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For ambitious fans, Dipoto's GM Meetings comments are concerning
Quotes are just quotes...but Jerry's more transparent than most execs.
There are some fans who would prefer that Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto just, well, shut up.
I am not one of them.
Hell, in a different era of Mariners baseball, I thought the dude should have a podcast—and managed to convince enough people of the same idea to make it a reality.
I’ve always enjoyed listening to him explain the position of the team and his strategy for it moving forward, going way back to a Season Ticket Holder Q&A session when he was hired towards the end of the 2015 campaign.
He said then as he’s said always: he’s not big on major free agents and much prefers trades.
Whether that was the product of circumstances dictated by a thrifty ownership group, his true core team-building philosophy or something in-between, I wouldn’t expect that to change now.
Comments then and now
In weighing some recent quotes, I wanted to go back and see what Dipoto was saying this time last year, just for context.
Here are a couple clips from a Daniel Kramer piece on Mariners.com.
“Part of what has aided the evolution of our club is the static nature of the roster,” Dipoto told reporters. “There are a lot of guys that have played together, and that means when you're trying to build a lasting, cohesive, forward-moving sustainable team. So, J.P. is our shortstop.”
J.P. was, indeed, the shortstop—despite later explaining he would’ve been more than happy to move to second to make room for one of the class’s premier free agents.
Dipoto continued, discussing the star-studded free agent group that included Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson:
“We're not going to sign all of them, that’s just not how we operate,” Dipoto said. “We will wind up doing some type of trade, and it'll be a combination of trade and free agency -- and we've already started to initiate the discussions with teams. My sense is that the middle-infield free-agency market is unlikely to move quickly. But there are a number of players in the corner outfield who fit as well. And there are also a number of guys that might be available in trade that we're interested in. So, we're not in a terrible rush.”
Trea Turner or Carlos Correa? Wasn’t happening.
Corner outfielders who fit…guys that might be available in trade? Hello Teoscar Hernández, Kolten Wong, A.J. Pollock and Tommy La Stella.
So what’s Jerry saying a year later that might hint at the months—and year—ahead?
I finally got around to reading the latest report from Ryan Divish and, uh, it’s not what I at least want to hear.
Check out Ryan’s full story, but here’s what made me squirm:
Dipoto said the preference would be right-handed hitters that could either play outfield or a corner-infield position, while also being used as a designated hitter.
“We feel really good about our young left-handed bats, and we feel really good about our players up the middle [Rodriguez, Cal Raleigh and J.P. Crawford] and our overall power productivity. Now it’s just a matter of trying to fill in the gaps where we might be a little bit more flawed. We have a pretty good offensive team that sometimes struggles with contact, and we’re going to have to try to solve that.”
As Ryan mentions in the piece, this doesn’t preclude a pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, who’s in a whole other class of acquisition.
But for fans hoping the Mariners are seeking to add major impact befitting of World Series aspirations, regardless of perfect fit, we better also hope Dipoto chose now to start intentionally throwing out major smokescreens in place of his usual candor.
The dudes they’re probably counting on
I mentioned this on Twitter with regards to second base prospect Ryan Bliss, but it sure looks like the Mariners are going to continue to see what they have in multiple unproven players, particularly those who joined the organization recently.
First off, I would be really surprised if the Mariners do anything of substance at second base. Multiple years running, it’s been the position where a significant upgrade could’ve been transformative for the club and now it appears they’re committed to Josh Rojas to open the 2024 campaign.
The 29-year-old acquired in the Sewald trade posted a 104 wRC+ in a Mariners uniform but some significant questions loom with these types of plays: how much room does he have to fall before he, like his predecessors, is an issue? And how likely is it he reaches them?
The production he put up down the stretch was nice, but the 62 wRC+ he ran in Arizona was considerably less-so.
Second base won’t only be his, though. Of course not. That’d be too simple.
The Mariners will surely platoon him with multiple someones from the Dylan Moore, Sam Haggery, Jose Caballero triumvirate.
That’s before, granted there is a God, Ryan Bliss is the real deal sooner rather than later and climbs his way into the mix.
The thing with young players and platoons is that you’re really banking on some upper percentile outcomes and, in the case of the latter you’re counting on multiple players not performing anywhere near their worst-case scenarios.
Plus, you’re probably gonna use a lot of plate appearance to evaluate whether certain pieces are good, tolerable, normal amounts of bad or potentially season-killing—and, it might be too late before you know for sure.
The point on righty bats who can play the outfield and corner infield spots is particularly noteworthy.
