Dipoto’s first big offseason move came on November 5, when he sent reliever Danny Farquhar, shortstop Brad Miller and OF/1B Logan Morrison to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for minor leaguer Boog Powell and pitchers Nate Karns and C.J. Riefenhauser. Powell was arguably the biggest return for the Mariners, as the speedy center fielder was ranked as the club’s #8/#9 prospect by Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, respectively. Powell was an impressive player in the Rays system in 2015, hitting .295/.385/.392 between Double-A and Triple-A, accumulating an impressive 61:79 BB:K ratio in 522 trips to the plate. Powell also stole 18 bases on the season, but was caught 14 times for just a 56% success rate. Karns posted a serviceable 3.67 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) for Tampa Bay in 2015, striking out 145 batters in 147 innings. Karns could compete for a spot in the rotation in Spring Training, but will likely begin the season in Triple-A. Riefenhauser was later traded to the Orioles early in December.
Six days after his first trade, Dipoto made his first signing, bringing back utility outfielder Franklin Gutierrez on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. After missing the entire 2014 MLB season, Gutierrez impressed in a limited role with the club in 2015, clubbing 15 home runs and 11 doubles in 189 plate appearances, racking up an impressive .292/.354/.62o slash line. Gutierrez likely won’t replicate that level of performance in 2016, but should provide a solid bat off the bench as the fourth outfielder.
A day later, Dipoto made another trade, sending minor leaguers Enyel De Los Santos and Nelson Ward to San Diego in return for veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit. Benoit was one of San Diego’s top relievers over the past two seasons, posting an impressive 1.96 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 119.2 innings over 120 games in relief. While he is entering his age-38 season, Benoit looks to be a key part of Seattle’s bullpen in 2016.
Four days after the Benoit deal, Dipoto struck a deal with the Texas Rangers for reliever Anthony Bass and center fielder Leonys Martin, sending longtime Mariner reliever and fan favorite Tom Wilhelmsen, along with outfielder James Jones, back to Arlington. On December 2, minor leaguer Patrick Kivlehan was also sent to Texas as a player to be named later. Martin slots in as the Mariner’s starting center fielder for 2016 after a down 2015 season. Martin hit just .219/.264/.313 in 310 plate appearances for the Rangers this past season, but his speed (81 steals from 2013-2015) and excellent defense (43 DRS in that same time span) make him an interesting bottom-half hitter for the Mariners. Bass posted a 4.50 ERA and 3.73 FIP in 64.0 innings with Texas in 2015, but was released by the Mariners on January 7.
On November 23, Dipoto made his first major free-agent signing, bringing in former Rockies and Angels backstop Chris Iannetta on a one-year, $4.25 million deal. Iannetta was mediocre at best in 2015, slashing .188/.293/.335 in 317 plate appearances with the Angels. Iannetta’s career .231/.351/.405 slash line gives him some hope as a rebound candidate, and the Mariners will be relying on him to perform the bulk of the catching duties in 2016.
Dipoto’s trading days weren’t over yet, however, as on December 2 he sent slugger Mark Trumbo to the Baltimore Orioles in return for C/1B Steve Clevenger. Clevenger performed well for the Orioles in limited time this past season, batting .287/.314/.426 in 105 plate appearances. This deal not only netted the Mariners a backup catcher not named Mike Zunino, but saved them a fair sum of money, as Trumbo will earn over $9 million in 2016 while Clevenger will likely make the league minimum.
Just one day later, the Mariners signed Japanese outfielder Nori Aoki to a one-year deal worth $5.5 million, with a $6 million mutual option for 2017. Aoki has been a consistent on-base threat in his four-year MLB career, posting a .287/.353/.386 career line in just over 2,200 career plate appearances. His 2015 numbers with the Giants were nearly identical to his career statistics, batting .287/.353/.380 in an injury-stunted campaign which saw him make just 392 plate appearances, the lowest mark of his career. If Aoki can remain healthy for the entirety of 2016, he should provide some good leadoff hitting for the Mariners.
Less than a week later, Dipoto made a trio of moves on December 7, 8 and 9. First, he swapped pitchers Carson Smith and Roenis Elias to Boston for pitchers Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro. Miley was relatively lackluster with the Red Sox in 2015, managing a 4.46 ERA and 3.81 FIP in 193.2 innings of work over 32 starts. Miley’s biggest asset is his durability, pitching over 190.0 innings every year since his rookie season in 2012 with Arizona. Aro is an interesting potential bullpen piece, as he posted a decent 3.14 ERA in 51.2 Triple-A innings with the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2015, but 53:10 K:BB ratio was impressive enough for the Mariners to take him on in a trade. The 25-year-old righty should begin 2016 in Triple-A.
One day later, Dipoto dealt minor-league pitcher Trey Cochran-Gill to Oakland for reliever Evan Scribner. Scribner posted an incredible 64:4 K:BB ratio over 60.0 innings in 2015, but was quite susceptible to giving up the long ball, allowing 14 home runs en route to a mediocre 4.35 ERA. If Scribner can figure out how to keep the ball in the park in 2016, he could be an impact arm out of the Seattle bullpen.
The next day, the Mariners sent a trio of teenaged minor-league pitchers to Milwaukee for first baseman Adam Lind. Lind had an impressive 2015 with Milwaukee after spending his first 9 seasons with Toronto, hitting 20 home runs and 32 doubles as well as batting .277/.360/.460 in 572 plate appearances. Lind will bring more veteran leadership to the club as well as provide good power in the middle of the order behind Cano and Cruz.
On December 14, Dipoto again added to his bullpen, signing 29-year-old reliever Steve Cishek to a two-year, $10 million deal. Cishek was one of the game’s top relievers from 2011-2014, posting a 2.70 ERA and 2.59 FIP in over 250.0 innings, striking out 281 batters against 91 walks and accumulating 91 saves for the Marlins. The 2015 season was decidedly tougher for the six-foot-six sidewinder from Falmouth, Massachusetts, as he struggled closing out games for Miami, earning just three saves in seven opportunities before being replaced in the role by A.J. Ramos.
Cishek was traded to the Cardinals mid-season and turned his performance around markedly, posting a 2.31 ERA in 27 games with St. Louis. Cishek’s calling card used to be his excellent velocity from the “submarine” arm slot, regularly reaching the mid-90s with his fastball and mixing in a filthy frisbee slider. Unfortunately, his velocity has dipped to the high-80s and low-90s recently, and his slider was below league average in 2015 according to FanGraph’s pitch values. If Cishek can regain some of his stuff in 2016, he could be a productive closer for the Mariners over the next couple seasons.
The last major move of the Mariners offseason came December 17, when the club re-signed Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma to a one-year, $12 million deal with team/vesting options for 2017 and 2018. It was reported earlier in the offseason that Iwakuma would be signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but an issue with his physical exam caused the club to back out of the offer. The re-addition of Iwakuma makes the Mariner’s rotation much more solid than it would have been without him. Over four MLB seasons, all with Seattle, Iwakuma owns a lifetime 3.17 ERA in over 650.0 innings pitched and 111 appearances (97 starts). He is consistently among the tops in the league in walk rate, owning a career 1.75 BB/9, which is actually inflated by an inconsistent rookie season in which he walked 3.1 batters per nine in 125.1 innings of work. Iwakuma compliments his excellent control with good strikeout numbers, averaging 7.59 K/9 in his career, posting marks 7.6, 7.7, and 7.7 from 2013-2015. He may be entering his age 35 season, but his contract structure gives the club some insurance against performance decline or injury with the two years of team/vesting options.
The Mariners also added a slew of minor league players in the offseason, the most interesting of which are Korean first baseman Dae-ho Lee and former Oakland reliever Ryan Cook. The 286-pound, six-foot-four Lee has crushed 323 career home runs over 15 seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization and Nippon Professional Baseball, slashing .303/.387/.514 and posting a 1.40 K/BB rate. While his age (2016 will be his age-34 season) and physical conditioning are question marks, Lee will compete for a backup role on the team in Spring Training.
Cook was one of Oakland’s top bullpen arms from 2012-2014, racking up a 2.77 ERA and 2.98 FIP in 195.0 innings while striking out 200 batters against 77 walks. However, Cook struggled mightily in 2015, pitching just 8.2 innings between Oakland and Boston to the tune of a 18.69 ERA and 6:7 K/BB ratio. If Cook can regain whatever he had going before 2015, he could have a shot at making the MLB bullpen in 2016; if not, he could be cut before year’s end.
Other Seattle acquisitions who will be at big-league Spring Training are catcher Steven Lerud, first baseman Gaby Sanchez, infielders Ed Lucas, Luis Sardinas, Benji Gonzalez, outfielders Dan Robertson and Mike Baxter, and pitchers Joe Wieland, Brad Mills, Donn Roach, Cody Martin, Casey Coleman, Blake Parker, and Ryne Harper.