MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Mariners' pieces in place for success in 2016

New GM Dipoto adds outfield, bullpen help to club's veteran core

Mariners' pieces in place for success in 2016

PEORIA, Ariz. -- By the time Jerry Dipoto had finished his first offseason as Mariners general manager and Spring Training was ready to open, the franchise had a 40-man roster that included 18 players acquired from other organizations.

The punch line: for all the change, not a lot changed.

Yes, the outfield was remade, but the foundation that the franchise feels is strong enough to allow the Mariners to contend for what would be the end of a 14-year postseason drought -- the longest of any MLB team -- remained untouched.

Dipoto up to the task ahead with Mariners

Felix Hernandez is still the ace of the rotation. Robinson Cano is entrenched at second base. Kyle Seager is handling the chores at third, and Nelson Cruz will be the primary DH, although he could get some time back in right field.

Cano's solo homer

That's the heart of the order -- Cano, Seager and Cruz in some form at 3-4-5 -- and Hernandez, the ace of a rotation in which the only new face belongs to Wade Miley, who actually was acquired from Boston because the Mariners had been told Hisashi Iwakuma was signing with the Dodgers, only to have the Dodgers deal fall apart the day after Miley was added, and Iwakuma returned to Seattle after all.

Paxton's nice outing

"The real fortunate things for me was first, the opportunity to get this job," said Dipoto, "and second Jack [Zduriencik, the previous GM] and the previous administration put a foundation in place. We had a veteran core and the young kids, like [Taijuan] Walker, [James] Paxton, [Ketel] Marte.

"When we assessed where we needed to be, it didn't require a rebuild. It was a restructuring. What we set out to do was raise the floor, building off the core that was in place."

Time will tell if the redesign will work. The Astros, Rangers, Angels and A's, the other members of the American League West, will have some say in that.

But three weeks removed from Opening Day, the Mariners have reason to feel good about where they are.

They added catcher Chris Iannetta, in part to allow hoped-for-catcher-of-the-future Mike Zunino to take a deep breath and get back on track. Iannetta, after all, was a familiar face, Dipoto having acquired him previously from the Rockies when Dipoto was the Angels GM.

Zunino's sac fly

And the Mariners revamped the outfield, setting up what they envision as a platoon of Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez in place of Cruz in right field, the signing of free agent Norichika Aoki to play left field, and acquisition of Leonys Martin as part of a trade with the Rangers to play center field.

Gutierrez's nice catch

"We felt we needed to be more athletic, better defensively, especially in the outfield at Safeco," said manager Scott Servais, who came over with Dipoto from the Angels.

Dipoto added: "We have a fly-ball oriented [starting rotation] and we didn't have an outfield defense ideally suited for that game."

With the DH spot available, Cruz was easily moved into that role, and Mark Trumbo was dealt to the Orioles.

Cruz on health, confidence

More than the defense, however, is the speed of Aoki and Martin, who are envisioned to hit ahead of that 3-4-5 trio of Cano, Cruz and Seager.

"They can change the game on the bases," Dipoto said. "We needed guys who could get on base and run. Guys who can open doors for the middle of the lineup."

That also means making contact. Aoki and Martin struck out a combined 94 times last season.

Playing in a ballpark more conducive for putting together rallies than hitting home runs, the Mariners struck out 1,336 times last season, second most in the AL, while compiling a .311 on-base percentage, fifth lowest in the AL. They scored 656 runs, third fewest in the AL.

"They give us a lot of ways to score runs," Servais said. "It's more guys getting into scoring position, cutting down strikeouts. That means more opportunities."

With Dipoto having been a big league reliever, and Servais a catcher, they also realized that bullpens have to be remodeled on a regular basis, and that involved bidding adieu to Fernando Rodney, and bringing in not only Steve Cishek to close, but Joaquin Benoit to handle the eighth inning with the confidence he can help in the ninth if necessary.

Cishek on pitching in AL

And they did all of that with a farm system not considered to be deep in talent.

"We had to find ways to access the type of skills we felt will play at Safeco," Dipoto said. "We subtracted some good players who didn't fit the mold for what we needed, and felt we added what we were looking for."

Right now, it seems like the pieces are in place.

But as Dipoto knows from his time around the game, the true evaluation will made over the grind of 162 games.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.