Jerry Dipoto is in his second year as the Seattle Mariners general manager, but his strategy is clear: Achieve quality through quantity. That means a critical mass of trades — 37 in two years, including 11 this offseason, resulting in a turnover of nearly half the everyday lineup and three of five starting pitching spots. If the Mariners fall short, it won’t be for lack of trying. USA TODAY Sports’ Gabe Lacques takes an inside look at the team. (*Denotes prospect.)
MLB team report: Seattle Mariners
Mike Zunino’s 2016 numbers (.207 batting average, .318 on-base percentage, .470 slugging percentage in 55 games) don’t vary significantly from Chris Iannetta’s (.210/.303/.329 in 94 games). But Zunino, who hit 12 homers last season, showed there’s a glimmer of upside for a player who won’t turn 26 until March. He’ll pair with 38-year-old Carlos Ruiz — also a right-handed hitter — with little significant help in the upper minors. Depth chart: Zunino, Ruiz, Jesus Sucre, Steve Baron, *Tyler Marlette
Usually, an unproven rookie teaming with a steady but unspectacular veteran doesn’t present much upside. But the combination of lefty-swinging Dan Vogelbach, 24, and Danny Valencia could be a significant Xfactor for the Mariners. Blocked by Anthony Rizzo in Chicago, Vogelbach was acquired for left-hander Mike Montgomery — who got the final out of the World Series for the Cubs — and produced a .292/.417/.505 line at Class AAA for both organizations, hitting 23 home runs. Valencia, 32, churned through his sixth organization, finishing a two-year stint with Oakland in which he produced an .818 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) — but .924 against lefties in 2016. Depth chart: Vogelbach, Valencia, *D.J. Peterson
Consider Robinson Cano comfortable in Seattle. After illness and injury plagued him for parts of two seasons, Cano was back in his usual glory last year: 39 homers, a .882 OPS, an All-Star nod, a top-10 spot in MVP voting. He’s 34 but still a force on offense and is perfectly suited to the middle of the Mariners’ 2017 order. Depth chart: Cano, Shawn O’Malley, Taylor Motter
Kyle Seager could be heading into his walk year in Seattle. Instead, the club aggressively and astutely signed him to a seven-year, $100 million extension before the 2015 season, then watched him further blossom into an elite player. Seager, 29, posted career highs in homers (30), on-base percentage (.359) and OPS (.859). The presence of Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado will always make an All-Star appearance difficult, but Seager finished 12th in MVP voting. He’s locked up through at least the 2021 season and will be a relative bargain in 2017 at $11 million. Depth chart: Seager, Valencia, O’Malley
In trading Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura (as part of a four-player deal), the Mariners are banking on two factors: Walker won’t blossom into the ace they once envisioned, and Segura’s 2016 bounce back was real and sustainable. The 2013 All-Star bottomed out in 2015 with a .281 on-base percentage, prompting a trade from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He banged out a National League-best 203 hits for the D’backs and posted a .867 OPS, 115 points higher than his previous career best. Seattle will settle for predictable production out of, likely, the No.2 spot in the lineup. Depth chart: Segura, O’Malley, Tyler Smith, *Drew Jackson
Mostly a fourth outfielder in Kansas City, Jarrod Dyson, 32, will get a chance to show he’s more than just an elite defender and basestealer. Injuries paved the way for Dyson to get a career-high 337 plate appearances in 2016, and he did not disappoint, putting up a .340 on-base percentage and stealing 30 bases in 37 attempts. He’ll likely get first crack to bat leadoff in Seattle, and if he’s up to the task, the offense will have a significant, speedy threat to set the table for the potent middle of the order. Depth chart: Dyson, Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel, Motter, *Tyler O’Neill
Leonys Martin was one of Dipoto’s first acquisitions, coming in a trade from the Texas Rangers in November 2015, and he was rolled out in center field for 143 games. He hit 15 home runs and stole 24bases but got only on base at a .306 clip, mirroring his .305 career mark. The acquisitions of Dyson and Segura will send him to the end of the lineup, where his speed and power will still play well without the on-base liability. Depth chart: Martin, Dyson, Heredia, Gamel
Herein lies the biggest mystery. Mitch Haniger, paired with Segura in the deal with Arizona, will get first crack at this job. At 25, he put up an outstanding season at Class AA and AAA — 25 homers and a .999 OPS — before hitting five homers in 109 at-bats for the Diamondbacks. But can he handle an everyday job? After the Mariners dealt Seth Smith to the Baltimore Orioles for starter Yovani Gallardo, they’re about to find out. “For us, Haniger became a critical element of the trade,” Dipoto said of the 6-2, 215-pounder at the winter meetings. “We like the player. We like the upside. We like the physicality.” The bigger development might be whether top prospect O’Neill, 21, breaks down the door from Class AAA Tacoma (Wash.) to Seattle after an MVP season in the Southern League. Depth chart: Haniger, Gamel, Heredia, Cruz, *O’Neill
