It’s easy to overlook that the Mariners, in pursuing a win-now approach, are simultaneously undergoing a rebuilding plan.
"It’s no fun to win," general manager Jerry Dipoto said, "if you can’t figure out how to sustain. So we’re trying to figure that out as we go."
No place is that more apparent than in the outfield.
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Gamel and Heredia had been slotted for platoon duty in left field before the Mariners chose to pump the brakes by obtaining Jarrod Dyson from Kansas City in a Jan. 6 trade for pitcher Nathan Karns.
Dyson will be eligible for free agency after the season, which positions him as a bridge to the future. A year from now, club officials should have a better feel in projecting Haniger, Gamel and Heredia for the future.
Dipoto acknowledged the trade allows the Mariners "to bring Gamel and Heredia along at the pace we want." It also acts as a hedge against a Haniger flop.
"We’re also not immune to the idea that Mitch could struggle," Dipoto conceded, "as could Ben, as could Guillermo. Three is a lot better chance than one. I’m no genius, but in Vegas, if I have my chance, I’ll bet on the three rather than the one."
For now, Dyson projects as the left fielder and, for the first time in his career, will get a chance to prove he merits every-day duty.
"I’m all for that, man," he said. "I’ve been fighting for that for 10 years now."
Dyson’s ability to handle a full-time role could weigh heavily in determining whether the Mariners keep Gamel or Heredia. If Dyson, a left-handed hitter, fits better as a platoon player, that favors Heredia, who is a right-handed hitter.
If Dyson proves capable of a full-time role, the Mariners might opt for Gamel, a left-handed hitter as a counterpoint to Haniger, who is a right-handed hitter.
Another factor is how rookie Dan Vogelbach, another part of the rebuilding plan, performs at first base. The current plan calls for Vogelbach, a left-handed hitter, to split time with off-season trade acquisition Danny Valencia.
If Vogelbach stumbles, Valencia could get the job on a full-time basis. But if Vogelbach plays to expectations — or exceeds them by showing he can handle everyday duty — then Valencia, a right-handed bat, should see time in the outfield.
There’s a further wrinkle. The Mariners have three players competing for duty as their utility infielder (Shawn O’Malley, Mike Freeman and Taylor Motter), and all three can play the outfield.
It’s possible the Mariners could ship two of their rookie outfielders to Triple-A Tacoma and start the season with two utility players.
The only sure thing, barring injuries, is Leonys Martin will be the regular center fielder, and that Dyson should, at minimum, see platoon duty in left field as a left-handed bat against right-handed pitchers.
However it shakes out, the Mariners figure to be more athletic. Martin, Dyson, Haniger, Gamel and Heredia all have the speed and range to play center field. The outfield defense should be a strength.
"Last year," manager Scott Servais, "we were very platoon heavy. This year, we will be much more flexible. We’ll be able to pinch-run some guys late in the games. We couldn’t do that last year."
What is also means is Nelson Cruz could become a full-time designated hitter. Now 36, he started just 48 games last year in the outfield, down from 80 in 2015.
"He does want to get out there," Servais said. "I just know how valuable he is to our lineup. To risk losing him with a leg injury or something like that, it’s not really worth it."
WHO’S IN CAMP? (6 on 40-man roster, 1 on restricted list)
23 Nelson Cruz (Bats right, throws right, 6-feet-2, 230 pounds): He will still play some right field but, really, Cruz, at 36, is moving toward full-time DH status. His 127 homers over the last three seasons are 12 more than any other player. Option status: Not applicable.
1 Jarrod Dyson (L-R, 5-10, 160): Acquired from Kansas City in a trade for pitcher Nathan Karns, Dyson provides speed and defense while getting a chance for regular duty as the leadoff hitter. Option status: Not applicable.
16 Ben Gamel (L-L, 5-11, 187): The trade that added Dyson pushed Gamel into competition with Heredia for duty as the fourth outfielder. That could change in Haniger struggles. Option status: two remaining.
17 Mitch Haniger (R-R, 6-2, 204): An off-season acquisition from Arizona, Haniger is slotted for regular duty in right field after a breakthrough minor-league season. It’s his job to lose. Option status: three remaining.
5 Guillermo Heredia (R-L, 5-10, 180): Should battle Gamel to be the club’s backup outfielder. Regarded as a defense-first player when signed last year after defecting from Cuba, but his bat exceeded expectations. Option status: two remaining.
12 Leonys Martin (L-R, 6-2, 200): Returns as the starting center fielder after a bounce-back season following his arrival from Texas. But there’s no tenure if Martin struggles. The Mariners now have many other options. Option status: none remaining.
8 Boog Powell (L-L, 5-10, 185): Still serving an 80-game suspension for failing a minor-league drug test. Should return to Triple-A Tacoma and be available to play by mid-April. Option status: three remaining.
NON-ROSTER INVITES (2)
70 Tyler O’Neill (R-R, 5-11, 205): Will get a chance to make a spring impression after being selected last year as the Double-A Southern League’s most valuable player. Almost certain to open season at Tacoma but could make his big-league debut at some point this season.
44 Kyle Waldrop (L-L, 6-3, 190): Looking to reset his career after spending the last seven years in the Cincinnati system. If Mariners see potential, he’ll likely start the season at Tacoma.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Mitch Haniger opens camp as the starting right fielder after a breakout minor-league season last year in the Arizona system. Now he needs to prove he deserves it.
2. How does Jarrod Dyson look against left-handed pitchers? In short, is he a platoon player or an everyday guy? This figures to be an eye-test evaluation more than a decision based on a small sample of spring numbers.
3. The early spring narrative, as noted above, suggests Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia are competing for a backup role. Both should play a lot, and spring performance could be a key factor in winning a job.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners