With labor peace in baseball extended last week by another five years, the industry’s focus now turns to its annual Winter Meetings, which open Monday at a sprawling resort along the Potomac River just south of Washington, D.C.
It could be a busy four days.
Several clubs — though not the Mariners, certainly — put their off-season personnel moves on hold until they could gauge the ramifications of the new labor deal, reached late Wednesday just hours before the previous pact expired.
"It could be like a dam breaking (this) week at the Meetings," said an assistant general manager from an American League club. "Teams wanted to know what was going to change (in the labor agreement) — especially the big-money teams."
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The Mariners exhibited no such caution. They pulled off six trades from Nov. 6-28 involving 17 players and finalized a two-year deal late Friday with free-agent lefty reliever Mark Rzepczynski for $11 million.
Even so, general manager Jerry Dipoto and his lieutenants arrive at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center with one major item remaining on their off-season checklist.
"We’re still in the market for a more veteran-type starting pitching," Dipoto said. "Major League-established starting pitching — to add to what we have."
The Mariners want a veteran starter capable of stepping into the middle of their rotation, but acquiring one figures to be a challenge because of a quickly thinning free-agent market.
Further, that tight market makes it tougher to obtain a reliable arm through a trade. There are some big names available — including Chris Sale, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke — albeit at an exorbitant price.
The Mariners aren’t likely to get involved in the bidding for an established ace — in part because, despite efforts to restock their farm system, they still lack the wealth of upper-level, high-end prospects required to make such a trade.
As for free agents, the general consensus is the top remaining candidates are Rich Hill, Jason Hammel and Ivan Nova. All three are attracting heavy interest which, again, seems certain to push the price beyond what the Mariners are willing to pay.
That might be a good thing.
"I know we say this every year," a National League club executive said, "but the risk/reward on some of these guys is pretty steep. It’s one thing to pay a lot of money for a good risk. It’s something else to pay a lot and cross your fingers."
Hill, 35, was released (by Washington) as recently as June 2015, but he was 12-5 last season with a 2.12 ERA while making 20 starts for Oakland and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was limited to 20 starts by a troublesome finger blister.
Even so, a projection by www.MLBTradeRumors.com shows Hill can expect a three-year deal for $50 million.
The Chicago Cubs chose to walk away from a $12 million option on Hammel, 34, by exercising a $2 million buyout after he went 15-10 with a 3.83 ERA. Now, industry forecasts project he might get $42 million over three years.
Nova, 29, steadied after an Aug. 1 trade sent him from the New York Yankees to Pittsburgh. He finished 12-8 with a 4.17 ERA and could be in line for a $52 million deal over four years.
Several second-tier arms are already off the board: Bartolo Colon (one year, $12.5 million) and R.A. Dickey (1-$8m) to Atlanta; Edison Volquez (2-$22m) to Miami, Charlie Morton (2-$14m) to Houston and Andrew Cashner (1-$10m) to Texas.
So who is available?
At least four pitchers appear to match the Mariners’ preferred profile for a veteran starter with middle-of-the-rotation potential. Also worth noting: All four fit Dipoto’s established affinity for lower-cost rebound candidates.
The Mariners have already been linked to right-hander Doug Fister, who wore down last season following a solid first half at Houston after battling injuries over the two previous years.
***Left-hander Derek Holland missed time the last three years at Texas because of various injuries. Even so, he’s only 30, and he was 38-21 with a 3.98 ERA in 94 games over three seasons from 2011-13.
***Left-hander C.J. Wilson missed the last year and a half while recovering from elbow and shoulder surgeries. He’s also 36, which is a concern, but Dipoto was the Angels’ general manager when they signed Wilson after the 2011 season.
***Right-hander Colby Lewis missed 10 weeks because of a strained back muscle. He’s expected to return to the Rangers but, at 37, he remains the sort of no-frills workhorse who would boost any rotation.
"I know this," one rival American League general manager said, "Jerry is going to get somebody. He’s like a bulldog once he identifies a need. I’m sure he’s got a list. If he can’t get the first guy, he’ll move onto the next one, then the next one.
"But he’ll get somebody."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners