The offseason goal for the Mariners was never just to build an effective five-man rotation for their big-league club — although club officials believe they did that, too, in trades that returned Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo.
General manager Jerry Dipoto instead talked repeatedly of building an upper-level stable of 12 to 15 starting pitchers both as a hedge against inevitable injuries and as a bridge to the future.
Last week’s deal to obtain right-hander Chase De Jong was another step in that process. He is 23 with three options remaining and, barring a string of injuries to the projected rotation, has no chance to open the season in the big leagues.
"Chase will start in (Triple-A Tacoma)," Dipoto confirmed. "As I told him, `Show us something here in these next few weeks that will put you on the front porch when it’s time to go make that next move.’"
The Mariners also signed Christian Bergman to a minor-league deal. Those six join versatile holdover Cody Martin and Andrew Moore, picked last season as the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year, at the top of the depth chart.
"Last year, we used 31 pitchers," Dipoto said. "We had 13 starting pitchers take a turn. Twenty-one different pitchers won a game for the Mariners last year. All three of those were organizational records."
The working plan has Tacoma opening the season with Heston, Overton, De Jong and Whalen as its front four in an order yet to be determined. The fifth spot projects as either Martin or Bergman.
Of those six, only De Jong lacks big-league experience but, as Dipoto indicated, there’s no chance he returns to Double-A after going 14-5 with a 2.86 ERA in 25 starts for Tulsa in the Dodgers’ system.
That pushes Moore and Povse to Double-A Arkansas — even though each closed last season by pitching well at Double-A and both might have more long-term upside than any of the pitchers at Tacoma. It’s simply a matter of innings.
All of this, at this point, is in pencil.
An injury to any member of the projected big-league rotation could set off a chain reaction. This also assumes the Mariners, as seems likely, shift lefty Ariel Miranda to the bullpen.
Miranda could also end up in the Tacoma rotation if, say, club officials decide Overton or James Pazos is a better fit as the bullpen’s second lefty alongside free-agent signee Marc Rzepczynski.
"We really like the depth," Dipoto said. "We feel like this is a group that really comes in and starts to develop."
Maybe so, but none of these depth-building moves created much a stir within the industry. The Mariners instead drew criticism for trading lefty Luiz Gohara, whom Baseball America rated as the organization’s best pitching prospect.
But Gohara ended last season at Lo-A Clinton. The Mariners placed a greater priority on retaining Moore and Nick Neidert because of their better pitchability skills.
"We see pitchers differently than, maybe, your ordinary scout," Dipoto shrugged. "Chase De Jong, Andrew Moore, Max Povse — they’re all three cut from a very similar cloth…Polished strike-throwing means something.
"You pile up enough of those guys, someone is going to wind up being a third starter. Someone is going to wind up being a fourth starter. They’re going to wind up being durable-innings guys.
"Lo and behold, one day you look up and Kyle Hendricks turns into Kyle Hendricks. Every scout in the world is wearing egg on their face because sometimes guys like that turn into (something more)."
Look for the Mariners to start making roster cuts early next week in conjunction with the start of full-squad drills Monday for their minor-league clubs.
"We will be making a few cuts here soon," manager Scott Servais confirmed. "You get to that point every spring. You just run out of innings when your starters get stretched a little bit longer.
"We do have a lot of starting pitches in this camp. We don’t want to screw up anybody’s season. So you’ve got to start working to get those guys stretched out, and you run out of innings."
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Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners