The Seattle Mariners hosted an event prior to Saturday’s game against Oakland where Season Ticket Holders had an opportunity to ask a few questions of Jerry Dipoto, the freshly-minted Mariners General Manager. While front office guys like Dipoto aren’t known for making clear and strong statements about players or plans, hearing him talk a bit about the game and building a roster gives us a little room to try to read between the lines and see what might be going on upstairs.
One of the areas of curiosity, of course, is Dipoto’s exit from Anaheim. While he makes it clear that he’s not interested in throwing Mike Scioscia or Arte Moreno under the bus, he did make the comment that he doesn’t think much, strategically, of building a team through free agency – a strategy I think it’s fair to say that the Angels employed in the last several years when they gave contracts to Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, and Josh Hamilton. Building a club through free agency can get a team in trouble, and though he didn’t expound on that, you can see where a highly-paid, poorly-performing player can mean problems.
A sore spot for the Mariners the last several years has been the development (or lack thereof) of young players. Dipoto mentioned here that he had a preference for having the young players reach the big league level in almost a tiered fashion, one after the other. Loading the lineup with a ton of young guys could exacerbate the problems they’ll face, especially if there isn’t a lot of veteran leadership on the team. There was some talk here about slowing down the game for the younger guys through the proper support of veteran players and mentorship. He cited Raul Ibanez’s time in Anaheim to support this point, which is interesting as he was Designated for Assignment in June of 2014 after his 2013 campaign with the Mariners. Suffice it to say, as a stats guy I’m a little skeptical here, but I get the sense that he’d like to balance youth with veterans rather than rely on youth almost completely like it seems the Mariners have done in the last couple years.
On the player development angle, Dipoto also raised an interesting point; the Mariners farm system is apparently the worst in baseball in strikeout rate. He inherited a similar problem in Anaheim and was able to raise their profile in this area. He spoke a bit about the importance sometimes of just getting on base and not always being focused on batting average, which could prove important. It was floated out there that this change in strategy in the minors to “control the strike zone” might help some of the prospects down there turn around their fortunes, especially if they’d been told to swing hard in case you hit it.
As far as the big league club is concerned, I’m sure you’ve heard him speak to the need for increased depth in the lineup and the starting rotation. Dipoto mentioned here that he generally prefers trades and might look into some “two for ones.” While that certainly sounds good, perhaps the Zduriencik-era trade that worked out the worst was Doug Fister for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin, and Francisco Martinez. Volume is nice, but it strikes me that quality is more important. Here’s hoping he can identify that better than the last guy. I suppose it’s worth noting here too that he specifically commented that he has no intention of trading Nelson Cruz.
Dipoto just strikes me as a reasonable guy, overall. I don’t know if he’s going to be successful ultimately, but he seems humble and ready to work with uncertainty. “Plan A has worked exactly zero times,” he said during the meeting, going over his efforts to build a lineup that could go a dozen deep and a pitching rotation where something like ten serviceable guys could be called upon to pitch for the big club. As he mentioned a couple of times, the goal is to have that done by April. Good luck, Mr. Dipoto, and godspeed.