The next step for the Mariners in bolstering their rotation is to find a veteran arm capable of stepping into the middle of the unit, and the search could lead them to return to their past.
A source confirmed right-hander Doug Fister, a free agent, to be a "name of interest" in the club’s plans. Fister, 32, is an eight-year veteran who was 12-13 with a 4.64 ERA in 32 starts last season for Houston.
The Mariners drafted Fister in the seventh round of the 2006 MLB Draft. He reached the majors in 2009 and was 12-30 with a 3.81 ERA in two-plus seasons before a July 30, 2011 trade sent him to Detroit.
Fister is 65-46 with a 3.51 ERA for three clubs in five-plus years since leaving the Mariners. His overall numbers: 77-76 with a 3.60 ERA in 212 games, including 199 starts.
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The Mariners added organizational pitching depth Monday by acquiring right-handers Rob Whalen and Max Povse from Atlanta in a trade for outfielder Alex Jackson and a player to be named later.
While Whalen is on the 40-man roster, he appears likely to open next season at Triple-A Tacoma. Povse doesn’t yet require protection on the 40-man roster and figures to begin next year at Double-A Arkansas.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said, shortly after the trade, the Mariners are "still in the market for more veteran-type starting pitching — major-league-established starting pitching — to add to what we have."
It was a previous trade on Nov. 23, which sent right-hander Taijuan Walker to Arizona, that created the need for additional depth at the major-league level.
The Mariners’ rotation currently projects as Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ariel Miranda and Nathan Karns.
They also have Cody Martin, Zach Lee and now Whalen as pitchers on their 40-man roster who have started a big-league game.
Dipoto said "the goal is to walk into spring training at 10 or 11 deep. The idea now is to plug in someone who gets a little closer to the middle of the rotation than the back."
Fister fits that profile, although sources say he is not the only veteran starter on the Mariners’ list and might not be their top preference. He faded badly last season in going 4-10 with a 5.98 ERA over his final 18 starts.
Some scouts believe Fister simply wore down after being limited by injuries over the two previous seasons. That could position him as an affordable risk in what is generally viewed as a thin free-agent market for starting pitchers.
The Mariners are also open to addressing their need through a trade.
"I wouldn’t say it’s more likely (than signing a free agent)," Dipoto said, "but we’re going to exhaust the possibilities."
Either way, Dipoto said the club feels no urgency to reach a solution — which bucks the trend for a club that has already made five trades involving 18 players since Nov. 12.
"I know we tend to move a little faster (than most clubs)," he said, "but I don’t imagine that starting pitching is going to be something that we address before the Winter Meetings and, perhaps, not until January."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners