R.A. Dickey Could Be The Pitcher The Mariners Need

With pitchers and catchers set to report to camp in roughly three weeks, the Mariners continue to keep an eye on the free agent market for the possibility of adding one more pitcher to their starting rotation.

GM Jerry Dipoto has gone on record to say he is “confident” with his current rotation. If that notion holds true, the Mariners will stroll into the 2018 season with James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, and Erasmo Ramirez occupying the top four rotation positions, with the final spot being filled by Ariel Miranda, Andrew Moore, Marco Gonzales, or Max Povse.

While we have detailed how holding firm on the current state of the rotation could have merit, it is still our opinion that adding one more proven starting pitcher would be the prudent move to make.

Someone who could give the Mariners around 30 starts, close to 200 innings, and not go too far north of a 4.00 ERA would be the ideal candidate.

Certainly any one of the big four – Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn – would be capable of meeting such wants. However, with those four pitchers having dealt with recent arm injuries and looking to sign four or five year deals for upwards of $100M or more, making that type of commitment to a 30-somethings pitcher with health concerns is a risky endeavor.

Jaime Garcia is someone whose asking price should be a bit more economical, and he comes close to meeting the criterion after having averaged 28 starts, 164 innings, and a 4.55 ERA over the past two seasons.

However, while a deal for Garcia should probably not exceed two years, Tyler Chatwood’s three-year deal with the Cubs still remains the market bench mark for starting pitching. As a result, the much more experienced Garcia is surely looking for a similar type contract, if not better. A three-year deal might be too much for a soon-to-be 32 year old pitcher who has already undergone the holy trinity of arm surgeries: Tommy John, rotator cuff, and thoracic outlet.

Outside of Garcia, there isn’t much left to choose from. Ostensibly, the Mariners would have to take a flyer on a bounce back candidate such as Chris Tillman, Jeremy Hellickson, or even Andrew Cashner. Yet, after enduring the not-so-good Yovanni Gallardo experiment, it would be difficult to see Dipoto dip back into that well again.

But what about R.A. Dickey?

Now, before you go all Jackie Moon on me, consider what the knuckle baller accomplished in 2017.

The 43-year-old Dickey started 31 games and tossed 190.0 innings for an average of 6.12 innings per start. In addition, Dickey produced a solid 4.26 ERA, struck out over twice as many batters than he walked, and kept the ball on the ground 46.9% of the time.

Not bad, right? Well, it gets better.

Digging into his game logs, Dickey managed to pitch at least six innings in 22 of his 31 starts, including seven or more innings in 11 of his starts.

Zoom out even more, and Dickey went at least five innings in 29 of his 31 starts, and allowed four earned runs or less in 26 of his 31 games.

Don’t look now, but that’s the type of return on investment one would expect from Darvish, Arrieta, Cobb, or Lynn.

And it would cost just a fraction of the price. Say, a one-year deal for $10M.

Such reliable production would be a huge stabilizer to a somewhat precarious Mariners rotation.

In addition, it would give Dipoto options, such as moving Ramirez to the bullpen, thereby adding another solid multi-inning reliever to Dipoto’s “wolfpack” relief corps.  It would also take some of the pressure off a less experienced arm like Gonzales should he emerge from Spring Training as the fifth starter.

That all said, Dickey has hinted at retiring in order to spend more time with his family. Moreover, even if Dickey did decide to post-pone retirement for another season, would he even consider a team that is over 2,300 miles away from his home in Nashville?

Dickey has stated that any team he decides to play for in 2018 would have to present the “ideal situation” for him and his family. One would have to assume close proximity to Nashville would be a factor. If that were the case, it would be very hard to envision Dickey coming to Seattle.

Then again, Dickey is familiar with the Mariners organization after spending a season with them back in 2008. Perhaps Dickey misses the fresh ocean air and abundance of coffee houses, and would be interested in spending another year in the Pacific Northwest?

I mean, what could be better than riding off into the retirement sunset after having helped lead the Mariners to their first playoff appearance since 2001?

Sounds like it could be a pretty ideal situation for not only Dickey, but the Mariners as well.

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Is GM Jerry Dipoto Correct – the Mariners Rotation is Good Enough?

When it comes to discussions about the most urgent priority for Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners this offseason, it is to upgrade the starting rotation.

Everywhere one looks, and at every corner one turns, there seems to be a universal agreement that finding at least one, and maybe even two, proven starting pitchers is a necessity.

We even wrote about such a need in our offseason plan, advocating for the acquisitions of Julio Teheran and Jaime Garcia.

Nevertheless, for every article or interview informing Mariners fans of the need for rotation help, there sits Dipoto, telling us that the starting staff is more than capable of being successful.

Such was the case earlier this week when Dipoto sat down for an interview on 710 ESPN’s Bob, Groz, & Tom Show.  Here, Dipoto described how he was more than “comfortable” heading into the 2018 season with a rotation led by James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, and Erasmo Ramirez.

Hearing such indication that there may be no further additions made to the starting rotation, I suddenly sensed pain and outcry as if there had been a great disturbance in the force.

I could feel coldness, despair, and my soul being consumed, as if in the presence of a Dementor.

As I sat there listening, I prayed to the baseball gods that Dipoto would say something – anything- to give fans reassurance that rotation help was on the way.

I waited for Dipoto to cast his petronus and whisk away the suffering and torment.

Nothing.

Instead, an interesting phenomenon took place. As I listened to Dipoto make his case for possibly sticking with the status quo, his words actually began to make some sense.

Blasphemy, you say?

To paraphrase Dipoto, his pitch about the starting rotation went something like this:

“Paxton was one of the best pitchers in the league last year despite the time he missed. Even if he can only give us 24 starts again, that would be more than welcomed production. Hernandez is just a few years removed from garnering Cy Young votes. He just needs to be healthy, and he will be. In addition, he is 32 years old, which is the same age as most of the free agent pitchers coming off recent injuries that our fans want me to dish out a mega contract for. Do all you fans see what I am saying? Leake has been in the league for seven years and consistently ranks in the top 50 for starting pitchers. Again, that is top 50. Do the math here. With 30 teams in baseball, and five starters per team, the math says that Leake ranks in the top third of all starting pitchers. Pretty darn good. And Ramirez? Well, Ramirez is a really sneaky pitcher. I’m not sure what I mean when I say that, but I like sneaky. And for his career, Ramirez has started a ton of games in his career while averaging five plus innings with a sub 4.00 ERA. So, what does this all mean, you ask? Due to the rash of injuries last year, we were forced to rely on minor league arms and we somehow still finished with 78 wins. If Paxton can give us what he gave us last year, Felix gets healthy, and with full seasons from Leake and Ramirez, our rotation should be much improved.”

Okay, I could buy some of that. I mean, looking back at who was toeing the rubber every fifth day, reaching 78 wins was, indeed, quite remarkable. In that regard, getting another season from Paxton like the one he produced last year, in addition to full seasons from Leake and Ramirez, would definitely be a boost.

Then again, a lot of what Dipoto was projecting came across as the glass half full talking. Realistically speaking, no one has any idea what Paxton and Felix are going to bring in terms of health. And, as for Ramirez, he has only one year under his belt as a full time starter, which was back in 2015.

Dipoto would continue on, this time addressing the bullpen. Again, to paraphrase:

“Our bullpen rocks!  We have a really deep and versatile pen. We have the league’s best young closer in Diaz. In addition, we were the only team in the league last year to have three relievers with 20 or more holds.  Those are really important things because, if you remember what I said earlier, I believe the league is headed towards using a six-man rotation with starters going only five plus innings, and there definitely will be times during the upcoming season that we will utilize that strategy in order to reduce the amount of innings for our starting pitchers.” 

 I took a moment to let sink in all of what Dipoto was trying to sell.

Without a doubt, Paxton was one of the best pitchers in the AL last season. In 24 starts, he posted a 2.98 ERA, averaged 5.7 innings, 10.3 SO/9, and a 4.22 SO/W. Not to mention a 12-5 record, including six no decisions where he allowed three earned runs or less.

Two years ago King Felix was Cy Young material, finishing seventh in the voting after making 31 starts, tallying over 200 innings pitched, and going 18-9 with a 3.53 ERA. The following season, however, was very un-King like, with Felix making just 25 starts, tossing 153.1 innings, and producing an 11-8 record with a 3.82 ERA. It might be a pipe dream to think Felix can return to his Cy Young ways of two years ago. However, is it all that far-fetched to believe Felix can still take the ball 25 times, average close to six innings per start, and produce a sub 4.00 ERA like he did in 2016?

For his career, Leake has averaged 30 starts, a 3.98 ERA, and 181.0 innings per season. Last season alone, the eighth of his career, was no different as Leake produced a 3.92 ERA and 186.0 innings over 31 games started. Top 50 type numbers? You bet. Moreover, unless Leake suffers his first major injury of his career, there is nothing to indicate that Leake shouldn’t continue to put up similar numbers in 2018.

In 2015, Ramirez served as the #3 starter for the Tampa Bay Rays, making 27 starts, producing a 3.51 ERA and tossing 151.1 innings. Since then, he’s been used mostly as a reliever. However, after being traded to the Mariners last year, Ramirez started 11 games and posted a 3.92 ERA. I’m not quite sure what Dipoto meant when he called Ramirez “sneaky” but perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Ramirez has quietly put together a pretty solid track record as a starting pitcher. In 82 total games started, Ramirez owns a 23-23 record with a 4.25 ERA, and has averaged 5.4 innings per start.

To put that type of production into perspective, Ramirez’s numbers are very equivalent to those of Tyler Chatwood, who is not only five months older than Ramirez, but who also just signed a three year deal with the Cubs for a guaranteed $38M to be their #4 starter.

Okay, so there are some possibilities with the rotation. But what about that “wolfpack” bullpen?

With the addition of Juan Nicasio (2.61 ERA), as well as having David Phelps (3.40 ERA) for an entire season, Dipoto has added two lights out relievers capable of throwing multiple innings. Add them to a bullpen already featuring Nick Vincent (3.20 ERA), James Pazos (3.86 ERA), Tony Zych (2.66 ERA), and closer Diaz (34 saves, 3.27 ERA), Dipoto may very well be correct when he says he has a bullpen capable of chewing up quite a few innings.

If Dipoto has in fact created that “wolfpack” bullpen he keeps talking about, then the need to garner upwards of 200 innings from his starting pitchers is no longer the necessity is has historically been. Rather, solid but reduced production could undoubtedly help allow the rotation to stay healthy which, in turn, would result in a pretty big upgrade over last season’s projected starting five that managed to combine for only 68 starts.

Looking at recent history, receiving the following numbers from the Mariners top four starters doesn’t seem all that unrealistic:

  • Paxton: 25 starts, 160.0 innings, 2.80 ERA.
  • Hernandez: 25 starts, 145.0 innings, 3.80 ERA.
  • Leake: 30 starts, 185.0 innings, 3.90 ERA.
  • Ramirez: 28 starts, 160.0 innings, 4.20 ERA.

With that, Dipoto would just have to figure out a way to divvy up the remaining 55 starts. Ostensibly, the leading candidates would be Ariel Miranda, Marco Gonzales, and Andrew Moore.

Miranda is the only one of the aforementioned who has proven he can take the ball every fifth day, as evidence by his 29 starts last season. Granted, he produced an underwhelming 4.90 ERA over those 29 starts, but Miranda was a tale of two pitchers.

For the first three months of the season (17 starts), Miranda went 7-4 with 3.82 ERA while averaging nearly six innings per start. However, in his remaining 12 starts, Miranda went 1-3 with a 6.71 ERA, and averaged under five innings per start.

It is difficult to say what the cause was for his second half demise, but a strong possibility is that – due to 2017 being his first full season in the rotation – Miranda simply wore down. Assuming that was the case, Miranda could be looked upon (at the very least) to serve as an effective starter for 20 games.

That would leave 34 starts for Gonzales and Moore. Arguably, 34 games could be too many to leave for a couple of unproven rookies. However, the wild card in this whole thing is Hisashi Iwakuma. If Iwakuma returns in May as projected, he could end up taking the ball 20 times (maybe even more) which would then just leave Gonzales and/or Moore to handle the remaining 15 starts.

Under this hypothetical, the rotation’s season ending stat line regarding games started could end up looking like this:

  • Paxton: 25 starts
  • Hernandez: 25 starts
  • Leake: 30 starts
  • Ramirez: 28 starts
  • Iwakuma: 20 starts
  • Miranda: 20 starts
  • Gonzales/Moore: 15 starts

To say the least, that is a lot of moving parts. Eight moving parts to be exact.

Nevertheless, it may be more of a reality than people first think, especially when one looks at what the Houston Astros did last season.

The Astros top five pitchers started 28, 25, 23, 22 and 21 games, respectively. Two others started 15 and 12 games, while four more combined to pick up the remaining 16.

The most innings pitched by any starter was Mike Fiers’ 153.1. In addition, as a collective unit, Astros starters averaged about 5.5 innings per start while depending upon a bullpen that – led by Chris Devenski –was capable of pitching multiple innings.

Sounds eerily similar to what Dipoto is talking about, right?

This all said, it wouldn’t surprise to see Dipoto add an “innings eater” to the rotation thereby making much of this kind of a moot point.

However, if he doesn’t, it may be because Dipoto’s foresight regarding the changing nature of rotations and bullpen usage is something the rest of us are not quite capable of envisioning yet.

Let’s not forget that it wasn’t all too long ago the baseball world was blind to the idea of a 9th inning closer. That is, until Tony LaRussa and Dennis Eckersley came along and showed everyone otherwise, thereby changing bullpen usage over the past three decades.

Perhaps 2018 will be the year starting rotations are transformed for the foreseeable future, with much of the credit for that transformation going to Dipoto.

Seattle Mariners 2018 Preview, Offseason Plan

For GM Jerry Dipoto, the 2017 season didn’t go exactly as planned. 

Fresh off a 2016 campaign that saw the Mariners finish 87-75 and eliminated from playoff contention on the second to last day of the regular season, Dipoto had visions of ending baseball’s longest playoff drought by bolstering the team’s starting pitching. To accomplish this, Dipoto boldly dealt away the talented, yet, inconsistent and long ball-prone Taijuan Walker; swiftly added Drew Smyly via a series of trades; swapped a pair of one-year contracts to acquire Yovani Gallardo; and added Christian Bergman, Chris Heston, and Chase De Jong to Ariel Miranda and Sam Gaviglio as Triple A depth pieces. 

With expectations that ace James Paxton and former ace Felix Hernandez would be fully healthy, and Hisashi Iwakuma had at least one more season left in his arm that could produce something close to the 16 wins, 4.12 ERA, and 199 innings that he provided the year before, the Mariners felt pretty confident about their rotation heading into the new season. 

But that optimism was short lived, and came crashing down faster than pulling the wrong block in a game of Jenga.  

By the end of May, the rotation Dipoto assembled had been completely decimated by injuries.

Smyly’s season came to an end before it ever started as he was lost for the year during  Spring Training. Paxton was placed on the disabled list for four weeks just after his fifth start.  He would land there again in August for another five weeks.  

Hernandez promptly followed suit, being placed on the disabled list for two months after his fifth start.  And like Paxton, he would end up there again in July for six more weeks.  

Even the ever-reliable Iwakuma wasn’t immune to what was occurring to the starting staff.  After his sixth start, Iwakuma was placed on the disabled list and never returned.   

To really understand the dire nature of things, consider that Gallardo – acquired in hopes he could bounce back from his 6-8 record and a 5.82 ERA in 2016 – suddenly went from fifth starter to staff ace.  And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, Gallardo was replaced by rookie Andrew Moore in June due to ineffectiveness.

DEFCON level 1, anyone?

All said and told, the opening day rotation combined to start a total of just 68 games in 2017.  

Dipoto now heads into the offseason tasked with the same job as last offseason: upgrade the starting rotation.  Presumably, Iwakuma, Smyly, and Gallardo will not be back (although Iwakuma or Smyly could return on a minor league deal) leaving Dipoto the responsibility of finding three starting pitchers to join Paxton and Hernandez.  Dipoto got a head start in this endeavor by acquiring Mike Leake from the Cardinals at the end of August, who now heads into 2018 as the Mariners’ #3 starter.  Dipoto also made moves to acquire Erasmo Ramirez, Andrew Albers, and Marco Gonzales, all of whom will compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.

In addition to addressing the starting pitching, the Mariners will need to find a first baseman to replace departing free agents Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso.  Dipoto will also need to find a replacement for Jarrod Dyson who split time with Guillermo Heredia in center field. 

Dipoto has shown a preference – perhaps obsession – for filling needs via trade. However, with most of Dipoto’s draft picks still developing in the lower minors, and most of the “better” prospects left over from the Jack Zduriencik era having already been traded for players now at the major league level, Dipoto may have to bite the bullet and go the route of free agency to fill his team needs.

What transpires below is our offseason plan for 2018 that we believe can land the Mariners in the playoffs.  So, without further ado…

  • Trade CL Edwin Diaz and OF Guillermo Heredia to the Atlanta Braves for SP Julio Teheran and OF Christain Pache.

Did we actually say the Mariners may have to go the route of free agency rather than trade to fill needs?  Scratch that.

Yes, dealing Diaz is a bold move, and one that would essentially create two needs at the cost of filling just one. But being able to acquire a #2 caliber pitcher at just $31M over the next three years is a bargain in today’s market.  Plus, there is no sense in retaining a young electric closer if you lack a rotation that can pitch well enough to help you win games.  Teheran is a #2/#3 type starter who over the past five seasons owns a 57-52 record, a 3.55 ERA, an average of 197.0 innings tossed, and a near 40% ground ball rate.   The two time All-Star struggled a bit in 2017, recording an 11-13 record with a 4.49 ERA, the highest of his career.  However, those numbers may be attributed to hitter-friendly SunTrust Stadium where Teheran went 3-10 with a 5.86 ERA.  On the road, Teheran profiled much closer to his career numbers by going 8-3 with a 3.14 ERA.  That kind of production would make the 27 year old Teheran the perfect fit right behind Paxton in the rotation.

The Mariners also acquire Atlanta’s #10 prospect in Pache.  Known for speed, defense, and athleticism, Pache is a younger version of Heredia.  Pache spent 2017 in Class A where he hit .281, produced a .335 on base percentage, and swiped 32 bases.  Pache is still a few seasons away from making the jump to the majors, but profiles as an everyday centerfielder.  However his current path is blocked by the presence of Atlanta’s top prospect (and baseball’s #10 overall rated prospect), center fielder Ronald Acuna, who slashed a .344/.393/.548 at Class AAA last season and is primed to break into the majors.  With Acuna projected to be Atlanta’s centerfielder for the foreseeable future, Pache would have to move to a corner outfield position where his lack of power (.343 slugging percentage in 2017) would diminish his overall value. 

For Atlanta, Diaz allows the Braves the option of moving Arodys Vizcaino back to his setup role after taking over the closer role from 34 year old Jim Johnson, who struggled with eight blown saves and a 5.56 ERA.  Heredia provides the Braves youth, speed, defense, and athleticism to an aging outfield that saw 32 year old Matt Kemp (115 games) and 33 year old Nick Markakis (160 games) handle most of the duties in left and right fields.  

  • Sign 1B Carlos Santana to a 4 year/$56M contract.

