Mariners eyeing another big offeason move?

Free-agent pitcher Hammel would bolster starting rotation

Mariners eyeing another big offeason move?

SEATTLE -- Looking for a bold prediction on what might still be left for the Mariners this offseason? How about going big and signing the best remaining pitcher in free agency in Jason Hammel?

Sure, it remains a long shot, particularly given general manager Jerry Dipoto's preference for trades over free agency when it comes to tweaking his roster. After two deals on Friday brought in right-hander Yovani Gallardo and speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson, Dipoto has made 34 trades in his 16 months on the job.

The next-closest team on the trade list in that span is the Braves with 25. The Mariners have signed six Major League free agents during that period, including two -- relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Casey Fien -- this offseason. So odds are Dipoto will trade again to fill his one remaining goal of further bolstering the pitching staff before Spring Training opens on Feb. 14.

Hot Stove Tracker

But if we've learned anything with Dipoto, it's to expect the unexpected. He has been very clear in his overall goals since taking over for Jack Zduriencik, but most of Dipoto's actual moves have come with little warning.

So while the Mariners haven't been mentioned prominently in the offseason pursuit of Hammel, there also wasn't any foreshadowing when Dipoto traded Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura in a five-player swap on Thanksgiving eve, and no early word leaked on any of the other deals, including Friday's swaps.

Dipoto on Dyson's defense

So Dipoto is clearly capable of flying under the radar, which means it is still possible he could swoop in and sign one of the remaining free-agent pitchers, which include Hammel, Doug Fister, Colby Lewis, Brett Anderson and Jake Peavy.

Hammel sits atop that list and reportedly the Rangers are among his chief pursuers. So what better than to beat out the American League West-rival Rangers and bring home Hammel, a 34-year-old who graduated from South Kitsap High in Port Orchard, Wash., before attending Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore.

Hammel was the second-ranked free-agent pitcher in a slim group that was topped by Rich Hill, who signed a three-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers during the Winter Meetings in December. But in the ensuing month, it has become apparent that Hammel isn't getting anything close to that offer, and after switching agents, he's still testing the slow-moving market.

Dipoto acknowledges the Mariners have some remaining financial flexibility as they hover around a $150 million payroll. Last year, the ownership group approved going above budget when Hisashi Iwakuma became available after the Dodgers backed out of his free-agent signing, and that turned out to be a big positive.

Could Hammel's late availability prove to be a similar stroke of fortune? He's certainly capable of being a solid addition to the rotation after going 15-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 30 starts for the Cubs in 2016. If the price is right -- and some are projecting he might be available on a one-year deal in the $12 million range -- Seattle could add to a rotation that already includes Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma, James Paxton, Gallardo and Ariel Miranda.

Another quality arm would provide some insurance in case Hernandez doesn't bounce back strong or any of the others run into health issues. And that kind of rotation depth could go a long way toward helping the Mariners stay in the thick of the division race.

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.