Inbox: Will the Mariners upgrade their rotation?

Inbox: Will the Mariners upgrade their rotation?

Do the Mariners stick with the five or six guys they have for the rotation, or do they look to upgrade this winter?
-- Derek B., Norman, Okla.

I know GM Jerry Dipoto feels pretty good about having six returning starters in Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Ariel Miranda and Nathan Karns. And he's also pretty high on prospects Andrew Moore and Ryan Yarbrough, who both had big years for Double-A Jackson. So given the free-agent-pitching crop is thin this year, it's very unlikely Seattle will try to outbid other teams that will be overspending due to the shortage of quality veterans on the market.

That said, Dipoto places a lot of value on young, team-controlled starting pitching, and it wouldn't surprise me if he finds a way to add another arm via the trade route just to deepen that pool. The Mariners used 13 starters last year, so as is always said, you never can have enough pitching.

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Why did Dipoto expose Norichika Aoki to waivers? He had to know that he was going to be claimed. I thought he played pretty good in the second half of the season, and I was looking forward to seeing what he might do next year.
-- Tim D., Vancouver, Wash.

While Aoki hit well in the second half, he's not a very good defender and wasn't helping on the basepaths as expected, going just 7-for-16 in stolen-base attempts. Left field is an area the club is looking to improve on, and rather than go through the salary-arbitration process with Aoki, the Mariners let him go to the Astros and will use that money to pursue other players. The fact Aoki was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma twice last season and then was being removed in the late innings for defensive purposes when he was recalled in September should tell you something.

After seeing Mike Montgomery perform in the postseason for the Cubs, is there any buyer's remorse on Daniel Vogelbach?
-- Robert R., Seattle

The Mariners knew Montgomery was going into a good situation with the Cubs. That doesn't change the impetus behind that trade, which was made because Dipoto saw a long-term need at first base and feels Vogelbach could be the answer. If that proves to be the case, there certainly won't be any regrets. You always have to give up talent to get talent. Now it's up to Vogelbach to seize his opportunity. The Mariners also like Paul Blackburn, the 22-year-old right-handed starter they got in that deal, who went 9-5 with a 3.27 ERA in 26 games in Double-A last year.

It seems there has been a constant revolving door in left field for the Mariners. How about a reunion with Michael Saunders?
-- Jon B., Bellingham, Wash.

I'm a big Saunders fan and would love to see him back in Seattle, and he is available in free agency after a bit of a roller-coaster season in Toronto. But I suspect the Mariners will be looking more for right-handed-hitting corner outfield help to balance their lineup. They've got lefty-hitting Leonys Martin, Seth Smith and Ben Gamel as well as prospect Boog Powell in the outfield, but their only right-handed-hitting outfielders currently on the 40-man roster are Guillermo Heredia and Stefen Romero, along with DH Nelson Cruz if you want to consider him as part of the outfield mix.

Any possibility of moving Robinson Cano to first base soon (thus filling one hole and perhaps lessening wear on him) and moving Ketel Marte to second? Especially if the Mariners do end up getting Zack Cozart or another shortstop?
-- Ray C., Los Angeles

That may eventually be a conversation for the Mariners, but I don't think we're there yet with Cano coming off an outstanding season at second. Now that he's healthy again, Cano was a Rawlings Gold Glove Award finalist, and it's a pretty nice advantage having a second baseman who provides his kind of offensive numbers. Marte could certainly play second base, but if the question is whether you want Cano and Marte in your lineup or Cano and a first baseman with some offensive thump, it seems to me the latter would be the preference as long as Cano maintains his defensive excellence.

Do you think Dipoto is willing to part with his first-round Draft pick to pursue a free agent who has received a qualifying offer?
-- Colby P., Yakima, Wash.

In the right situation, I'm sure he'd give up the Draft pick, which currently would be the 18th-overall selection, in exchange for a player who could be a difference-maker on the big league roster. But this year's 10 free agents who received qualifying offers are going to be looking for big multiyear deals, and the Mariners have already gone that route for Cano, Hernandez, Kyle Seager and Cruz, so it would definitely have to be the perfect fit.

The two guys who might seem to be a match would be Ian Desmond or Dexter Fowler -- who could fill the left-field void and add needed speed and athleticism in the outfield -- but I haven't heard anything in that regard, and the Mariners also need a first baseman, shortstop and a lefty reliever, so they might be looking to spread their resources around more than putting so much into signing one free agent.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. 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.