The Mariners haven’t been able to find a long(ish) term solution at first base since Richie Sexson played the position from 2005 to 2008. In the nine seasons since the Sexson era, the Mariners have seen six different players start a season at first base, including last year’s starter, Danny Valencia, who slashed a .256/.314/.411 with 15 home runs.  The Mariners did pick up Yonder Alonso in the second half in an attempt to increase production at the position, and were rewarded with a .265/.353/.439 and six home runs in 42 games.  With both Valencia and Alonso free agents, the Mariners end the revolving door at first base by signing the switch hitting 31 year old Santana to a four year deal. Over the past five seasons, Santana has averaged a .250/.366/.447, 25 home runs, and gold glove type defense.  Last year alone, Santana slashed a .259/.363/.455 and 23 home runs. 

  • Sign OF Jon Jay to a 2 year/$15M contract. 

With the trade of Heredia to the Braves, and Jarrod Dyson’s pending departure via free agent, the Mariners turn to Jay for outfield help.  Jay, 32, is no longer an every day player, and cannot cover the same amount of ground he once did in his younger days. However, Jay is still capable of providing average defense at all three outfield positions. And with Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel both capable of playing center, the Mariners have the option of utilizing a rotation at the position to alleviate the need for any one person to play there full time.  While Jay would be a step down from Heredia and Dyson in terms of defense and speed, he would be an offensive upgrade over both players.  Jay slashed a .296/.374/.375 in 141 games in 2017, and because he doesn’t carry significant hitting splits, Jay can be used against left and right handed pitching.

  • Sign SP Jaime Garcia to a 2 year/$20M contract with $12M option.

Dipoto has developed an appetite for ground ball pitchers.  After the 2016 season, Dipoto flipped the script by announcing that Safeco Field is actually not a good home for fly ball pitchers.  Under this new assessment, Dipoto focused his attention on ground ball pitchers, picking up Leake and his career 51.1% ground ball rate, as well as Ramirez and his 44.8% ground ball rate.  With trips to the disabled list by Paxton and/or Hernandez a likely possibility in 2018, adding some more rotation should be on Dipoto’s to-do list.  The 31 year old Garcia brings with him a career 56.2% ground ball rate, and fits right in with Dipoto’s growing number of starters who can keep the ball on the ground.  While Garcia’s past has seen him deal with his fair share of injuries, he’s been a model of good health for the past two seasons, averaging 29 starts and 164 innings pitched. 

  • Trade SP Oliver Jaskie and OF Chuck Taylor to Kansas City for RP Joakim Soria.

With Diaz gone to Atlanta, Dipoto must find someone to anchor the back of the bullpen.  Several in-house candidates do exist for Dipoto to choose from.  Veteran setup men David Phelps and Nick Vincent could slide into the closers role.  The hard throwing James Pazos, who tallied a 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings last year, is a viable option, as are fellow fire ballers Tony Zych, Dan Altavilla, and Shae Simmons.  But rather than weaken a strong setup tandem, or roll the dice that one of his young high-octane relievers can suddenly step in and handle the pressures that comes with the closer’s gig, Dipoto opts to trade for the veteran Soria to stabilize the back of the bullpen.  With one year and $9M remaining on his contract (plus a $10M mutual option for 2018) Soria provides the Mariners another proven veteran arm at the back end of the bullpen with plenty of closing experience.  After solidifying himself as one of baseball’s dominant closers during his first nine seasons, averaging 25 saves and a 2.57 ERA, Soria served as the Royals’ late inning setup man to closers Wade Davis (2016) and Kelvin Herrera (2017) the past two years where he averaged a 3.89 ERA and 9.7 strikeouts per 9 innings. 

  • Sign OF Leonys Martin to a 1 year/$1M contract.

Yes, we know that Martin hit a horrendous .174/.221/.287 with the Mariners last year.  And, yes, we know he was released as a result.  And double yes, we realize Martin hit even worse after being picked up by the Cubs.  But we’re not eyeing Martin as a starting outfielder.  Rather, we’re talking fourth outfielder here.  One who can spell Gamel, Jay, or Haniger.  And even though Martin was pretty atrocious at the plate in 2017, the guy plays all three outfield positions, can flash the leather, and runs the bases well.  Those attributes alone make Martin a decent (and affordable) option as a late inning defensive replacement, a pinch runner, and occasional starter even if his bat should remain dormant for s second straight year.  But with 2018 being just his age 30 season, odds are Martin’s offense will return closer to his career .247/.300/.360 numbers, which isn’t great by any means, but more than fine given what the rest of his game brings.

The Ohtani Factor

We should let it be understood that our offseason plan excludes the possibility of winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes.  Why?  Well, because Ohtani is a complete wild card.  Since money is not an issue (Ohtani is subject to the league minimum) every team is a possible destination thereby making the answer to where Ohtani will end up anyone’s guess.  With the final decision completely out of the control of the teams wanting him and, instead, resting solely with Ohtani himself, for reasons that are only known to him, we decided it best to just eliminate Ohtani altogether.  To include him in our offseason plan would be like formulating a Seahawks offseason plan for the 1988 season centered around the acquisition of Brian Bosworth even though the supplemental draft lottery hadn’t taken place yet.  A bit nonsensical, to say the least. 

The 25-Man

Infield:  1B Carlos Santana ($14M); 2B Robinson Cano ($24M); SS Jean Segura ($9.5M); 3B Kyle Seager ($19M); C Mike Zunino ($3.2M)

Outfield:  LF Ben Gamel ($.50M); CF Jon Jay ( $7.5M); RF Mitch Haniger ($.50M) 

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz ($14.25M)

Bench:  UT Andrew Romine ($1.9M); OF Leonys Martin ($1M); C Mike Marjama ($.50M)

Rotation:  James Paxton ($5.6M); Julio Teheran ($8M); Mike Leake ($11M); Felix Hernandez ($26.8M); Jaime Garcia ($10M)

Bullpen: Marco Gonzales ($.50M); James Pazos ($.50M); Marc Rzepczynski ($5.5M); Erasmo Ramirez ($4.7M); Tony Zych ($.50M); David Phelps ($5.8M); Nick Vincent ($2.7M); Joakim Soria ($9.0M)

The Wrap 

Our offseason plan involves six moves that come in at a total cost of $49.5M.  This brings the total payroll to $186.45M, which would be an increase of just over $31M from last year.  That’s a pretty lofty jump in payroll, one that would have made the Mariners the fifth highest payroll team entering 2017.  But with roughly $42M coming off the books in the next two seasons due to the looming free agencies of Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez, the increase in payroll is manageable as the Mariners will have the option to bring that number down beginning in 2019 without having to drastically alter their roster.  

