SEATTLE -- The Winter Meetings are nearly here, and with the offseason’s premier event, maybe the Hot Stove will finally progress beyond its mostly stagnant status so far this winter.
The Mariners might not be baseball’s flashiest team to follow on the transaction front, but they nonetheless present plenty of intrigue given that -- after trading Eugenio Suárez and opting not to bring back Teoscar Hernández -- there are multiple areas that president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto must address and multiple avenues that Seattle’s front office can take to do so.
Sources familiar with the club’s thinking have suggested that the Mariners are comfortable rolling with Luis Urías to replace Suárez as the primary third baseman, banking on the 26-year-old to replicate his above-average production from 2021-22 in Milwaukee. However, with so many dominoes still to fall -- many of which are hinging on the Shohei Ohtani signing -- Urías, who can play around the infield, isn’t necessarily Plan A.
The trade market typically doesn’t accelerate until after at least some of the top free agents sign, with teams pivoting if they don’t land their intended targets. This year’s class is rich in starting pitching, yet even with baseball’s biggest spenders in need -- the Braves, Yankees, Dodgers and others entered the offseason seeking multiple starters -- there still won’t be enough arms to go around. That should play in the Mariners’ favor, because no team has more such players to deal.
Even with a logical partner like the Cardinals already signing three starters -- Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn -- all will be beyond their age-34 season. Perhaps St. Louis would be motivated for younger, more foundational starters to build around.
The Rays, with whom Seattle has made more trades than any team under Dipoto, are actively shopping Tyler Glasnow to get out from under the $25 million he’s due. If and when they do trade him, they could be looking to restock with younger, more affordable arms, and Tampa Bay has a bevy of club-controlled hitters who would directly address Seattle’s needs.
Same for the Reds, another of Dipoto’s regular trade partners, whose small-market budget should prevent them from spending at the top of free agency. The Orioles also have a cadre of young hitters, are seeking pitching reinforcements and have typically always operated with budget constraints.
If the Mariners were to go as bold as making Luis Castillo available, such big-market clubs as the Dodgers and Yankees could find the remaining four years and $96.6 million on his contract far more affordable than what Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto is projected to earn in free agency. However, Castillo has a full no-trade clause through 2025.
When asked about trading from their rotation in a season-ending press conference, Dipoto and GM Justin Hollander were again reluctant, but they didn’t say it was completely off the table as in recent offseasons. That could translate to a yes, but only if the return is significant.
During that same forum, Dipoto and Hollander said that Seattle’s payroll would increase from the roughly $140 million from this past season. Current projections from Cot's Baseball Contracts have the payroll at around $133 million, including raises via arbitration and established contracts, after getting Suárez’s $11,285,715 off the books and replacing it with Urías’ roughly $5 million projection.
All this is to say that Plan A could still be on the table. Dipoto has typically struck early in offseasons past, but peeling back the layers to this winter’s markets reveals that, from where Seattle sits, the long game might be more conducive to the club’s situation -- and things could certainly pick up at the Winter Meetings.
Will Lou Piniella finally get the call to the Hall? The iconic former Mariners manager is among eight finalists up for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame via a vote from the 16-person Contemporary Era Committee, slated for Sunday afternoon at the Winter Meetings.
Finalists who receive votes on at least 75 percent of ballots cast by the committee will be inducted into the 2024 class.
Piniella spent 23 seasons as a Major League manager, highlighted by 10 seasons with the Mariners (1993-2002).
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