As the Hot Stove rumor mill begins accelerating in the coming days — the Winter Meetings are less than two weeks away — here’s something for Mariners fans to keep in mind.
First baseman Dan Vogelbach and outfielder Ben Gamel, a pair of rookies acquired in trades after the All-Star break, are each ticketed for an extended look in 2017. Not just in spring training but into the season.
"Plan A," general manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed Tuesday, "is to provide Gamel and Vogey with an avenue toward getting at-bats."
That means, for example, free-agent first baseman/designated hitter Mike Napoli "doesn’t fit," in the words of one club official, despite persistent chatter suggesting interest from the Mariners, who did pursue him a year ago before he signed a one-year deal with Cleveland.
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The Mariners instead underscored their commitment to Vogelbach and Gamel by making two recent trades designed to provide a safety net in acquiring Danny Valencia from Oakland, and Taylor Motter and Richie Shaffer from Tampa Bay.
"We don’t intend to run a test tube at the major-league level," Dipoto said, "but we do intend to provide opportunity…for those young players to break through. If we have to adjust as the season goes along, we’ll be open to adjusting."
Dipoto reiterated the current plan calls Vogelbach and Valencia to form a left/right platoon at first base. Valencia also projects as part of a four-man approach to the two corner outfield positions with Gamel, Seth Smith and Guillermo Heredia.
Club officials are hoping Gamel, the player of the year in the Triple-A International League, can can handle full-time duty in one corner, probably left field, and also fill the lineup’s need for a leadoff hitter.
Gamel, a left-handed hitter, batted .314 last season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against left-handed pitchers with a .358 on-base percentage and a .444 slugging percentage. He had a .306/.368/.409 slash against right-handers.
Motter and Shaffer are each right-handed hitters who provide insurance. Motter is a true utilityman who has extensive experience in the outfield, while Shaffer could serve as an option at first base if Valencia needs to log more outfield time.
If Motter and/or Shaffer aren’t needed, they’ll head to Triple-A Tacoma. Both have two options remaining, which played a major factor in the trade that sent three minor-league players to the Rays.
Dipoto acknowledges the Mariners will "continue to explore the potential to add to our (outfield) mix," but the commitment to Gamel suggests any addition is likely to be a complementary player instead of a marquee name.
So those whispers regarding an eye-popping trade for Andrew McCutchen or Ryan Braun? Unlikely. The same goes for a splashy free-agent signing such as Yoenis Cespedes or Dexter Fowler.
Dipoto continues to maintain the "core of our team" is unlikely to change.
Leonys Martin remains a fixture in center field and, unlike much of this season, the Mariners now possess backups with proven defensive skills in Heredia and Gamel.
Smith will play a corner spot against right-handed pitchers, which creates the need right-handed-hitting partner. For now, that’s a combination of Valencia, Heredia and possibly designated hitter Nelson Cruz.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners