Even as the Mariners continue their uphill push to reach the postseason for the first time in 15 years, they are simultaneously engaged in evaluations to shape their 2017 roster.
Those plans are still evolving, but discussions with various club officials privately point to several likely steps:
▪ The Mariners will pick up their $7 million option on outfielder Seth Smith even if outfielder Nori Aoki triggers a $5 million player option for next season by reaching 480 plate appearances. Aoki could return even if he falls shy of the threshold – he’s at 436 with 10 games left – but club officials concede it’s unlikely to keep Smith and Aoki. One would likely be traded to address another need.
“Both of those players have value, especially when you look at the free-agent market,” one club official said. “It’s a thin market. … Seth is a real good complementary piece on a good club. His contract is affordable.”
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The Mariners see both primarily as platoon players who also have defensive shortcomings. It’s unlikely that a 25-man roster next year will have room for Smith, Aoki and two defensive replacements, especially since …
▪ The Mariners want to retain veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, a pending free agent who also shows increasingly limited defensive range, because he offers right-handed power that is tough to find elsewhere.
“Against a lefty,” one club official said, “you can get away with him for six or seven innings because he’s been such a good outfielder that he knows how to set up.”
A projected five-man outfielder corps starts with Leonys Martin as a fixture in center field. Retaining Gutierrez and either Smith or Aoki allows the Mariners to keep Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia (or someone else) on the roster.
▪ The Mariners want to give Dan Vogelbach, a left-handed hitter, an opportunity to become their full-time first baseman. So they are unlikely to make any effort to retain Adam Lind, a left-handed hitter who is eligible for free agency.
But Dae-Ho Lee is another matter. Lee will also be a free agent, but he’s a right-handed hitter who would provide the Mariners with a backup plan if Vogelbach struggles. If Lee departs, the Mariners will try to find a similar platoon option through a trade or free agency.
▪ The Mariners, as reported earlier, are likely to renew trade discussions with Cincinnati regarding shortstop Zack Cozart, who has one year remaining before reaching eligibility for free agency. The two sides had a loose deal in place before the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline that centered around the Reds acquiring left-handed pitching prospect Luiz Gohara. Final details couldn’t be completed.
Club officials still see current shortstop Ketel Marte as a long-term fit, but they seem to prefer a proven veteran next year to bolster the postseason chances for their aging core.
▪ Few changes are anticipated in the rotation. Felix Hernandez still has three years remaining on his deal. Hisashi Iwakuma already has triggered a player option for next season, and rookie Ariel Miranda has been a pleasant surprise since arriving July 31 from Baltimore. One club official pointed to a thin free-agent pitching market while noting there are few young arms with better “upside potential” than Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.
▪ What had been a much-maligned farm system produced two impact power relievers this season in Edwin Diaz and Dan Altavilla. Both had been starting pitchers before seeing their two-pitch arsenals blossom in relief this year. Diaz projects as the closer for years to come.
Veteran Steve Cishek is also under contract through next year and Nick Vincent is certain to return.
What the Mariners want is a true situational lefty — “a guy who can pitch with a one-run lead in the eighth inning,” one club official said. But they aren’t likely to pursue high-end guys such as pending free-agent Aroldis Chapman.
Backup catcher Steve Clevenger, who is on the disabled list, created a stir with his Twitter postings Thursday night.
“Black people beating whites when a thug got shot holding a gun by a black officer. Haha (stuff) cracks me up! Keep kneeling for the Anthem!” was the first tweet followed by: “BLM is pathetic once again. Obama you are pathetic once again! Everyone involved should be locked behind bars like animals.”
General manager Jerry Dipoto issued a statement saying Clevenger is free to express himself, but “his tweets do not in any way represent the opinions of the Seattle Mariners.”
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