Seattle Mariners

Mariners GM believes team is more contender than pretender

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto believes with a healthy Felix Hernandez back in the rotation, the team could be ready to take off.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto believes with a healthy Felix Hernandez back in the rotation, the team could be ready to take off. The Associated Press

While Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is vowing to “look into everything” with the non-waiver trade deadline now less than a week away, he offers one absolute.

“We're not going to rip this thing down,” he said. “There are too many guys in that clubhouse who worked hard to get to this point.

“I’m not a big believer in moving the short-term player just because he’s a short-term player, but if there’s a way for us to get better — whether its in the present or the near future — we’ll do it.

“You’re not going to see us making trades for rookie-ball players and starting a full-scale rebuild. We are in a position to be very competitive. We feel like if we have one nice hot streak at the right time, we could be there.”

The Mariners, at 50-48, entered the week trailing first-place Texas by 6 1/2 games in the American League West Division. They were 4 1/2 games behind Toronto for the AL’s final wild-card spot.

All with two-plus months still remaining in a schedule that appears to turn more favorable in roughly 10 days. They have nine games remaining in a stretch where they play 44 of 54 games against clubs with winning records.

Thereafter comes a run of 16 in 19 against clubs with losing records. Opportunity beckons if they can stay above .500 over the next week and a half.

The Mariners also believe they are positioned for a push.

Felix Hernandez is back in the rotation after a six-week absence, and Taijuan Walker shows encouraging signs that he might be ready to move past his foot ailment; current projections target Walker for a return in early August.

“Who are we going to get in a trade who is better than those two?” Dipoto asked. “We also think we’re going to get (reliever) Nick Vincent back in the near future. Right up to the point where he got hurt, he was just terrific.”

The Mariners’ needs include a productive leadoff hitter, although Nori Aoki has been better since returning from a four-week remedial stay at Triple-A Tacoma. Even so, he’s not a long-term answer.

Another concern is shortstop Ketel Marte, who was diagnosed late last week with mononucleosis. The severity, at this point, remains undisclosed. For now, the Mariners appear willing to ride with Shawn O’Malley and Luis Sardinas in the short-term.

But the Mariners might ramp up their search for alternatives if Marte appears likely to miss an extended period.

Not long ago, the Mariners scanned the market to gauge possible alternatives to closer Steve Cishek. No longer. They now see rookie Edwin Diaz as a closer-in-waiting if Cishek falters.

Diaz has already supplanted Benoit as the bullpen’s primary set-up reliever which, not coincidentally, makes Benoit one of several veterans available in trade.

While Benoit’s overall numbers remain disappointing — a 5.18 ERA in 26 outings — he now appears to be healthy for the first time this season, and he has six scoreless outings in his last seven appearances.

Benoit is one of those short-term players that Dipoto mentioned; he will be a free agent in the coming offseason. Other teams seeking bullpen help might see his 2.35 ERA over the previous six years and view him as a reasonable gamble.

The situation is much the same for first baseman/designated hitter Adam Lind — the Mariners acquired his apparent replacement in Dan Vogelbach, also a left-handed hitter, from the Chicago Cubs in a recent trade.

Tellingly, Dipoto characterized Vogelbach, currently at Triple-A Tacoma, as “ready to play in the big leagues today.”

The Mariners are also willing to move left-hander Wade Miley who, like Benoit, has proved a disappointment overall but shows recent encouraging signs with back-to-back quality starts.

While the Mariners have replacements in place for Miley in right-hander Nathan Karns and lefty Wade LeBlanc, Miley differs from Benoit or Lind in one key aspect: He is not a rent-a-player.

Miley is making $6 million this season and is under contract next year for $8.75 million with a club option for 2018 at $12 million with a $500,000 buyout. That’s roughly $11.5 million still guaranteed through next year.

Even so, those terms aren’t unreasonable if Miley pitches the way he has for most of his career — he had a 3.95 ERA through five years prior to this season.

“He’s a guy who could really draw a lot of late interest,” one executive from a rival club said. “Right now, teams looking for rotation help are jockeying for some of the bigger names. But it’s a thin, a real thin, trade market for starting pitchers.

“If I’m the Mariners, if they want to trade him, I wait until the end to see if the market jumps up. I think that’s likely to happen.”

This much is certain. The Mariners will be engaged. That is Dipoto’s style, which he readily admits.

“We’ve looked into just about everything,” he said. “Like I said all along, it could be some buy and some sell. Whether we’re done or not, I don’t know.”

ROSTER MOVE COMING

The Mariners may bolster their bench, most likely by adding a right-handed bat, prior to Tuesday’s series opener against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

Two possible candidates: Tacoma outfielder Guillermo Heredia and Stefen Romero. Heredia offers superior speed-and-defense options, but he missed Sunday’s game at Salt Lake because of a sore shoulder.

Romero was 3 for 15 earlier this season over eight games in a previous call-up, but he is batting .329 for the Rainiers with 14 homers and 65 RBIs in 74 games. He is also 8 for 18 with three homers in his last three games.

The Mariners are likely to clear roster space by optioning a pitcher, probably lefty reliever David Rollins, to Tacoma.

ON TAP

The Mariners open a two-game series against the Pirates at 4:05 p.m. (PDT) Tuesday at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Right-hander Felix Hernandez (4-4, 3.23 ERA) makes his second start since returning from the disabled list. The Pirates plan to start lefty Francisco Liriano (6-9, 4.96).

The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710-AM.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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