Mariners improve roster during off-season

Safeco Field might not see a pitch until next year, but the Seattle Mariners are still playing ball. Now that the official season is over, the Seattle Mariners’ General Manager Jerry Dipoto has stepped up to the plate to focus on team roster improvement moving into the off-season.

Dipoto is not looking to entirely rebuild the team. For a time, rumors circulated that the Mariners entire roster was up for trade, and that the team management was willing to take a few bad seasons in order to grow a competitive team down the road. Dipoto told that, “We want to build a championship roster. If that means in 2019 we field as competitive a team as we can while earmarking and gathering talent, we’re not looking to rip our club down. We’re just too talented to do that.” The Mariners are looking to make trades and improve roster quality, but their trading strategy will be built on the foundation of the skill already on the team.

Dipoto’s faith in the core talent of the team is not misplaced. This season, the Mariners put 89 wins on the board, which is the team’s highest win record since 2003. To put this into perspective, the Cleveland Indians made the playoffs with 91 wins. The Mariners are ready to end their infamous 18-year playoff drought. Dipoto hopes to use strong moves in the offseason to ensure that the Mariners’ dugout can blow away any team in the league.

Seattle has let several players enter into free agency this year, as part of their plan to make better use of their roster space. The most notable free agency is that of Nelson Cruz, whose addition to the team Dipoto called, “one of the most productive free-agent contracts in recent memory.” The recently-expired contract paid Cruz 14 million a year for 4 years and his consistent ability to perform as a designated hitter was a large part of the successes the Mariners have recently seen. His 2018 triple-slash performance of .342/.509/.850 is only slightly below his career averages of .342/.518/.860, but the Mariners feel that his advancing age of 38 combined with his high salary is too much risk with not enough reward.

Recently, the Mariners made quite a stir with their five-man trade deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, in which three Mariners moved south while the team welcomed two members to the Puget Sound. The Mariners gave up catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Guillermo Heredia and minor league prospect Michael Plassmeyer to the Rays, who sent center fielder Mallex Smith and minor league prospect Jake Fraley in return. This trade looks to benefit both teams greatly, as important holes in each teams’ lineup are addressed. Zunino has shown to be an excellent defensive player, but his career strikeout rate of 34.2 percent makes his appearances one-dimensional. Mallex Smith, however, will step in to replace Dee Gordon in center field. Dee Gordon was considered one of the least effective center fielders in the league, and plugging this major hole in the outfield will make the Mariners’ playoff dreams that much closer.

This is not Mallex Smith’s first time with the Mariner’s either. In 2017, Smith was a member of the Mariners for 77 minutes before he was traded away to the Rays for pitching options. However, with the shift to a more youthful team to grow from, it looks like Smith is here on a more permanent basis. In a statement about the trade, Dipoto said, “We believe his breakout 2018 performance reflects the many ways his skills will positively impact the Mariners for years to come.” The Seattle Mariners acquisition of the youthful, athletic Smith by trading the specialist Zunino, whose contract only had two more years, shows a willingness to prune from the top to ensure the health of the team.

Dipoto has always been willing to use trades aggressively during the offseason to ensure that the Mariners enter the diamond with a stronger team every year. This offseason is shaping up to be no different, and the end of the playoff drought is looking closer and closer with every player swap.