The big move, of course, was to acquire Teheran in order to pair another young top flight arm with Paxton.  With there still being some volatility with the rotation, adding a top shelf pitcher was a priority.  The other big move was the signing of Santana to a four year deal, which surpasses any other free agent deal handed out by Dipoto during his tenure as Mariners GM by two years.  In acquiring the switch hitter, the Mariners add another hitter who fits in with the team’s emphasis on controlling the hitting zone and getting on base.  In addition, Santana brings some power, evidenced by his 57 home runs and .477 slugging percentage the past two seasons.  And with his ability to hit from both sides of the plate eliminates the need to use a platoon at first base, thereby freeing up a bench spot for someone with a bit more versatility. 

Despite the addition of Teheran, the potential of injury to Paxton and/or Hernandez has us add further depth to the rotation with Garcia.  A proven veteran starter, Garcia would also allow Dipoto to use Erasmo Ramirez and/or Marco Gonzales out of the bullpen, where their respective abilities to toss multiple innings will help ease the burden of the rotation and bullpen.  (More on that later)

The outfield will see Jon Jay take over as the primary starting center fielder, although both Gamel and Haniger can see time there as well.  Leonys Martin returns to take over the fourth outfielder duties.  And utility man Andrew Romine, picked up off waives from Detroit after the season, will be able to slot in at a corner outfield position as well.  If the Mariners go with a four man bench, fellow utility man Taylor Motter could make the team again and see time in the outfield.  However, we’re guessing Dipoto goes with a three man bench in order to utilize an eight man bullpen during the season.

Ok, so it’s not really a “guess” that the Mariners may go with and eight man bullpen.  Dipoto has already stated that next year’s starters may be limited to going through a batting lineup just three times in an attempt to prevent wear and tear.  It has also been  indicated that relievers will be looked upon to toss multiple innings.  With all signs pointing to a bullpen expected to work more innings than it has in the past, carrying an additional reliever seems like the logical move.  And the acquisition of Joakim Soria not only adds a proven closer to replace Diaz, but someone who has had success in a set-up role as well.

So there you have it.  Six moves, a bump of $31M in payroll, and a team that is even deeper and more versatile than the one Dipoto put on the field in 2017.  Is it good enough to see the playoffs?   We believe so.   

 

Playoffs or Not, Mariners Must Be Buyers at Trade Deadline

To be or not to be, that is the question for GM Jerry Dipoto and his Seattle Mariners. With the July 31 trade deadline just around the corner, Shakespeare’s words have never resonated more true as Dipoto and company must decide whether to be, or not to be, buyers or sellers.

The Mariners find themselves at the all-star break with a record of 43-47, a lofty 17.5 games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West race, and 4.0 games back in a very crowded race for one of the two wild cards playoff spots. They are also trending in the wrong direction after having lost 10 of their last 14 games.

For much of the season, the Mariners have been without their top four starters in Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Drew Smyly. Minor league call-ups Ariel Miranda, Christian Bergman, and Sam Gaviglio were able to step in and somehow help keep the Mariners afloat. The prospect of a healthy return of the team’s starting rotation had Mariner executives – and fans alike – believing a strong second half playoff run was possible.

That belief, however, has waned slightly in recent weeks.

Hernandez returned to the mound on June 23 after being placed on the disabled list April 26 with bursitis in his throwing arm. Since his return, however, Hernandez has been far from his former Cy Young self, giving up 19 hits and 11 earned runs in four starts.  Such results have provided fodder to those who believe that the days of “King Felix” are over.

Paxton returned May 31 after missing four weeks with a forearm strain. While Paxton seemed to be on his way to supplanting Felix as the new “King” by posting a 1.43 ERA in his first six starts of the season – including four starts where he gave up zero runs – Paxton has since provided an unroyal-like 5.40 ERA in his seven starts since coming off the disabled list.

Iwakuma went on the disabled list May 10 with shoulder inflammation and was expected to be back sometime in June. However, his return has been put on hold while the club tries to figure out why Iwakuma’s velocity, normally in the 88-91 mph range, remains at 80-83 mph.

Smyly, Dipoto’s main offseason pitching acquisition, was shelved during spring training after suffering a flex strain in his throwing arm. Targeted for a July return, Smyly is now scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery and will miss the remainder of the season.

Yovani Gallardo, Dipoto’s other offseason pitching acquisition, is the only starter who has remained healthy all year long. However, an inability to consistently pitch past the fifth inning resulted in his demotion to the bullpen with rookie Andrew Moore, the organization’s top pitching prospect, taking his place in the rotation.

Add this all together and conventional wisdom would point to the Mariners being sellers.

Then again, 4.0 games back in the wild card race is not insurmountable, especially with the type of offense the Mariners put out on the field each and every game. Dipoto clearly understands that his club is just another hot streak away from taking control of the second wild card.

And whether or not the Mariners have a realistic shot at making the playoffs, one truth remains: The Mariners need starting pitching. Not just for this year, but for next and beyond.

Which, by all conventional wisdom, should necessitate the Mariners being buyers.

Looking ahead to 2018 and beyond, Iwakuma may have thrown his last pitch not just for the Mariners, but for his career. The same could be said for Smyly. At the very least, Smyly will miss a good portion of 2018 while he recovers from surgery. Gallardo will not be retained. And Felix is resembling more of a solid mid rotation arm rather than the ace he once was.  That leaves Paxton, who has shown ace-like stuff, but also a continued penchant for inconsistency and injury.

The Mariners do have the aforementioned Miranda, Gaviglio, and Bergman. But all three project more as back end starters. Moore has shown in his brief major league career that he belongs in the rotation. But at this juncture it remains unknown whether he’ll settle in as a top of the rotation starter, or just another young arm to round out the bottom half of the staff.

Dipoto could wait until the offseason to attempt to sign or trade for pitching. But the trade deadline presents a unique opportunity not necessarily found at season’s end. Unlike the offseason where most teams are competing to acquire (in this case) pitchers they believe will get them into the playoffs, the trade deadline is where half (or more) of MLB teams throw in the towel on the season and, as a result, look to sell coveted MLB assets for high end prospects.

Simply put, there is less competition at the trade deadline to acquire pitching.  So, even if the playoff odds are not in the Mariners favor, the reduced number of teams looking to invest in major league ready assets increases the odds of Dipoto being able to land a sorely needed starter to help this year and beyond.

The following is a short list of pitchers Dipoto should have his eyes on:

Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox, Age: 28, 2017 Record: 4-8, 4.49 ERA, Team Control: Under contract for $30.85M over next three seasons including team options in 2019 & 2020.

  • If made available, Quintana will most likely be the most sought after pitcher. He’s young, under contract until 2021, and has top of the rotation stuff. While Quintana’s stats this season are not quite on par to last year’s when he went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA, teams will assuredly be more inclined to assess Quintana from his five prior seasons where he has compiled 49 wins, and averaged a 3.41 ERA, 190.0 innings pitched, and holds just over a 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Gerrit Cole, Pittsburg Pirates, Age: 26, 2017 Record: 7-7, 4.43 ERA, Team Control: Arbitration eligible 2018 & 2019. Free agent in 2020.

  • Should the Pirates decide to dangle Cole, interest will be high. Like Quintana, Cole’s stats this year are not as good as those in past years, including two seasons ago when Cole finished with 19 wins, was selected to the All-Star team, and was fourth in the Cy Young Award voting. However, any team looking to add a pitcher who could produce ace-like results for seasons to come will be closely monitoring Cole’s availability.

Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves, Age: 26., 2017 Record: 7-6, 4.79 ERA, Team Control: Under contract for $31M over the next three seasons, including a $12M team option in 2020.

  • Recent reports have surfaced indicating that the Braves may look to move Teheran for the right price. At first thought, this would seem unlikely, as the Braves are in rebuilding mode, and trading away a 26 year old fire-baller who has a 3.39 ERA over his first five seasons doesn’t really make much sense. Then again, the Braves current rotation already contains a few youngsters in Mike Foltynewicz (25) and Sean Newcomb (24), and their minor league system is stacked with highly regarded pitching prospects, as evidenced by their seven pitchers listed in Baseball America’s midseason top 100 prospects.

Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers, Age: 24, 2017 Record: 9-6, 3.19 ERA, Team Control: Arbitration eligible 2019-2022. Free agent in 2023.

  • The idea that the Tigers would part ways with Fulmer is impossible to fathom.  For one, the veteran-laden Tigers are in need of getting younger.  And two, Fulmer is not only “younger” but the kind of young major league talent no team want to trade away.  I mean, what GM trades away a sub 25 year old pitcher who in their first two seasons as a major leaguer is a combined 20-13 with a 3.11 ERA, won the 2016 Rookie of the Year Award,  finished 10th in the 2016 Cy Young Award voting, and was selected to this years All-Star team?  But just like the Braves and Teheran, there are whispers that the Tigers could be willing to move Fulmer for the right price.  That “price” would surely be steep, and have to entail several top shelf prospects that would end up filling multiple future needs for the Tigers.

Dan Straily, Miami Marlins, Age: 28, 2017 Record: 7-4, 3.31 ERA, Team Control: Arbitration eligible 2018-2020. Free agent in 2021.

  • Two seasons ago, Straily was a journeyman pitcher who the Reds claimed off waivers from the Padres. There must have been something in that Cincinnati water because all Straily did in 2016 was go 14-8 with a 3.76 ERA. Straily has continued that breakout success this year with Miami by going 7-4 with a 3.31 ERA. It may be still too early to claim Straily as a top end starter, especially considering not long ago that he wasn’t even considered 40-man roster material. However, many see Straily’s improvement not as an outlier, but due to his maturation and development resulting in reduced walks, upped strikeouts, and an overall increase in velocity.  At age 28, the former top 100 prospect may finally be coming into his own.

Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics, Age: 27, 2017 Record: 4-4, 4.00 ERA, Team Control: Arbitration eligible 2018 & 2019. Free agent in 2020.

  • The question for most teams concerning Gray is health. After establishing himself as one of the top young arms in baseball by averaging 11 wins and a 2.88 ERA from 2013 to 2015, including a third place finish in the 2015 Cy Young award voting, Gray endured an injury plagued 2016 campaign where he made only 22 start, went 5-11, compiled a 5.69 ERA, and landed on the disabled list twice, the final time coming August 7 where a forearm strain essentially ended his season. The beginning of the 2017 season didn’t do much to dissuade any injury concerns as Gray missed the first three weeks of the season with a strained lat. But since coming back on May 2, Gray has steadily worked himself into form, and has stayed healthy thereby lessening concerns about his health.  In Gray’s last seven starts, he has limited hitters to a .227 batting average, has an ERA of 3.45, and is averaging 6.3 innings per start. All of which could be a sign that the Gray of old is on the verge of returning.

Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants, Age: 31, 2017 Record: 6-7, 4.51 ERA, Team Control: Under contract for $109.4M over the next five seasons including a $22M team option in 2022.

  • Of all the pitchers listed, Cueto is the oldest at 31. But with age comes a track record of being a bonafide #1 starting pitcher. Cueto has produced seasons of 18, 19 and 20 wins. He has a career 3.31 ERA. He just missed out on the Cy Young award when he placed second to Clayton Kershaw in 2014, and finished sixth last year after going 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA. Cueto certainly would be a boost to any team that acquires him. But Cueto is also a huge risk.   Not only is Cueto owed an average of $21.8M through his age 35 season, he also has an opt-out clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent at season’s end should he so chooses to exercise it. What this means is that any team that acquires Cueto not only risks being stuck with an albatross of a contract, but will most likely have to pay deeply for a player who could end up being just a second half rental.

This all said, the big question is whether Dipoto could even put together an enticing enough package to land a pitcher with this mix of youth, proven results, and team control. The Mariners farm system is far from loaded with coveted talent, but they do have a couple top MLB prospects in outfielders Kyle Lewis (#34) and Tyler O’Neil (#38). They could also part with one of their young MLB outfielders in Mitch Haniger, Brad Gamel, or Guillermo Heredia. And the emergence of Moore in the starting rotation could allow Dipoto to part with someone like Miranda who could immediately step into a major league rotation.

In his short tenure with the Mariners, Dipoto has proven the ability to acquire the players he wants. Let’s hope come this trade deadline, Dipoto has his sights set on a top flight starting pitcher.

Seattle Mariners 2017 Preview, Offseason Plan

Last season, Jerry Dipoto’s first foray into the offseason as GM of the Seattle Mariners involved reconstructing an entire bullpen, finding two starting pitchers, and filling holes at first base, catcher, left field, and center field. His offseason moves translated into an 86 win season, second place in the AL West, and just missing out on the playoffs.

Heading into 2017, Dipoto still has work to do but the challenges are not near as daunting. At the top of Dipoto’s wish list are finding a right handed bat to platoon at first base with rookie Dan Vogelbach, a left-handed reliever, and a corner outfielder.

As was the case last season, Dipoto has come out of the offseason gates quickly, having already made trades for catcher Carlos Ruiz, first baseman/designated hitter Danny Valencia, and shortstop Jean Segura. Below is our offseason plan, with corresponding updates.

So, without further ado…

  • Trade SP Taijuan Walker, 1B/OF Stefan Romero and minor league RHP Brandon Miller to the Miami Marlins for OF Marcel Ozuna and SS Adeiny Hechavarria. 

Dipoto enters the offseason with only one everyday outfielder on his 25-man roster: center fielder Leonys Martin. With Nelson Cruz set to see even more time at designated hitter, Seth Smith strictly a platoon player, and Franklin Gutierrez most likely having played his last game wearing blue and green, the Mariners find themselves short on experienced outfielders.  Youngsters Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel showed flashes of being solid everyday players, however, the two have a total of 164 at-bats between them at the mlb level.

To address this problem, Dipoto revisits the Ozuna trade talks from last offseason, this time agreeing to part with the talented, yet inconsistent and injury-prone Walker. Last season was another up and down year for Walker, one in which he showcased stretches of pure dominance as well as looking completely lost.  Still, Walker is young, cost-controlled, and has a high ceiling.  In a market where average starting pitching commands big dollars and multi-year contracts, Walker’s young age and high ceiling still renders him a desirable asset.  In Romero, the Marlins acquire a young hitter who can compete for the team’s need for a right-handed platoon bat at first base. Romero has produced against minor league pitching throughout his career, averaging a .299/.347/.514 at Tacoma, but is out of options with the Mariners.  Romero could fill the Mariners own platoon need at first base, however, having two inexperienced players at that position is not ideal. And should Romero struggle, the Mariners would be left with no alternative but to release him.

With the addition of Ozuna, Dipoto adds another young, athletic outfielder who can hit and play superb defense. Dipoto has expressed his preference to have Ketel Marte begin 2017 in Tacoma so he can further hone his shortstop skills.  Inserting Hechavarria as the everyday shortstop will allow such a wish.  Hechavarria struggled at the plate last year, slashing a .236/.283/.311, but some of that could be attributed to a slight dip in his babip, down from his career mark of .310 to .269.  In his previous two seasons, Hechavarria averaged a .278/.311/.676 so the ability to be a league average hitter exists.  And with Hechavarria’s defense, league average offensive production would be more than enough.  All Hechavarria did defensively last season was put up an 8.3 UZR and +9 DRS.  The year before, a 15.8 UZR and +9 DRS.  Even with his dismal showing at the place, Hechavarria was still worth 0.4 fWAR in 2016.  In comparison, Marte’s value came in at -0.7 fWAR.

Update: Dipoto pulled the trigger on the biggest deal of the offseason so far, trading Walker and Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for all-star shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger and left-handed pitcher Zac Curtis.  While we felt finding an upgrade in the outfield should be priority number one – with Walker the asset to accomplish such a need – it’s hard to argue with the addition of Segura.   

Swapping out Marte for Segura (319/.368/.499, 20 homeruns, 33 steals shortstop, 5.0 fWAR in 2016) provides an instant upgrade and a legitimate leadoff hitter to the lineup. Haniger brings defense at all three outfield positions and a right handed bat that can spell Gamel and/or Smith against left handed pitching, and Curtis provides much needed left handed pitching depth, with the opportunity to compete for a spot in the Mariners’ bullpen.   

  • Trade minor league prospects SP Zach Lee and OF Gareth Morgan to the New York Yankees for OF Brett Gardner, and 
  • Trade OF Seth Smith to the St. Louis Cardinals for RP Trevor Rosenthal. 

With Ozuna set as the new right fielder, the Mariners turn their focus towards left field. Gamel is slated to start in one of the corner outfield positions, but the to-be 25 year old rookie has only 33 major league games under his belt and a .188/.278/.292 to show for it.  Given those facts, it would be difficult to believe Dipoto wouldn’t go with someone better if available.

That “someone better” would be Gardner, as it is reported the Yankees are listening to offers for the veteran outfielder. In Gardner, Dipoto is able to fill two glaring needs: finding an established left fielder and someone to hit at the top of the batting order.  Last year, Gardner split time with Jacoby Ellsbury at the leadoff spot, slashing a 261/.351/.362 with 16 stolen bases.  Gardner still possesses one of the better hitter’s eyes in baseball, posting a 0.66 walk-to-strikeout ratio.  And the former center fielder showed he can still flash the leather, producing a 5.7 UZR/150 while winning his first gold glove.

In exchange, the Mariners part with minor league pitcher Zach Lee and outfielder Gareth Morgan. Lee, 25, a former first round draft pick and top 100 prospect, came to the Mariners in last year’s trade that sent Chris Taylor to the Dodgers and should be able to compete for a spot in the Yankees rotation.   Lee struggled some in 2016 going a combined 7-14 with a 6.14 ERA with Triple-A Oklahoma City and Tacoma.  His 2015 season with Oklahoma City was much more akin to his top prospect billing as he went 11-6 with a 2.70 ERA, 81 strikeouts and only 19 walks.  The 6’4, 220 pound Morgan, 20, was a second round pick in 2014 and possesses a quick bat and impressive power.  Morgan’s swing and miss tendencies have hurt his overall ability as a hitter. However, scouts believe should Morgan improve his contact ability, he profiles as a legitimate middle of the order bat.

With Gardner and Ozuna set in the corner outfield positions, the Mariners look to deal from their excess of outfielders, sending Seth Smith to the St. Louis Cardinals for reliever Trevor Rosenthal.   Smith, used primarily against right handed pitching, produced a .758 OPS with 16 homeruns in 2016.  Rosenthal served as the Cardinals closer in 2014 and 2015, averaging 46 saves and a 2.65 ERA.  But last season Rosenthal struggled with his command in save situations, issuing 14 walks in 16 innings and four blown saves to start the season.  Rosenthal eventually lost his closer role to Seung Hwan Oh who went on to save 19 games with a 1.92 ERA.  With Oh set to be Cardinal closer in 2017, and Smith and Rosenthal due to make roughly the same amount in salary ($7M), the two teams swap contracts allowing the Mariners to add another high octane arm to their bullpen, and the Cardinals filling their need for a productive outfielder.   

  • Trade UT Mike Freeman to the San Diego Padres for LHR Brad Hand. 

Last season’s deadline deal sending Mike Montgomery to the Chicago Cubs for Vogelbach left Vidal Nuno as the lone left hander in the Mariners’ bullpen. In his quest to find a replacement, Dipoto turns to San Diego left-hander Brad Hand.  Claimed off waivers from the Miami Marlins at the beginning of last season, Hand proceeded to go 4-4 with a 2.92 ERA for the Padres and limited lefty swingers to just a .125/.221/.200.   In exchange for Hand, the Mariners send the Padres utility infielder Mike Freeman who saw time at second base, shortstop, and both corner outfield positions between stops in Arizona and Seattle last year.  With former Mariner Luis Sardinas in line to be the Padres opening day starter at shortstop, the addition of Freeman adds extra depth and insurance in case Sardinas struggles.

  • Sign 1B/OF Steve Pearce to a 2 year/$11M contract.

