It’s been roughly a week since the Mariners closed out a near-miss in their postseason chase. So far, they’ve been quiet, but changes are coming. Everyone knows that.
“I don’t think you’ll see us sitting pat,” manager Scott Servais predicted. “I think we’ll be aggressive in trying to get better — maybe in some areas that the normal fan isn’t anticipating.”
The Mariners and their fans learned last winter that general manager Jerry Dipoto is not a stand-pat guy. The club closed this season with 23 players on its expanded 40-man roster who weren’t here when he took command some 53-plus weeks ago.
“Last year, there was a lot of turnover,” Dipoto said, “and I think the turnover was largely because of how we wanted to play the game.”
The Mariners emphasized on-base percentage and athleticism in contrast to the muscle-up approach favored under former general manager Jack Zduriencik. That, as much as anything, explains the trade that sent Mark Trumbo to Baltimore.
While the Mariners unexpectedly hit more homers than in 2015, they also scored 112 more runs. Only two American League clubs, Boston and Cleveland, scored more runs. A year earlier, the Mariners finished 13th among the 15 AL clubs.
They also wanted a staff that threw more strikes, and they led the AL by throwing strikes on 64.8 percent of their pitches. A year ago, they ranked seventh.
Further, the Mariners began the process of turning over an aging roster by promoting relievers Edwin Diaz and Dan Altavilla straight from Double-A Jackson.
They acquired first baseman Dan Vogelbach, outfielder Ben Gamel and left-hander Ariel Miranda in trades. That followed the March signing of outfielder Guillermo Heredia, a Cuban defector.
All of these moves addressed the roster’s margins. The Mariners’ core group remained — and is likely to remain — unchanged. The 2017 lineup will be built around veterans Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.
Similarly, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma will likely continue to head a rotation whose success will again hinge on whether James Paxton and/or Taijuan Walker reach, or at least approach, their high-ceiling potential.
“I think we have fewer critical holes to fill,” Dipoto said. “We have a deeper organization than we had at this time last year. Even now, if you just look at the 40-man roster … it’s deeper with players coming off of positive seasons.”
Even so, club officials point to three primary needs.
— A veteran shortstop. While the Mariners still see Ketel Marte as a long-term fit, he regressed this year in all areas, and it seems to be the growing organizational view that he would benefit next season from taking a step back.
The Mariners point to Paxton and catcher Mike Zunino as benefiting this year from that approach. And Marte will be just 23 when next season opens.
All signs point to a renewal of talks with Cincinnati regarding Zack Cozart, whom the Mariners nearly acquired just prior to the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. If a deal again stalls, the Mariners are likely to expand their search.
— A right-handed-hitting first baseman. The Mariners appear committed to having Vogelbach replace pending free-agent Adam Lind against right-handed pitchers. Their preference is that Vogelbach proves to be an everyday player.
Even so, the Mariners must hedge their bets, which means, at minimum, having a right-handed-hitting alternative who is capable of filling more than a platoon role. That could be Dae-Ho Lee, whose deal permitted him to become a free agent.
Here’s another name to watch: Steve Pearce, a pending free agent at Baltimore who underwent surgery Sept. 21 to repair flexor tendons in his right forearm.
Dipoto showed a fondness last winter for bounce-back cases, and Pearce, 33, should be fully recovered prior to spring training and appears to fit the club’s preferred profile in numerous ways.
Pearce is a 10-year veteran who compiled a .267/.347/.493 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) slash over the last three years at Baltimore and Tampa Bay with 52 doubles and 49 homers in 279 games.
Further, Pearce offers the flexibility of someone who can play left or right field or, in a pinch, even second or third base. He made $4.75 million last year, which should go up but not by a huge amount. Lind made $8 million.
— The Mariners want a power left-handed reliever for match-up purposes but one who is also capable of pitching the seventh or eighth inning. Miranda could fill that role, but he seems to project, at least for now, as a starting pitcher.
Any search outside of the organization isn’t expected to focus on big names such as pending free-agent Aroldis Chapman. Instead, the target is likely to be someone like (but not necessarily) Pittsburgh’s Tony Watson.
While Watson, 31, fits the preferred profile, he remains under the Pirates’ control for one more year through arbitration. Although he is already making $3.45 million and could become too pricey.