Mariners spring training countdown: Will revamped OF save runs?

CaptionCloseMariners rookie outfielder Mitch Haniger will compete for Seattle's starting right fielder job after coming over in a blockbuster trade the night before Thanksgiving. To see the rest of the M's major offseason moves, check out the rest of the...

Mariners spring training countdown: Will revamped OF save runs?

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Mariners rookie outfielder Mitch Haniger will compete for Seattle's starting right fielder job after coming over in a blockbuster trade the night before Thanksgiving. To see the rest of the M's major offseason moves, check out the rest of the gallery.

Mariners rookie outfielder Mitch Haniger will compete for Seattle's starting right fielder job after coming over in a blockbuster trade the night before Thanksgiving. To see the rest of the M's major offseason

Nov. 3, 2016:
Five players from the Mariners' 2015 squad: first basemen Dae-Ho Lee (above) and Adam Lind, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, catcher Chris Ianetta and right-handed pitcher Drew Storen become free agents. Letting Lee and Lind walk means the team will be looking to give rookie Dan Vogelbach a long look at first base in the spring.

Nov. 3, 2016:
Five players from the Mariners' 2015 squad: first basemen Dae-Ho Lee (above) and Adam Lind, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, catcher Chris Ianetta and right-handed pitcher Drew Storen become free

Nov. 3-4, 2016:
Seattle was also involved in a couple of waiver deals in the first days of the offseason, the most notable of which involved outfielder Nori Aoki (above) being claimed by the division-rival Houston Astros on Nov. 3. Aoki played in 118 games with the Mariners in 2015, slashing .339/.390/.500 over 51 gams in the second half of the season. The Mariners claimed left-handed reliever Dean Kiekhefer from the Cardinals the next day. 

Nov. 3-4, 2016:
Seattle was also involved in a couple of waiver deals in the first days of the offseason, the most notable of which involved outfielder Nori Aoki (above) being claimed by the division-rival

Nov. 7, 2016:
Dipoto's first offseason trade came when he shipped reliever Vidal Nuno to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz (above). Ruiz, who will be 38 by the time spring training starts, was an All-Star with the Phillies in 2012 and should at least provide some veteran leadership while splitting duties with Mike Zunino in 2017.

Nov. 7, 2016:
Dipoto's first offseason trade came when he shipped reliever Vidal Nuno to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz (above). Ruiz, who will be 38 by the time spring

Nov. 12, 2016:
Dipoto's next deal came a few days later, when he acquired infielder Danny Valencia (above) from the Oakland A's in exchange for minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn. The 32-year-old Valencia spent most of his seven-year major-league career at third base, but he could be the right-handed portion of a platoon at first base along with the left-handed Vogelbach.

Nov. 12, 2016:
Dipoto's next deal came a few days later, when he acquired infielder Danny Valencia (above) from the Oakland A's in exchange for minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn. The 32-year-old Valencia spent

Nov. 18, 2016:
Less than a week later, Dipoto pulled off two deals, the first of which secured left-handed reliever James Pazos (above) from the New York Yankees in exchange for minor-league arm Zach Littell. The 25-year-old Pazos has limited major-league experience (just 8 1/3 innings over two stints with the Yankees), but he will be given a chance to earn a spot in Seattle's bullpen in the spring.

Nov. 18, 2016:
Less than a week later, Dipoto pulled off two deals, the first of which secured left-handed reliever James Pazos (above) from the New York Yankees in exchange for minor-league arm Zach Littell.

Nov. 18, 2016:
The second trade of the day for Dipoto was a five-player deal with Tampa Bay that netted third baseman Richie Shaffer and shortstop Taylor Motter (above) in exchange for minor leagers Andrew Kittredge, Dalton Kelly and Dylan Thompson. Shaffer was then claimed off waviers by Philadelphia. Motter doesn't figure to be a key part of the big league club in 2017, but he gives Seattle some infield depth and flexibility.

Nov. 18, 2016:
The second trade of the day for Dipoto was a five-player deal with Tampa Bay that netted third baseman Richie Shaffer and shortstop Taylor Motter (above) in exchange for minor leagers Andrew

Nov. 18, 2016:
On what turned out to be a very busy day, the Mariners also released outfielder Stefen Romero (above) so the former Oregon State star, who appeared in 94 games with Seattle since 2014, could pursue playing in Japan. The M's also added former top prospect D.J. Peterson and left-hander Paul Fry to the 40-man roster from Triple-A Tacoma, while left-hander David Rollins was claimed off waivers by the Chicago Cubs.

Nov. 18, 2016:
On what turned out to be a very busy day, the Mariners also released outfielder Stefen Romero (above) so the former Oregon State star, who appeared in 94 games with Seattle since 2014, could

Nov. 22, 2016:
After being designated for assignment 10 days earlier, right-handed reliever Tom Wilhelmsen (above), aka "The Bartender," was released. A former Mariners closer, Wilhelmsen was a fan favorite and played well in his midseason return to Seattle after being traded away in the deal that netted Leonys Martin a year ago.

Nov. 22, 2016:
After being designated for assignment 10 days earlier, right-handed reliever Tom Wilhelmsen (above), aka "The Bartender," was released. A former Mariners closer, Wilhelmsen was a fan favorite and

Nov. 23, 2016:
Dipoto's boldest deal came on Thanksgiving eve, when he sent former prized prospect Taijuan Walker and young shortstop Ketel Marte to Arizona for shortstop Jean Segura (above), outfielder Mitch Haniger and left-hander Zac Curtis. Segura led the National League in hits with 203 in 2016, when he also slugged a career-high 20 home runs, but giving up on Walker, who was once viewed as a potential ace-in-waiting, was a risky move. 

Nov. 23, 2016:
Dipoto's boldest deal came on Thanksgiving eve, when he sent former prized prospect Taijuan Walker and young shortstop Ketel Marte to Arizona for shortstop Jean Segura (above), outfielder Mitch

Nov. 28, 2016:
Dipoto continued to move away from his predecessor Jack Zduriencik (above, left) by trading away 2014 No. 6 overall pick Alex Jackson (above, right) to Atlanta in exchange for young right-handers Robert Whalen and Max Povse. Though only 20-years-old, Jackson didn't show much development in Single-A Clinton in 2016, striking out 103 times in 381 plate appearances.

Nov. 28, 2016:
Dipoto continued to move away from his predecessor Jack Zduriencik (above, left) by trading away 2014 No. 6 overall pick Alex Jackson (above, right) to Atlanta in exchange for young right-handers

Dec. 3, 2016:
The Mariners made their first major free-agent addition of the offseason with the signing of veteran left-hander Marc Rzepczynski (above), who signed a two-year, $11 million deal. In addition to making every Seattle-area sports writer nervous about spelling errors, Rzepczynski adds a veteran lefty arm to the M's pen, with youngsters like Kiekhefer, Curtis, Pazos and Fry battling for another spot.

Dec. 3, 2016:
The Mariners made their first major free-agent addition of the offseason with the signing of veteran left-hander Marc Rzepczynski (above), who signed a two-year, $11 million deal. In addition to

Dec. 7, 2016:
With the Mariners still looking for rotation help, Dipoto's last trade of 2016 netted right-handed starter Chris Heston (above) from San Francisco in exchange for a player to be named later. Heston, 28, is best known for his June 9, 2015 no-hitter versus the New York Mets. But after struggling through an oblique injury in 2016, he became a cheap option for Dipoto to add some depth to the rotation.

Dec. 7, 2016:
With the Mariners still looking for rotation help, Dipoto's last trade of 2016 netted right-handed starter Chris Heston (above) from San Francisco in exchange for a player to be named later.

Jan. 6, 2017:
After the calendar flipped to 2017, Dipoto made a couple of deals that changed the profile of the team. First he acquired right-hander Yovani Gallardo (above), a proven innings-eater, from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Seth Smith. Later in the day he replaced the offensive-minded Smith with Kansas City's Jarrod Dyson, a defense and speed guy, sending right-hander Nathan Karns to the Royals.

Jan. 6, 2017:
After the calendar flipped to 2017, Dipoto made a couple of deals that changed the profile of the team. First he acquired right-hander Yovani Gallardo (above), a proven innings-eater, from the

Jan. 11, 2017:
The Mariners added depth to their bullpen and rotation on another busy day. First they shipped former top pitching prospect Luiz Gohara to Atlanta along with 2016 draft pick Thomas Burrows in exchange for reliever Shae Simmons and outfielder Mallex Smith (above). Then they shipped Smith, infielder Carlos Vargas and pitching prospect Ryan Yarbrough to Tampa Bay for left-handed starter Drew Smyly.

Jan. 11, 2017:
The Mariners added depth to their bullpen and rotation on another busy day. First they shipped former top pitching prospect Luiz Gohara to Atlanta along with 2016 draft pick Thomas Burrows in

Jan. 27, 2017:
With the major offseason moves done, Dipoto continued to tweak with the fringes of the roster, claiming catcher Tuffy Gosewisch off waivers from Arizona, then trading minor league catcher Jason Goldstein to Oakland for left-hander Dillon Overton. To make room for Gosewisch and Overton on the 40-man roster, Seattle designated catcher Jesus Sucre and reliever Jonathan Aro for assignment. Sucre was then traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations on Feb. 8.

Jan. 27, 2017:
With the major offseason moves done, Dipoto continued to tweak with the fringes of the roster, claiming catcher Tuffy Gosewisch off waivers from Arizona, then trading minor league catcher Jason

Pitchers and catchers report to the Seattle Mariners' spring training home at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Arizona, on Feb. 14. Until then, we'll be previewing some of the biggest storylines facing the club in 2017.

Today's topic: Will the new-look outfield save runs?

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When Jerry Dipoto was hired as the general manager of the Seattle Mariners in September 2015, he knew he wanted to make his roster younger, more athletic and better defensively in order to take advantage of the 81 games played each year at spacious Safeco Field. You need look no further than the club's projected 2017 starting outfield to see the results of Dipoto's handiwork.

Leonys Martin, one of the best defensive center fielders in the league, will start for the second straight year after being acquired via trade from Texas in Dipoto's first couple of months at the helm. At left field, former Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson will give Seattle range and speed after coming over in a January trade. And a trio of  youngsters led by rookie Mitch Haniger will vie for the everyday job at right field.

Dipoto's adherence to his speed-defense-youth strategy was just as evident in the players he allowed to leave. Veteran Seth Smith, a potent bat versus right handers who was limited defensively, was shipped to Baltimore for starer Yovani Gallardo, while Nori Aoki and his often circuitous defensive routes were claimed off of waivers by the Houston Astros. Franklin Guitierrez, a fan favorite whose health problems diminished his defensive prowess, still languishes on the free agent market.

The additions of Dyson and Haniger, as well as starting pitchers Gallardo and Drew Smyly -- both of whom are prone to giving up fly balls -- helps Dipoto's defensive strategy come into focus. Seattle will rely on a fast, athletic outfield to chase down balls and take away runs rather than hope for day after day of first-rate performances from the rotation.

"We're pretty exited about the balance we have, very excited about what we think is an upgraded level of athleticism, very much so the tweaks that we made to the outfield," Dipoto said in the team's pre-spring training media luncheon last month. "We feel like we're still team that can score runs, and now a team that can better prevent runs, and we can be exciting on the bases and defensively."

Perhaps the best example of that upgraded athleticism is Haniger, a first-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012 out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who was acquired along with shortstop Jean Segura and left-handed pitcher Zac Curtis from Arizona in exchange for former top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte the night before Thanksgiving.

"I was just shocked at first," Haniger said of the trade that brought him to Seattle, "and then once I started thinking of everything I just got really excited and really felt fortunate. Yeah, it's going to be good."

A former football and baseball star at San Jose's Archbishop Mitty High School, the 26-year-old Haniger saw a major uptick in power last year after making some swing adjustments. (He said he mostly studied right handed hitters with power, who like the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Haniger "aren't ginormous in size.")

Haniger batted .321 with 25 home runs between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno before joining the Diamondbacks in August, which led Dipoto to call him the "best offensive player in the minor leagues" last year. He struggled offensively after being called up to Arizona, batting .229 with five home runs in 123 plate appearances. But according to Dipoto, he was one of the best defensive outfielders in the game according to data gathered by Statcast, Major League Baseball's tracking tool that uses high-definition cameras and radar equipment to analyze player performance.

If he's able to play top-flight defense, it will go a long way toward securing his long-term role with the club, whether or not he proves to be an above average major league bat. But if Haniger struggles, 24-year-old former Yankees farmhand Ben Gamel and 26-year-old Cuban defector Guillermo Heredia will be waiting in the wings.

Gamel was acquired from New York in exchange for two minor league pitchers on Aug. 31 after batting .308 in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, while Heredia showed flashes in 45 games with Seattle last year. Either could challenge Dyson for the left field job if he doesn't pan out or be a left handed platoon option in right field with the right handed Haniger. Either way, the trio of youngsters gives the Mariners a better chance of hitting on a long-term solution in the corners.

"We're not immune to the idea that Mitch could struggle, as could Ben, as could Guillermo," Dipoto said. "Three is a lot better chance than one. I'm no genius, but in Vegas, if I have my chance I'll bet on the three rather than the one."

Visit seattlepi.com for more Seattle Mariners news. Contact sports reporter Stephen Cohen at stephencohen@seattlepi.com or @scohenPI

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