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Jerry Dipoto open to trading for a controllable starter as soon as this year. Who are the candidates?

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Screw the trade, Bartolo is available

On Monday, in an interview with Brad Lidge on MLB Network Radio, Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto indicated he’s open to trading for a controllable starter as soon as this year.

Dipoto and trades... 2020 truly is behind us. The universe is at peace.

Truth be told, Dipoto has had a lot of success when going out and acquiring “controllable” starting pitchers over the years. Marco Gonzales has obviously been a masterpiece deal. Smaller deals like the acquisition of Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc certainly paid dividends as well.

That said, they haven’t all been wins. Nate Karns was a miss. Drew Smyly and his health was an unlucky outcome, but a miss nonetheless.

Most would probably agree, all things considered, Dipoto has had a good amount of success acquiring controllable starting pitchers.

So that brings us to Monday and Dipoto’s comments suggesting he’s open to going out and grabbing a controllable arm.

“At the right time, you have to go out and accent that club,” Dipoto said. “.... it’s something we’d like to do.... if the opportunity presents itself, and we’re close enough, and we see the chance to go out and acquire, via a trade, a pitcher... we’d jump at that.”

Dipoto wasn’t firm on the type of arm he’d like to acquire, leaving the door open for a bevy of different outcomes. He stressed the team has payroll flexibility headed into 2022, but also noted they’d be open to bringing in another clubhouse leader on a shorter deal too.

“We’d like for that pitcher to be here for a little while,” Dipoto said. “... even someone that could come in for a year-and-a-half or two years and really stabilize that group as they learn to apply their trade as young players in this league... hugely valuable...”

Certainly casts a wide net.

So what types of arms make sense for the Mariners in this crescendo? At first glance, you wonder why Taijuan Walker wasn’t brought back in. After all, he’s well-liked by the coaching staff and front office, as well as beloved by the fans. One can only imagine the ownership group didn’t give Dipoto the budget to acquire both of James Paxton and Walker. But if the team wins deep into this summer, it sounds as though the pursestrings get a little looser.

So who fits the bill and profile? Well, you probably have to target teams that are willing to sell at the deadline, as well as a veteran presence that provides some type of upgrade. Let’s avoid the Luis Castillo and German Marquez types here. That narrative has been beaten to a pulp. There’s not doubting they’d be upgrades, but you already knew that.

The Rangers are a team in flux. They’re stuck somewhere between competing and ripping it down to the studs. Really, it’s a very bad place to be. My hunch is Texas really struggles out of the gates in 2021 and decides to tear it apart. In that circumstance, Kyle Gibson makes a lot of sense for the Mariners.

Gibson being a righty is important. Seattle is lefty-heavy right now and adding some balance to the rotation has its benefits. Gibson is owed $18 million over 2021 and 2022, but he’s revered for his leadership, intellect and temperament in the clubhouse. 2020 wasn’t a good season for the Greenfield, Indiana native, but he’s been steady over his career holding a 96 ERA+ since the second year in the bigs. In 2019, Gibson was at his best, posting a 118 ERA+ and a career-best K/9. At 33 years old, if Gibson works his way back into form during the 2021 season, he’d likely cost almost nothing in terms of prospect-capital.

Down in the desert, Dipoto and Diamondbacks General Manager Mike Hazen are certainly no strangers to swingin’ deals. Arizona is in a peculiar place right now with their division being supercharged and the team seemingly taking a step back in 2020. If they get off to a bumpy start in 2021, the doors could be open for business.

Madison Bumgarner is owed a ton of money, and Seattle inheriting that kind of contract seems like dipping your toes into tainted water. That said, he’s a proven winner and a leader and that can’t be understated. But the more realistic target is a guy like Merrill Kelly. At 32 years old, Kelly has been a bit of a revelation for the Diamondbacks in his short stint with the team. He debuted at 30 years old after wrapping up a strong four-year run in the Korea Baseball Organization. In 37 starts over 214.2 innings, Kelly owns a 109 ERA+ including a 179 ERA+ in the truncated 2020 campaign. Kelly is controlled through 2022 and is owed just $9.5 million over those two years.

Finally, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Reds decided to offload some assets in 2021 if it’s determined they’re out of the NL Central earlier than expected. General Manager Nick Krall has made some strange moves over the last few years, so don’t rule anything out here.

Of course there’s Sonny Gray and the aforementioned Castillo, but Seattle could target a guy like Tyler Mahle who’s been a sneaky good arm the last few years. He’d also be a bit more affordable in terms of assets surrendered.

Mahle is controlled through 2023 and might be just figuring himself out as a starting pitcher at the big league level. 2020 was a bit of a breakthrough for Mahle, posting a 133 ERA+ and thoroughly impressive 1.154 WHIP. His fastball saw a dramatic increase in vertical ride and spin rate in 2020, and the results followed.

Don’t sleep on Michael Lorenzen in 2021 either, though he’ll have to prove he can be a starter at the big league level before the Mariners should buy in. He hasn’t really been a starter since 2015 when he broke into the leagues, but he does own a 109 ERA+ for his career. He figures to re-enter the rotation in 2021. He’s only controlled through this season, but is a fantastic extension candidate thanks to his work ethic, reputation and leadership inside the league.

Before any of this can come to fruition, the Mariners will need to perform on the field. They’ll need to give Dipoto and the ownership group a reason to spend and expedite this competitive window.

There are good arms to have on the market, and Seattle certainly has the resources both in payroll and in prospects to go get who the deem fit. Time will tell who enters the fold and how soon that happens, but the Mariners are close. It’s a matter of time.