Seattle looks to fill first base, pitching needs

Dipoto considering options as Hot Stove season gets underway

Seattle looks to fill first base, pitching needs

SEATTLE -- The end of the World Series means the beginning of free agency for many players around the Major Leagues, including seven Mariners.

The free-agent period began at 6 a.m. PT on Thursday following the conclusion of the World Series, but players cannot sign with a new team until 2 p.m. PT on Monday.

The Mariners aren't expected to extend the $17.4 million qualifying offer to any of their pending free agents.

Free agents: 1B Yonder Alonso and Danny Valencia, INF Gordon Beckham, OF Jarrod Dyson, C Carlos Ruiz. RHPs Yovani Gallardo (declined $13 million option with $2 million buyout) and Hisashi Iwakuma (declined $10 million option with $1 million buyout).

Arbitration-eligible: RHPs David Phelps, Erasmo Ramirez, Nick Vincent and Shae Simmons; LHPs Drew Smyly and James Paxton; C Mike Zunino.

Mariners' top moments of 2017

Here are three key questions facing the Mariners as free agency begins:

1. Who's on first?
General manager Jerry Dipoto has several positions to fill, with first base being the biggest since both Alonso and Valencia are free agents. Those two combined to hit .258 with 21 homers and 84 RBIs in 582 at-bats in 2017. Alonso says he'd love to return to the Mariners, who acquired him from the A's in August after he became a first-time All-Star in Oakland, and Dipoto indicated there could be mutual interest. But there are a flock of first basemen hitting the market, ranging from Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana to Mitch Moreland, Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison and Mark Reynolds so Dipoto should have some options.

Alonso's two-run home run

2. Is there an ace in place?
Dipoto notes that while adding to the rotation would be nice, it's extremely difficult to acquire No. 1-type pitchers. Felix Hernandez and Paxton are returning, but Hernandez's advancing age and recent shoulder issues, along with Paxton's history of injury problems, make it difficult to bank on them. There will be speculation on Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani involving Seattle and numerous other bidders if he makes himself available this winter, as well as pending MLB free agents like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Realistically, the Mariners might be more in the market for someone like Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb, but Dipoto has downplayed the club's need for another top-end arm.

Paxton's dominant nine-K effort

3. How busy will they be?
No GM has engineered more deals than Dipoto over the past two offseasons as he's leaned heavily on the trade market, rather than free agency, to remodel the club's roster. Only seven players from the 40-man roster in 2015 are still with the Mariners -- Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Zunino, Tony Zych, Hernandez and Paxton. Dipoto won't likely be quite as active this offseason given he's now laid the groundwork for much of his makeover, but that doesn't mean he'll be silent as there still are holes to fill at first base, the outfield, backup catcher and pitching staff.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.