Nelson Cruz’s four-year, $57 million deal is starting to look like a steal. The rare right-handed hitter whose power knifes right through Safeco Field, Cruz has put up three consecutive 40-homer seasons, including 44- and 43-homer efforts in two years with the Mariners. He turns 37 on July 1. Depth chart: Cruz, Valencia
Dipoto’s extensive rearranging of the furniture doesn’t change one fact: There are considerable questions surrounding the team’s Nos. 3-5 starters behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Drew Smyly, 27, offers the best hope for an upgrade. While Walker still has significant upside at 24, he showed an inability to get deep into games as a Mariner, averaging 5.8 and 5.3 innings pitched the past two seasons. Smyly has never started more than 30 games in a season, but he clocked a career-high 175 2/3 innings last season with the Tampa Bay Rays and should benefit from the Mariners’ ballpark, divisional opposition and defensive alignment. Gallardo had a career-worst 5.42 ERA in his one season in Baltimore, but the Mariners owe him just $11 million and can simply release him if he’s foundering at midseason. The key, again, could be James Paxton, the last holdover from a once-vaunted prospect trio that included Walker and injury-plagued Danny Hultzen. The lefty’s stuff has never been questioned, but staying healthy and executing pitches consistently have been trouble spots. He did strike out 117 in 121 innings while making a career-high 20 starts in 2016. Depth chart: RHP Hernandez, RHP Iwakuma, LHP Smyly, LHP Paxton, RHP Gallardo, LHP Ariel Miranda, RHP Chris Heston, RHP Rob Whalen, *RHP Andrew Moore, *RHP Max Povse
It’s typically the hardest unit for which one can expect consistency, but the Mariners will take their chances with this group. Edwin Diaz left behind his role as a starter and became one of the AL’s most dominant relievers, striking out 88 in 51 2/3 innings. He converted 18 of 21 save chances and should be an elite closer in 2017. Steve Cishektook well to a setup role after losing his closing gig, although hip surgery might threaten his availability at the start of the season. The greatest Xfactor figures to be Shae Simmons, the right-hander acquired in Dipoto’s final flurry of deals. Simmons had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2015 but struck out 172in 1201/3 career innings in the Altanta Braves system. Depth chart: RHP Diaz, RHP Cishek, RHP Nick Vincent, LHP Marc Rzepczynski, RHP Evan Scribner, RHP Dan Altavilla, RHP Casey Fien, Heston, *RHP Simmons, RHP Tony Zych
Seattle added punch at shortstop and a bit more veteran reliability to the rotation. But will it be enough? The Mariners need to exceed last year’s 86 wins and hope for significant regression from the Texas Rangers and negligible improvement from the retooled Houston Astros.
Top five prospects
Excerpted from BaseballHQ.com’s 2017 Minor League Baseball Analyst. To order: Baseballhq.com/mlba2017:
1. Kyle Lewis, OF: Lewis will start the season late after knee surgery in July. He has plus power and a rocket arm. The 21-year-old brings a patient approach to the plate and has the bat speed to hit for average. He runs fairly well and profiles as a right fielder who likely will begin in Class A.
2. Tyler O’Neill, OF: O’Neill, 21, is a strong, compact hitter who won MVP of the Class AA Southern League with 24 home runs. He has electric bat speed with power to all fields, and he gets on base. He tends to strike out frequently, but he has a strong arm.
3. Nick Neidert, RHP: Neidert, 20, breezed through low Class A in 2016 (2.57 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) with plus command and control. Though he needs more strength to enhance his velocity, he has a deep pitch mix. He uses his fastball/changeup combo deftly, and he has a deceptive curve.
4. Drew Jackson, SS: Jackson, 23, has well above-average speed and quickness and is steady defender with a cannon for arm. He focuses on gap power, with a short, contact-oriented stroke that uses the entire field. Though he doesn’t project as a power hitter, he has a keen eye at the plate. His glove and speed should be good enough for a long career.
5. Mitch Haniger, OF: Haniger re-established his prospect status in 2016 by reworking his swing that resulted in an uptick in average and power. The 26-year-old can still be exploited by average or better velocity, but he plays three outfield positions well. He has the chance to win at least a platoon job for the Mariners in 2017.