Mariners still looking to add to rotation mix

Mariners still looking to add to rotation mix

SEATTLE -- While the market for top-flight closers has moved swiftly in recent days with the free-agent signings of Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, the musical chairs haven't really begun yet for starting pitchers.

But expect things to begin unfolding soon for numerous teams seeking rotation help, including the Mariners, as general manager Jerry Dipoto looks to fill the void created by his earlier trade of Taijuan Walker.

Dipoto has expressed his preference to add a mid-rotation starter via the trade route, given the thin group of free agents on the board this year. But last week's Winter Meetings featured an unusually high number of teams pursuing the same avenue, which means clubs have a lot of options to ponder and considerable internal debate before pulling the trigger on any deals.

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The Mariners certainly aren't hiding their pursuit. Even after acquiring right-hander Chris Heston from the Giants for a player to be named on Wednesday, they have made it clear that adding another candidate to slot higher into the pecking order remains a priority.

"It's no secret our intention has been to acquire a starting pitcher," assistant general manager Jeff Kingston said. "We feel we have a pretty good feel for that market now after talking to a lot of clubs, and we think they have a pretty good feel for where we're at and what our needs are. So now it's just a matter of continuing those discussions going forward, and see if we can get to the goal line on one."

The Mariners appear solid at the top of their rotation with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton. And Dipoto is happy with the depth created by the returns of Nathan Karns and Ariel Miranda, as well as adding Rob Whalen and Max Povse from the Braves by trade last month, along with Heston, who had a strong 2015 campaign for the Giants before running into health issues last year.

But Dipoto would like to add one more experienced hurler who could slide in around the third or fourth spot in the rotation, and that will be the primary remaining pursuit this offseason, along with adding another reliever to the mix, if possible.

The difficulty, of course, is that most teams are looking to add pitching. So those teams that have depth are looking to leverage that for as good a deal as possible. That's what Dipoto already did on his end in acquiring standout shortstop Jean Segura, along with outfielder Mitch Haniger and lefty reliever Zac Curtis, for Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte.

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Now, he'll look to swing a deal the opposite way, with veteran outfielder Seth Smith and his own prospect group appearing to be the primary trade chips. The Rays are among the small group of teams willing to move a starter, and while the Mariners don't figure to have the elite prospects required to land a premium arm like Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi, they might be in position to work a deal for lefty Drew Smyly or right-hander Alex Cobb.

The Reds have talked to teams about right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, but the price will be high for a 26-year-old who went 9-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 2016, and has four years of team control remaining. The same is true with right-hander Dan Straily, who was 14-8 with a 3.76 ERA last season. The Reds might deal if they get impressed by an offer, but they also are looking to add pitching, not subtract it.

The Dodgers are willing to move veterans Scott Kazmir or Brandon McCarthy, but Dipoto might be more inclined to deal for an up-and-coming prospect with less MLB experience, such as A.J. Cole or Joe Ross of the Nationals.

Or there is still the possibility of the free-agent market, where Rich Hill signed with the Dodgers, but Jason Hammel and Ivan Nova are still available among the top group, along with proven veterans such as Doug Fister and Colby Lewis. There are also bounce-back candidates Tyson Ross, Brett Anderson, Derek Holland or Clayton Richard.

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.