Ever feel stress in your holiday shopping? That escalating sense of urgency as the timeline dwindles? Really now…who doesn’t?
That’s how most general managers view the Winter Meetings, which once served ostensibly as the baseball industry’s annual business gathering but long ago morphed into a relentless swap-and-shop roster hunt.
Those meetings open officially Monday and run through Thursday at the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.
This is crunch time. Clubs and players generally like to get things settled prior to the holidays. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, one of the game’s premier wheeler-dealers, is in his element.
“To me,” he said, “the Winter Meetings aren't a particularly stressful time. You get there, you have had months to work through your game plan. And if you did it right, that is where you finish deals, not where you create them.
“We've had exhaustive conversations with a lot of other clubs about potential trades. ... Anything is possible for us, and we have had numerous conversations with free agents around the league that we feel fit us.”
In other words, prepare for action ... rather, more action.
Dipoto’s track record in the 10 weeks since he took control of the Mariners already shows six trades, four free-agent signings and three waiver claims. In all, 30 players either joined or left the organization.
“We've done a lot of roster reshaping,” he said, “and we didn't go into the garden with a spade. We kind of went in with a backhoe.”
And there’s more to do.
The Mariners arrive at the Opryland with two high-priority needs and two it-would-be-nice possibilities.
They must retain free-agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma or find a replacement for their rotation, and they need a first baseman after trading away Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison.
They’d also like to add another arm or two to their bullpen, and they’ll sift through possible upgrades at utility infielder.
“The one thing that we have not done to this point,” Dipoto said, “is get very aggressive in the starting pitcher market. We would prefer to wait and see what happens with Kuma.
“Because frankly if we get him back, we're very satisfied with the way our rotation looks at that point. If we don’t (get him back), then we're going to have to dig in on what we consider to be the next tier.”
The market for Iwakuma — and all starting pitchers — should quickly crystallize in response to the recent bar-setting mega-deals for Zack Greinke (six years, $206.5 million) and David Price (seven years, $217 million).
The Mariners prefer to limit Iwakuma’s contract to two years, and are believed to have offered $24 million, but they might need to go higher, maybe much higher, to keep the 34-year-old right-hander.
Prior to the Greinke and Price deals, industry estimates suggested Iwakuma could get $40-45 million over three years on the open market — even though any club that signs him must also surrender a high draft pick.
The Dodgers and Giants, after losing out on Greinke, are expected to show interest in Iwakuma. Arizona signed Greinke and is looking for another impact starter. The Yankees and Royals are also believed to be interested.
“The market is going to drive it,” Dipoto said. “We’ve been in constant contact with Kuma, with his people, and we’re very hopeful that that happens for us. That is Plan A for us.”
The general belief within the industry is the Mariners, in the end, will find a higher salary for Iwakuma preferable to any alternative. Remember, too, that Iwakuma acknowledges a strong preference to stay.
The recent trade that sent Trumbo to the Orioles was an unabashed salary dump. It occurred just hours before the Mariners appeared ready to turn him into a free agent by not offering a contract.
Trumbo is poised to make about $9 million through arbitration, and the Mariners believe they can find a similar skill set on the market at a lower price.
The Mariners’ view on Trumbo echoed in Pittsburgh and Houston, which chose to non-tender Pedro Alvarez and Chris Carter, who are also power-hitting first basemen.
Alvarez and Carter are each likely to draw interest from the Mariners, but Dipoto isn’t committed to finding a power hitter to play first base and, either way, he figures to have lots of choices.
Other clubs and agents are flooding him with calls.
“We should be on people’s call list,” Dipoto said. “Clearly, it’s an area that we would like to improve and there are players, whether it be on the free-agent market or the trade route, that we do have our eye on.”
The bullpen already has new faces in veteran Joaquin Benoit, Justin De Fratus and Anthony Bass. They join a unit that, at this point, should also include Carson Smith, Charlie Furbush, Vidal Nuno and Tony Zych.
But Dipoto admits some recently non-tendered relievers are now “on our list of persons of interest” in an effort to add “some handed advantage and perhaps some late-inning impact.”
Regarding a utility infielder, the Mariners already have holdover Shawn O’Malley and recently-acquired Luis Sardinas. So while they might look at alternatives, it doesn’t appear to be a pressing need.
What seems certain, given Dipoto’s frenetic track record, is the coming week will be busy.
“I’m quite happy with what we’ve done in the ability to create roster depth and flexibility this early in the offseason,” he said. “But there will be further change. There’s a lot of time between now and opening day.”
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners