Commentary: M’s lack of interest in free agent pitchers is worrisome, frustrating

Pitchers and catchers report to Mariners Spring Training this week, and there will be some key players missing: Specifically, all the free agent starters still available that the M’s refuse to sign!

And while I hope their projected starting rotation works out, it’s not hard to understand why so many fans are skeptical that it will.

Let’s take a look: By my count, right now, the Mariners have one to two potential aces in this group – James Paxton and Felix Hernandez. They’re followed by Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez, Marco Gonzales, with Ariel Miranda and Andrew Moore waiting in the wings. Young, talented guys who have potential no-doubt.

But “potential” doesn’t fly here anymore. “Potential” wore out its welcome five, ten years ago. And whether general manager Jerry Dipoto wants to acknowledge that, he’s not getting a pass from most fans, when there’s a wealth of starting pitching talent still available on the free agent market.

Sure, Yu Darvish just signed a massive deal with the Cubs. But there are a number of pitchers still available, from Jake Arrieta to Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, still seeking deals with new teams. And frankly, the lack of interest from a Mariners team that says it’s planning on contending this season is downright maddening.

Again, here’s what Dipoto had to say about their decision to stick with who they’ve got:

“We are doing the best we can to develop our system, not to clog it,” Dipoto said. “Could we go out and sign a free agent that would be better than our current fifth starter? Absolutely. Would that be the best thing for the present of the Mariners? Maybe. Would that be the best thing for the wider lens – for the present and future – of the Mariners? Probably not.”

So, Dipoto is arguing that the only way their younger talent can develop and grow is by getting consistent starts at the big-league level. He could be right – but most fans aren’t giving him the benefit of the doubt, especially when there are proven starters on the market still available.

Plus, if your goal is to be a legit contender right now, then why wouldn’t you want the best possible starting rotation for your team? And given the Mariners’ penchant for bad luck when it comes to pitching injuries (see: last year), opportunities for younger guys will likely still become available for spot starts throughout the year anyway.

After all, look at the M’s projected starting lineup. I’m over-the-moon excited with how this looks. From the speed at the top of the lineup with Dee Gordon and Jean Segura… with solid power throughout… with Cano, Cruz, and Seager…. And the addition of Ryon Healy, a projected everyday first baseman who had 25 home runs last season… it’s clear the Mariners will score a ton of runs this season.

So why not bolster your starting staff while that window’s still open, rather than relying on a hope that serviceable guys consistently pitch out of their minds, and younger guys find a groove sooner rather than later?

And if Dipoto cites the “big picture,” I’ll show him an even bigger picture – a frame of reference that includes the last 16 playoff-less years!

There’s no doubt that Dipoto’s competed his tail off from the middle of last season through the Winter Hot Stove to get the best talent for his team, but has decided to sit back and relax when there’s needed talent still out there. And while he might be right, and I hope he’s right, it’s a dangerous game to play.

So get back into the free agent sweepstakes, Jerry, or the lack of proven depth in your starting rotation could be to blame for a postseason drought reaching 17 years.