SHOULD MARINERS LOOK TO STRENGTHEN THEIR ROTATION BEFORE TRADE DEADLINE? WELL...

 Bob Dutton

Bob Dutton

   SEATTLE — It might be time to acknowledge that general manager Jerry Dipoto got it right last winter in dismissing those who insisted (hand raised) the Mariners needed to bolster their suspect rotation in order to make a serious postseason push.

   (I was among those who thought the Mariners should look at free-agent Yu Darvish. What a disaster that would have been.)

   There are still roughly 100 games left in the regular season. So things could change but, to date, the Mariners’ rotation is more than holding its own. Entering Wednesday, the unit’s 3.95 ERA ranked sixth among American League's 15 clubs.

   Dipoto’s often-mocked view was the Mariners addressed their rotation last season over the closing weeks through trades that netted Mike Leake, Marco Gonzales and Erasmo Ramirez.

   “With the exception of last year’s playoff teams,” Dipoto said prior to the season, “I don’t think there’s another team in the American League that can definitely say their rotation is better than ours.”

   This is worth noting because with the MLB Draft now in the rear-view mirror, attention shifts to the non-waiver trade deadline. July 31 is still weeks away, but  clubs are already separating into haves and have-nots.

   Plus, the Mariners, no surprise, already made the summer’s first big move in acquiring reliever Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span from Tampa Bay in a May 25 trade for minor-league pitchers Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero.

   So what comes next?

   Speculation already centers on beefing up with the rotation with reports citing two left-handed starters, Toronto’s J.A. Happ and Detroit’s Francisco Liriano, as possible trade targets.

   Either move (or something similar) could happen, I suppose, because the belief that a club never has enough pitching might be baseball’s first commandment. But if Dipoto liked his rotation last winter, why would he feel differently now?

   ***James Paxton continues to pitch like an emerging ace. (Can he finally stay healthy for an entire season? That’s still to be determined.)

   ***Felix Hernandez, as expected, only occasionally flashes his King persona, but he and Leake are each averaging about six innings per start and, generally, keeping games competitive. These days, that rates as a plus.

   ***Gonzales is in his second full season back from Tommy John surgery and showing the form that prompted the St. Louis Cardinals to select him in the first round of the 2013 draft.

   ***And much-traveled veteran Wade LeBlanc has been a smooth fit in replacing an injured Ramirez for the rotation’s final slot.

   The Mariners also appear reasonably well-stocked in spot-starter options with Roenis Elias, Ariel Miranda, Christian Bergman and Casey Lawrence. Elias currently serves as the swingman, while the other three are at Triple-A Tacoma.

   Conclusion: The Mariners’ approach in adding to their rotation is likely to be the same now as it was last winter — be on the lookout for possible help (which resulted in reacquiring LeBlanc and Elias) but concentrate on areas of greater need.

   My guess is Dipoto’s focus will be to find a situational lefty reliever to fill the role that just-released veteran Marc Rzepczynski failed to do.

   Sifting through those candidates is a topic that merits an in-depth look in a future post, but multiple sources around the league previously identified two high-profile possibilities: Baltimore’s Zach Britton and San Diego’s Brad Hand.

   Britton would be a rental since he will be a free agent after the season. Hand is under contract through 2020 with a club option for 2021.