Busy Mariners could add veteran starter at Meetings

Rotation depth lone remaining offseason need after 6 trades, 2 signings

Busy Mariners could add veteran starter at Meetings

SEATTLE -- As general manager Jerry Dipoto and the rest of the Mariners' brass fly to the Winter Meetings outside Washington, D.C., on Sunday, they'll be lighter on baggage than many other clubs headed to the four-day gathering.

The Mariners already have done much of their heavy lifting and roster shifting, with Dipoto engineering six trades in the past month that checked off many of his offseason goals. Additionally, Seattle finalized a two-year deal with free-agent lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski on Saturday that fills another glaring need.

Rzepczynski's additions means Seattle will arrive at the Meetings with just one specific pursuit remaining -- bolstering the rotation with a veteran to fill the hole created by last week's Taijuan Walker trade to Arizona.

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"Obviously we have been very active these last few weeks," Dipoto said. "But we are looking to add some more depth and potential impact to our rotation. ... Beyond that, there's not a whole lot we're likely to do between now and Spring Training."

The free-agent market figures to open up more now at the Winter Meetings and beyond. While starting pitching is thin, Dipoto says there are several candidates who could fit well with the Mariners and he'll pursue all avenues to fill that need in the coming days.

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8 at 6 a.m. PT.

Club needs

Rotation: Dealing Walker to the D-backs in a five-player swap that brought back shortstop Jean Segura lessened Seattle's starting depth. The club still has five returners in Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Ariel Miranda and Nathan Karns, and Dipoto added to that pool by acquiring prospects Rob Whalen and Max Povse from the Braves. But the Mariners used 13 starters last year, and Dipoto will look to bolster that group with the addition of a veteran who could fit into the middle of the rotation, if possible, and perhaps allow Miranda to be used as a lefty relief option like Montgomery last year.

Left-handed relief: Having dealt Mike Montgomery and Vidal Nuno over the past fourth months, Dipoto has now added Rzepczynski as well as two prospects -- Zac Curtis from the D-backs and James Pazos from the Yankees -- while also claiming Dean Kiekhefer from the Cardinals. Kiekhefer was designated for assignment to make room for Rzepczynski. Dipoto may look to add further depth, but Rzepczynski figures to be the main addition there.

Who they can trade if necessary

RHP Arquimedes Caminero: Dipoto doesn't have many players left on the Major League roster that he'll likely move this offseason, having already used his biggest trade chip in Walker, plus Nuno and shortstop Ketel Marte as well as six Minor League prospects. But the Mariners do have a nice cache of right-handed relievers, and Caminero -- who touches 100 mph with his fastball -- could have value to a team that feels it might be able to harness that power arm. Caminero is out of Minor League options, so he'll either need to make the 25-man roster or be exposed to waivers, which increases his trade likelihood given the current number's game.

RHPs Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner: These two relievers are also out of Minor League options and are both arbitration-eligible, with Vincent headed for about a $1.5 million payday and Scribner $1.1 million by MLBTradeRumors.com's projections. But those aren't exorbitant numbers, and both fit in nicely to the Mariners' bullpen, so they seem less likely to be dealt than Caminero.

Top prospects

Per MLBPipeline.com, the Mariners' top 10 prospects, in order, are outfielders Kyle Lewis and Tyler O'Neill, shortstop Drew Jackson, right-hander Nick Neidert, lefty Luiz Gohara, first basemen Dan Vogelbach and D.J. Peterson, third baseman Joe Rizzo and right-handers Andrew Moore and Povse.

Dipoto just traded away 2014 first-round Draft pick Alex Jackson, who had been sixth on that list, and he certainly hasn't been adverse from adding and subtracting prospects in a multitude of deals since taking over last year. Vogelbach will get a shot at the first-base job this spring, and O'Neill opened eyes with a big year at Double-A Jackson last year, while Lewis won't be back until likely July or later as he recovers from knee surgery. Peterson could be a potential trade chip, though Dipoto has talked of him as a potential long-term platoon fit with Vogelbach.

Rule 5 Draft

The Mariners' 40-man roster is full and it's highly unlikely they'll tab anyone in the Rule 5 process, in which they have the No. 11 selection. Dipoto didn't select anyone last year and it would be hard to see Seattle locking up a 25-man roster spot all year for a young prospect when they're lining up to make a postseason push with a largely veteran team.

Big contracts they might unload

The Mariners have some big contracts with Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Iwakuma, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager combining to make $89 million in 2017, but Dipoto continually has said he's building around that core group. They conceivably could move outfielder Seth Smith ($7 million) or reliever Steve Cishek ($6 million) to free up some money, but neither is likely. Dipoto likes Smith's veteran presence and ability to work pitchers as part of the corner mix, and Cishek is recovering from surgery on a torn hip labrum and would have a limited market until he proves to be healthy this spring.

Payroll summary

With significant arbitration raises expected for Leonys Martin and newcomers Danny Valencia and Segura, the Mariners' payroll figures to be pushing $140 million by the time everything settles. That leaves Dipoto with some room to pursue veteran pitching help, as they opened 2016 with about a $142 million budget and the newly aligned ownership group is open to raising that figure in the right situation.

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.