Justin Smoak AP

Justin Smoak expected to open the season as the Mariners’ primary first baseman

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The Mariners are coming off an active winter in which they added Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, but those moves will not have an impact on Justin Smoak’s job security at first base. At least not immediately.

According to Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, Mariners manager Eric Wedge said today that Smoak will begin the season as the primary first baseman barring “something drastic.” His reasoning is that he would prefer to stay away from making a decision based on spring training performance.

“I think you do,” he said. “Spring training is a part of it, but it’s by no means the biggest part of it as far as I’m concerned. You’ve got to look at everything. With guys that we’ve already had, the history helps us. Because there are so many indicators, both good and bad, that you can work off of.”

While it’s true that too much can be made from the small sample of spring training games, it can also be argued that Smoak has already had his fair share of chances. The 26-year-old owns a lousy .223/.306/.377 batting line over his first three seasons in the majors. Still, the Mariners appear intrigued by his strong finish last season, especially with the fences moving in at Safeco Field.

Assuming the Mariners hold firm to their plan, Morales will open the season as the primary DH while Morse will play left field, Michael Saunders will start in right and Ibanez will bounce around a bit. Of course, that dynamic could change pretty quickly if Smoak struggles out of the gate.

Gerrit Cole set to begin throwing program

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 24:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout in the second inning during the game against the Houston Astros at PNC Park on August 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.

The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.

The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

The White Sox wanted Astros’ top prospects for Jose Quintana

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 27:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on August 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.

It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:

We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.

While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.

Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.