My gut says Iwakuma will return to the Mariners, though it's certainly not a sure thing. They'll likely make him a $15.8 million qualifying offer by Friday's 2 p.m. PT deadline, and he'll likely turn it down, given he'd prefer a multi-year deal. At that point, the 34-year-old will become a free agent, and you never know if another club might come in and blow his socks off. But Iwakuma likes Seattle, he's a family man who enjoys the community and schools his kids are in, and the Mariners value his veteran presence in the middle of their rotation. Usually, when both sides are amenable, a deal can be done.
Does another frontline starter make sense for the Mariners? Say David Price?
-- Shawn K., Bremerton, Wash.
Let's be realistic here. The Mariners have spent big money to get and keep some big-time stars in the past few years. Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez are two of the top 10 highest-paid players in baseball and combine to make $49 million a year. Unless you're the Dodgers or Yankees with a mammoth payroll, it's difficult to field a quality 25-man roster if you've got three guys making $25 million apiece. And Price is probably going to get something close to $30 million a year from some team this winter.
So, no, I don't see Seattle jumping in after Price or Johnny Cueto or Zack Greinke or any of the top-shelf arms. With five players already under multi-year contracts, four more who'll get raises in arbitration and the likelihood of re-signing Iwakuma to a healthy increase, they're already looking at more than $105 million for 10 returning players. Even if they increase last year's $125 million payroll, as expected, it would seem wise to spread the available money around to add a couple solid players to fill several different roles rather than sink it all in one superstar and make their payroll even more top-heavy than it was in 2015.
If the Mariners do go for another starter, I'd like to see them try to bring Doug Fister back, as he'll be more affordable and looking to bounce back from a tough year with the Nats. And he's a guy who likes pitching at Safeco Field.
Again, I don't see new general manager Jerry Dipoto putting all his chips on one high-priced player this winter. And Cespedes and Heyward will be among the priciest of the free agents. There really are good players out there who won't cost $20 million a year. The key is finding and developing them.
Will Dipoto make a big trade/signing this offseason or keep it small in his first year on the job?
-- Ray R., Erie, PA
I expect Dipoto to be creative on the trade market and to look for value in free agency in order to bring in a veteran catcher, help in the bullpen, a center fielder and perhaps another rotation candidate. As I've said, I don't expect to see a blockbuster free-agent signing, but I'm very curious to see what trades might pop up, as he definitely seems like a guy with specific ideas about what he wants and isn't afraid to try things.
What do you predict will be the biggest culture change implemented by Scott Servais?
-- Lowell T., Bangkok, Thailand
I'm told Servais is an ultra-organized guy who loves to practice, and I suspect the Mariners will work hard on situational baseball. Every manager talks about fundamentals, but the Mariners want to be a more athletic team that gets on base, creates opportunities and pressures opposing pitchers more and that will be a focus of Dipoto's roster construction as well.
I read that Dan Wilson interviewed for the bullpen coaching job. Any word on how that is going?
-- Scott C., Edgewood, Wash.
The Mariners' Hall of Fame catcher has talked to Servais and Dipoto about a position, but it sounds like he's still not sure if he's ready to be a full-time coach. Wilson worked last year as a Minor League roving instructor and could stay in that role, which allows him to spend more time with his family while also working with the young catchers in the system. Being a Major League coach is an enormous time commitment, with all the travel and games, which is why Edgar Martinez waited until his kids were older before signing back on as hitting coach. Servais is still looking to add a third-base coach and bullpen coach and those hires should be announced soon.
If we've learned anything over the years, it's that pitching depth is essential, as injuries and unexpected struggles are inevitable. I would expect both youngsters to challenge for the fifth-starter spot next spring, but we need to find out if Iwakuma is returning, whether any other veterans are added, if any trades are made and how healthy Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton stay in Spring Training before piecing together a rotation.
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.