings, a left handed reliever is also a top priority. In fact, the Mariners are left without a lefty in the bullpen if Ariel Miranda wins a spot in the rotation. Charlie Furbush, the M’s former lefty specialist, is again recovering from surgery and opted to become a free agent while he rehabs. Nuno was shipped to Los Angeles in exchange for catcher Carlos Ruiz. The most notable name on the free agent market for a lefty reliever is the flamethrower and Cubs World Series star Aroldis Chapman, whom many other teams will be bidding for. Cecil and Logan both jump out as the next candidate for the job but Dipoto is full of surprises.
The Mariners have already made a few moves this offseason, one of which was acquiring Ruiz. The former Phillies catcher will serve as a backup to Mike Zunino and brings what Dipoto calls a “Winning pedigree” to the M’s. Ruiz has caught four no-hitters in his career, tied for the most in history with former Mariners prospect and Red Sox star Jason Varitek.
Dipoto and the Mariners also made headlines on Nov. 12th, sending pitcher Paul Blackburn to the Athletics in exchange for veteran Danny Valencia. According to Dipoto, Valencia will see a lot of time at first base as a platoon mate with Vogelbach, as well as in right field with Smith. The plan is for Valencia to be nearly an everyday player due to his success at the plate. He hit .287 in 2016 while also launching 17 home runs in 471 at-bats. With the addition of Valencia to the ball club, Dipoto does not have to focus on getting a right handed hitting outfielder as heavily as before. Because Valencia can pay both corner outfield and infield spots, Dipoto could rely on young Ben Gamel to start in left field and allow him to develop while using the former Athletic as a safety net should Gamel begin to struggle.
The Mariners are one of only two teams to have never been to the World Series. The now 16 year playoff drought in Seattle is what Dipoto was brought here to end, and he almost did that in 2016. With 2017 just around the corners, the framework for this seasons acquisitions begins on Dec. 4. Seattle could leave Maryland having not made a move, but Dipoto will not stand pat with his current roster and will look for help in multiple areas. Don’t expect the M’s to stay stagnant like they have in the years prior to the Dipoto era. The next few months could change the course of Mariners baseball forever.
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