NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Don’t look for a big-ticket splash from the Mariners as the Winter Meetings unfold this week amid the holiday trappings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
For while Jerry Dipoto promised an active off-season when he became general manager on Sept. 28 — and, boy, has he delivered on that — he also outlined a plan geared toward working the margins in reshaping the roster.
Nothing has changed.
"We are not likely to be about marquee names and big signings," Dipoto emphasized again in preparing for the Winter Meetings, which officially begin Monday and run through Thursday.
"This is going to be about complimentary pieces…We’ve done our big-game hunting in the past with Nelson (Cruz), with Robby Cano, and then extending and signing Felix (Hernandez) and Kyle Seager.
"They are the core of our club, they’re signed long-term, and they are celebrated elite all-star level players. That is the group we are building around."
So don’t expect the Mariners to pursue, say, Johnny Cueto if they fail to retain free-agent starter Hisashi Iwakuma, or get into the bidding for Chris Davis to fill their gap at first base.
Check Dipoto’s record to date.
Yes, the Mariners have been busy. Their 40-man roster has 15 new faces in the 10 weeks since Dipoto took command of the club, but none can be characterized as high-profile acquisitions.
Nine of the 15 are not yet eligible for arbitration. None of the remaining six have guaranteed deals for more than one year, and their combined guaranteed salaries only total about $23 million.
"What we’ve been trying to do," Dipoto said, "and I think we’re doing it effectively, is raise the floor around (the core group) so that we have the ability to go out and stretch that lineup and make it deeper."
One benefit to the Mariners’ relative bargain-hunting to date is they should be positioned to make a serious run at retaining Iwakuma, who is drawing heightened interest in the free-agent market —particularly from the Dodgers.
Dipoto continues to cite the effort to keep Iwakuma as the club’s top priority. But if that effort fails, Dipoto said the Mariners will look to the "next tier" in seeking an alternative.
"The market is going to drive it," he said. "We've been in constant contact with Kuma, with his people, and we’re very hopeful that that happens for us."
Sources say Iwakuma is expected to reach a decision within a few days.
As for finding a first baseman, the Mariners seem likely to shift back to seeking a complimentary player for their lineup. The same holds true in ongoing efforts to bolster their bullpen.
"There are players," Dipoto said, "whether it be on the free-agent market or the trade route, that we do have our eye on. I don’t know if we’ll get any of them, but we certainly know the targets that we prefer at this point."
Just don’t look for those players on a marquee.