With general manager Jerry Dipoto at the helm, it’s hard to envision the Mariners as a background player when the Winter Meetings open Monday for a four-day run near the nation’s capital.
Dipoto might be the game’s ultimate wheeler-dealer. Already this off-season, the Mariners have made six trades involving 17 players, signed a free-agent reliever and deleted 16 other players off their 40-man roster through various moves.
And, yes, Dipoto and his lieutenants are still hoping to add a veteran starting pitcher capable of slotting into the middle of their rotation. They might also make a few acquisitions to address their organizational depth.
So, no, they won’t be quiet this week as all parts of the baseball industry gather along the Potomac River at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center — but it is the other clubs in the American League West Division bear watching.
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Texas and Houston are, like the Mariners, trying to load up for another postseason push, while Los Angeles and Oakland appear pointed for another year in their rebuilding cycles.
Here are the top priorities for Mariners’ division rivals:
***Texas (95-67 last season): The two-time division champs have serious needs after some major free-agent departures, including a center fielder, a designated hitter, a first baseman and some rotation help.
The Rangers, at this point, appear more interested in trades than the free-agent market — and they’re aiming high. They’ve been linked in discussions with the Chicago White Sox for Chris Sale, and Tampa Bay for Chris Archer.
A reunion with free-agent first baseman Mike Napoli is possible. Texas also appears interested in free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler and could pursue a trade for Cincinnati outfielder Billy Hamilton.
***Houston (84-78): The Astros pursued free-agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (who stayed with the Mets) before settling for Carlos Beltran. That followed previous veteran additions in catcher Brian McCann and outfielder Josh Reddick.
The Astros also have the prospects necessary to make a serious run at acquiring an ace, such as Sale or Detroit’s Justin Verlander, through a trade.
***Los Angeles (74-88): The Angels need a lot and just announced Albert Pujols might not be ready for the start of the season after undergoing foot surgery. Word among agents is the Angels are shopping for bargains.
If so, they need a bushel, including a second baseman, another outfielder and at least one more starting pitcher.
***Oakland (69-93): What a mess. The Athletics need just about everything, have no money and are being phased out in the sport’s revenue-sharing process over the next four years.
They’re willing to trade right-hander Sonny Gray, but his value is at rock bottom after a career-worst season in which he battled forearm issues. Look for the Athletics to do some serious shopping in the non-tendered, free-agent aisle.
These meetings are taking place less than a week after owners and players reached tentative agreement on a new five-year labor agreement. (Formal agreement is pending but is considered a formality.)
Several clubs, unlike the Mariners, hesitated in recent weeks to make personnel moves until they could gauge the financial impact of any changes in the new pact. Now, the flood gates appear ready to open.
Some things to watch:
***The market for starting pitchers: It’s such a thin market that lefty Rich Hill, who made just 20 starts last season because of a blister problem, is generally viewed as the top free-agent arm.
Hill appears close to a deal to remain with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but simple supply-and-demand figures to create high prices for suspect talent. It certainly complicates the Mariners’ search for a mid-rotation starter.
One consequence is some top big-money contenders might pony up the exorbitant price than could land an ace through a trade. Those available include Sale, Verlander, Archer and Arizona’s Zack Greinke.
***Spending by the high-revenue clubs: Keep an eye on the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, who have the sport’s two highest payrolls. Spending at the highest end always sets the bar for everyone else.
But the Yankees appear willing to limit spending this winter in anticipation of a mega-push next year when players such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hit the market.
The Dodgers are another matter. Reports surfaced recently that the open-wallet approach initiated over the last few years by a new ownership group has them in violation of the baseball’s debt-service guidelines.
Club officials deny any such problem, but their payroll approach this off-season is certain to be scrutinized.
***Impact of the Cespedes contract: The New York Mets are shelling out $110 million over the next four years to retain outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The average annual value of $27.5 million matches an industry record for a non-pitcher.
More important, it sets the bar this off-season for every other free agent. Edwin Encarnacion’s value, for example, spiked after terms of Cespedes’ deal became public.
***The Detroit Tigers: For the last decade-plus, the Tigers made a concerted push to win a World Series for owner Mike Illitch, who is now 87. They reached postseason five times in 11 years and twice made it to the World Series.
But they failed to win a title even as those efforts boosted their payroll to roughly $200 million. And now, the Tigers are looking to sell off their aging core — but not cheaply. They want young talent in return and lots of it.
Available stars include first baseman Miguel Cabrera (owed $220 million over the next seven years), Verlander (at least $74 million over next three years) and designated hitter Victor Martinez ($36 million, two years).
Also being shopped: second baseman Ian Kinsler (at least $16 million for one year) and outfielder J.D. Martinez ($11.75 million, one year).
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners