The Mariners finally are close to the team their GM envisioned

It took nine trades in two months. But the Mariners finally are close to what general manager Jerry Dipoto envisioned when he took over in Sept. 2015.

Dipoto, after inheriting a group of plodding sluggers, has built a team that will continue to show power, but also features speed, defense and contact ability.

“You can’t just snap your fingers and do it. It took a little while,” Dipoto said Sunday. “But I feel like we’re a better team now.

“One of the things (manager) Scott Servais and I have talked about a lot over the last year or so is the idea that we want to play a fast game. Granted, last year (Safeco Field) was favorable to the home-run ball, but we play in a ballpark that really lends itself to running it and catching it in the outfield and creating activity on the bases — a lot like Pat Gillick’s (Mariners) teams did in the early 2000s.

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“People look back on those teams and don’t realize how good they were. And they weren’t really built on power.”

The 2017 M’s still will boast three prominent sluggers — second baseman Robinson Cano, designated hitter Nelson Cruz and third baseman Kyle Seager. But they also will include Jean Segura leading off and playing shortstop, plus five outfielders whom Dipoto believes could handle center — likely starters Leonys Martin, Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger, plus Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel.

Dipoto’s two trades on Friday — right-hander Nathan Karns to the Royals for Dyson, outfielder Seth Smith to the Orioles for righty Yovani Gallardo — did not elicit hosannas throughout the industry. Look closer, however, and the deals reflected not just the GM’s vision, but also the state of the market.

Gallardo, who had a 5.42 ERA in 118 innings last season and missed nearly two months with shoulder tendinitis, is trending in the wrong direction. Still, he performed well for the Rangers in 2015, and the M’s figure that he will fare better at Safeco than he did at Camden Yards.

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Besides, what were the alternatives?

The remaining free agents— Doug Fister, Colby Lewis, Jorge De La Rosa, et al — are not all that different than Gallardo. Ditto for salary-dump candidates such as the Dodgers’ Brandon McCarthy and Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez.

The Mariners’ original plan was to clear Smith’s $7 million by trading him for a middling prospect, then redirect his money to say, free-agent righty Jason Hammel. But with left-handed hitters such as Michael Saunders and Brandon Moss still available in free agency, a Smith deal became problematic. Why would a club take on Smith’s $7 million when a Saunders or Moss is available for considerably less, and at no cost in talent?

The Mariners could have kept Smith, whose career OPS is .792, but they did not want his below-average defense in their outfield, and they already had Cruz at DH. They got younger with Haniger, 26, in right, in addition to Dan Vogelbach, 24, at first base. They also maintained a reasonable amount of payroll flexibility – they still would like to add another reliever on top of their three newcomers (lefties Marc Rzepczynski and James Pazos, and righty Casey Fien), and maybe an inexpensive fifth starter, too.

At first glance, the Gallardo trade looks like a rout for the Orioles, who got the better player (Smith) for less money ($7 million, as opposed to Gallardo’s $11 million). The Orioles, however, sent the Mariners $2 million, according to major-league sources. In addition, Gallardo’s 2017 salary includes $1 million deferred without interest until 2020, sources said.

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The net add to the Mariners in ’17: $1 million.

The relatively small increase enabled the Mariners to acquire Dyson, who in his final year of arbitration figures to earn about $2 million more than Karns. The M’s expect to use a revolving door in the fifth starter’s spot; Karns would have been but one of many candidates. The others include left-hander Ariel Miranda, right-handed trade acquisitions Chris Heston and Rob Whalen and right-handed prospect Andrew Moore, who had a 3.16 ERA in 108 1/3 innings at Double A last season.

The Mariners, after parting with righty Taijuan Walker in the Segura trade, will lean heavily — perhaps too heavily — on their top three starters, righties Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and lefty James Paxton (“the demise of Felix Hernandez has been grossly overdone,” Dipoto said). But Segura should stabilize shortstop, and the improved outfield defense also should enhance the pitching staff.

Consider: The Mariners won 86 games last season despite ranking 28th in defense and 26th in base-running, according to Fangraphs’ metrics. The web site projects the M’s will be eighth in defense and 18th in base-running this season. Obviously, those are just estimates. But the Mariners, at least on paper, should improve in both areas.

The depth of the rotation remains an open question; all of the fifth-starter candidates have minor-league options remaining, so the acquisition of another veteran would make sense. The bullpen, anchored by closer Edwin Diaz, would benefit from the addition of a seventh-inning type.

Any remaining moves, though, likely would be low-cost free agents — “At this point,” Dipoto said, “we won’t move anything off our major-league club.”

This is the team the GM envisioned. The team he wanted all along.