SAN DIEGO — Four days at the Major League Baseball winter meetings and Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto did not make a single trade or sign a player.
While he said early it would be a quiet week in San Diego, Dipoto’s peers still expected him to make some sort of deal given his transaction-filled track record the last four years.
“I can’t believe it,” said an opposing baseball executive. “I thought he’d at least make one small trade or something.”
Nope. The Mariners did have some trade discussions with a few different teams and met with a handful of free agents, extending some potential offers and price points for salary.
Dipoto’s to-do list remains the same:
— Sign at least one reliever with MLB experience to bolster a very inexperienced bullpen.
— Sign a free agent starting pitcher to compete for the final spot in the starting rotation
— Sign a veteran catcher with some MLB experience that would start the season at Triple-A Tacoma but be a capable fill-in if Tom Murphy or Austin Nola were to get injured.
The expectation is that those signings will come after Jan. 1 because those level of free agents will explore the market looking for the best opportunities. Dipoto felt comfortable that they would be able to fill those needs based on the number of free agents available.
The list of potential relievers is extensive to the point where the Mariners could add more than one from the free agent market. They prefer to offer one-year contracts to relievers similar to the one-year, $950,000 contract given to Carl Edwards Jr. earlier this offseason. And if the veteran relievers show promise or have early success, they will likely be traded at the deadline for more prospects.
Their search for a starting pitcher could be more variant. They will try for an opportunity buy on pitchers coming off injury or down seasons, but have shown an ability to get outs in the big leagues. They’ve also looked at the recent group of non-tendered pitchers with club control. Multiple MLB sources indicate that they’ve checked in on right-handers Taijuan Walker and Jimmy Nelson, who were recently non-tendered.
Dipoto traded Walker to the Diamondbacks along with Ketel Marte in the deal that brought Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger. The hard-throwing Walker suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament and spent 2019 recovering from the injury and dealing with a strained shoulder capsule. He pitched only one inning last season. Nelson pitched in a relief role late last season with the Brewers. But his stuff and velocity hasn’t been quite the same since shoulder surgery in 2017.
On the trade front, Dipoto will continue to check with teams on potential trades for second baseman Dee Gordon. The Mariners would like to move him before spring training, allowing Shed Long to play there on a full-time basis. It will likely come down to how much of Gordon’s $13.8 million salary and $1 million option buyout in his final year of his contract. There are a handful of teams with questions at second base, including the Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks. But those decisions will be finalized leading up and during spring training.
While Dipoto doesn’t have a desire to trade Nola or outfielder Mitch Haniger, they are expected to draw interest from other teams. Nola’s ability to catch and play three infield spots makes him valuable to multiple teams. Haniger, who is coming off a frustrating 2019 season due to injury, is the Mariners’ best player and teams like the Diamondbacks consider him a perfect piece because of his minimal salary and past production. Since the Mariners aren’t in a position where they need or want to trade either player, the asking price for either will remain high.
Mariners take Houston pitcher in Rule 5 draft
The Mariners had a list of just two players — both pitchers — whom they wanted to select, if available, with the sixth overall pick in the Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. If neither pitcher was available, they would pass.
Fortunately for Dipoto, that narrow range was still rewarded. The Mariners selected hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Yohan Ramirez from the Houston Astros organization.
Ramirez, 24, has a fastball that reaches the high 90s and shown the ability to pile up strikeouts and pitch multiple innings in relief or start when needed. But he’s also shown an inability to harness that stuff times with wandering command, resulting in far too many walks.
Splitting time between High-A Fayetteville and Class AA Corpus Christi, last season he posted a 4-7 record with a 3.99 ERA in 15 starts and 12 relief appearances. In 106 innings pitched, he struck out a whopping 158 batters, but also issued 74 walks. His 13.42 strikeout per nine innings ranked third among all minor league pitchers. His .169 batting average against was fifth best in minor league baseball of pitchers that threw a minimum of 100 innings.