They don’t have an impact player at either corner outfield spot sooooo what are worrying about handedness so much for? Well, they’re probably pretty chill with what they have. Or, based on budget, they have to be.
As I mentioned in reacting to the Paul Sewald trade at the time, cost-savings certainly played a not-insignificant role in the move.
Was it potentially advantageous to seize on a hot reliever market and the volatility of the position? Sure. Was it also good time to land multiple cheap on-the-cusp players at positions of need for 2024? Aaaaaaaabsolutely.
They’re going to see what they have in a guy like Dominic Canzone.
I’ve gotten a bit of a rap as the anti-Canzone guy, which is fair, sure. But it isn’t so much as being anti-Canzone as it is being anti-seeing-what-they-have.
That applies as much to Rojas and Kelenic and Bliss and Marlowe and Trammell and Locklear and whoever else as it does to Canzone.
The 2024 Seattle Mariners should not be a place for extended evaluation. It’s about production. The Mariners need to have it to get where they want to go.
At least—they need to have it to get where they should want to go.
But from how it looks now, they’re counting on getting it from Rojas and Canzone right out of the chute.
The potential posturing on Canzone is the most eyebrow-raising to me, not so much because of some low personal evaluation I have on the guy, but how the Mariners viewed him when they were last on the field.
Starting with the September 22nd series-opening Friday night game in Texas and going to the season-ending Saturday night loss at home to those Rangers—a week-plus string of absolutely crucial contests that could’ve won them the division—Dominic Canzone had nine plate appearances. He started one game in the field.
He was mostly shelved when the season was on the line and now he may be penciled into a 26-man Opening Day spot? I tell ya, I don’t love it.
This piece is long enough without doing a full dive into it, but saying you’re looking for corner infielders who hit righty when you have two starting corner infielders who hit righty is a whole different kind of “Wait, what exactly is going on here?”
I still wouldn’t rule out a Ty France non-tender and then there was that weird Blue Jays/Geno rumor. So, who knows what’s going on there? I do not.
If it goes like this, it’s probably about money
I’ll be honest, after being
crushed betrayed blindsided when the Mariners sat out the free agent markets the last two offseasons despite the perfect combination of team ascension and market fit, I’m more bearish than I’ve been in years past.
I wouldn’t rule out a Snell-like move, but I’m less optimistic than I usually am for a championship-level offseason that’d include a Juan Soto or Cody Bellinger or whoever.
I’ll believe this ownership group is committed to competing with the big guys and providing a commensurate level of resources to Dipoto and his crew when they actually do.
Nobody knows and covers the Mariners like Divish, and in another piece from the meetings, he has lines like:
many baseball sources believe [Dipoto’s draft, develop and trade approach is] also because of payroll limitations set by Mariners ownership
[Jerry Dipoto and Justin Hollander] have gone into the last two offseasons working with a budget that was lower than initially expected.
In the most recent report:
The Mariners are unlikely to get into a bidding war with the Yankees, Giants or Cubs for [Cody Bellinger’s] services.
Much to the frustration of some fans, hitters like Gurriel are their reality.
Could the 2024 Mariners use Lourdes Gurriel, basically a reorganization of skills that’d replace 2023 Teo’s overall value? Sure. Yeah.
Contact is fine but the dude many are clamoring for ran a .309 OBP last year. Is. he the type of piece that pushes you over the top? Ehhhhhhh.
I just want the Mariners acquire some of the best players available—not the best players available provided resource constraints.
I refuse to believe Jerry Dipoto and his talented baseball ops group thought A.J. Pollock, Tommy La Stella and Kolten Wong were some of the very best players available to the 2023 Mariners last year and I don’t think they believe Lourdes Gurriel and Dominic Canzone are this year.
In some ways, the Mariners finished 2023 pretty close to the Texas Rangers, the class of the division moving forward.
In other ways—in reality—they finished worlds apart.
The Texas Rangers struck their name from the list of teams to never win a title. The Mariners haven’t won a game in the Division Series since John Olerud was manning first base.
Some fans advocating for the measured and cost-efficient approach (often-times, exclusively after moves) may not have been around to witness what those teams were like but, let me tell you, it was pretty damn cool when the Mariners ran top 10 payrolls and had mid-level free agent signings like Olerud work out splendidly as complementary pieces on division-winning teams.
Those teams, of course, came up short. There is no guaranteed path to a title, even if you win more games in a season than anyone in the American League has ever.
We know that. Nobody thinks they can do anything this winter that’d assure they’d hoist a World Series trophy come October.
It’s just—big-time moves and the money to match would probably make it a whole lot easier.