The Mariners’ search for a right-handed bat to pair with Vogelbach at first base brings them to a player we advocated for last year. As we profiled in our 2016 offseason plan, Pearce lacks the traditional homerun power normally desired from the position, but brings with him a productive bat that put up a .288/.374/.492 last season as well as a track record of success against left-handed pitching. For his career, Pearce owns an .852 OPS against southpaws, including a 1.028 OPS last season. In addition, Pearce’s ability to play both corner outfield positions as well as second and third base provides valuable versatility.  At the end of the season, Pearce underwent surgery to repair a flexor mass in his right forearm and may not be ready by the beginning of the season. So health is a consideration for any team interested in his services. However, all indications are that Pearce will be fully recovered by the first month of the season.

Update: Dipoto filled his need for a right-handed bat at first base by trading minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn to the Oakland Athletics for Danny Valencia. Like Pearce, Valencia lacks the traditional power of a first baseman but is productive against left-handed pitching and can play first, second and third base, as well as both corner outfield positions. For his career, Valencia has produced an .873 OPS against left-handed pitching, including a .924 OPS in 2016. Valencia is third year arbitration eligible and projected to make $5.3M this season, so his acquisition most likely saves Dipoto from having to lock into a multi-year deal for a near-equivalent type of player in Pearce. 

  • Sign SP Jon Niese to a 1 year/$5M contract with incentives. 

With Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Nate Karns and Ariel Miranda all returning to the rotation, Dipoto reaches out to former Mets’ opening day starter, Jon Niese, in order to add depth to a rotation thinned by the trade of Walker to Miami. Niese, 30, struggled in 2016 going 8-7 with a 5.50 ERA with the Pirates and Mets before landing on the disabled list with a torn meniscus in his left knee.  Much of Niese’s struggles were attributed to a sudden spike in home runs allowed where he served up a career high 25 long balls.  Niese’s track record, though, shows much better as he averaged a 3.65 ERA and 174 innings pitched from 2012 to 2015.  Niese is projected to be healthy for the start of 2017, and should his 2016 simply be an outlier, the Mariners will have acquired a solid mid rotation arm that can eat up innings for well below market cost. It would also allow the hard throwing Miranda to be moved to the bullpen as the second left-handed reliever.

  • Sign C Dioner Navarro to a 1 year/$4M contract. 

Having spent most of 2016 at Tacoma fine tuning his hitting mechanics, Mike Zunino will enter spring training as the starting catcher. After being recalled in July, Zunino showed improved plate discipline (.318 OBP) and power (.470 SLG) to go along with his usual strong defense.  However, Zunino ended the season batting just .207 with an astonishing 33.9% strikeout rate.  Those latter two stats remain as red flags heading into the new season, and should compel the Mariners to seek a backup catcher capable of stepping into the everyday role should Zunino struggle.  Navarro played in 101 games last season, but hasn’t done much with the bat since he put up an .856 OPS in 2013.  However, he’s still a solid defender who brings with him a track record of durability and veteran leadership in the clubhouse.

Update: The Mariners acquired veteran backup catcher Carlos Ruiz from the Dodgers in exchange for Vidal Nuno.  Ruiz played in 62 games last season producing a .264/.365/.34, and, like Navarro, is a solid defender and bring with him strong leadership qualities.   

The Lineup

Position Players 

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Steve Pearce, 1B
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH
  5. Kyle Seager, 3B
  6. Marcel Ozuna, RF
  7. Mike Zunino, C
  8. Leonys Martin, CF
  9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

Bench

  1. Dioner Navarro, C
  2. Dan Vogelbach, INF
  3. Shawn O’Malley, UT
  4. Ben Gamel/Guillermo Heredia, OF

Rotation

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. James Paxton (L)
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Jon Niese (L)
  5. Nate Karns/ Ariel Miranda (L)

Bullpen

  1. Brad Hand (L)
  2. Vidal Nuno (L)
  3. Dan Altavilla
  4. Evan Scribner
  5. Steve Cishek
  6. Trevor Rosenthal
  7. Edwin Diaz (CL)

Mariners Make Mistake by Keeping Seth Smith over Nori Aoki

Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners made their first substantial off-season moves by picking up Seth Smith’s $7 million option, declining Chris Iannetta’s $4.25 million option, and waiving Nori Aoki, who was immediately claimed by the Houston Astros.

All three players were inconsistent in 2016, with Iannetta and Smith fading badly in the second half, and Aoki taking a full first half before delivering the type of production that was envisioned when initially signed.

Dipoto previously stated that Mike Zunino would be penciled in as the starting catcher for 2017, that he planned on retaining Smith, and that Iannetta’s option was too pricey for a backup catcher.  So none of these moves were surprising.

But did Dipoto error by keeping Smith and discarding Aoki?

Both Smith and Aoki fit the mold of Dipoto’s preferred type of offensive player: contact hitters who can control the zone and draw a walk.  And both players put up similar numbers, with Smith slashing a .249/.342/.415 in 2016, and Aoki a .283/.349/.388.

However, once getting past the slash line, Aoki begins to distance himself as the more valuable player.

For starters, Aoki is more athletic than Smith, and far more fleet of foot on the bases, both of which are qualities Dipoto favors.

Production-wise, Smith is used primarily against right handed pitching.  And in this role, Smith was solid, producing a .256/.351/.431.  But against right handed pitching, the switch hitting Aoki was better, slashing a .300/.364/.428.

Aoki is also much better at making contact. In 2016, Aoki put bat-to-ball at a 89.3% clip with a strike-out rate of just 9%.  Smith’s contact rate was 79% while striking out 20% of the time.

Turning to defense, neither Aoki or Smith are close to being gold glove caliber players. Yet, as uninspiring as Aoki was on defense, Smith was far worse.

Aoki produced a -8.0 UZR/150 and a -4 DRS in the OF last season, which is not good. But Smith was nearly twice as bad, posting a -16.6 UZR/150 and a -7 DRS.

And then there is that second half drop off in offensive production that taints Smith each and every season. This was a concern of ours way back when Smith was first acquired.  This concern has yet to go away.

In 2016, Smith produced a .277/.366/.450 in the first half. In the second half, those numbers plummeted to a .222/.312/.361.   In 2015, Smith’s first half numbers were .268/.338/.477.  In the second half those numbers dropped to .219/.319/.394.   What about 2014 you ask? .283/.387/.508 in the first half, .243/.340/.346 in the second.

For his career, Smith has averaged a .276/.359/.471 in the first half, and a .240/.323/.414 in the second half.

Aoki was the opposite of Smith in 2016, producing an underwhelming .245/.323/.313 in the first half.  But after a brief stint in Tacoma, Aoki returned to destroy AL pitching in the second half to the tune of a .339/.390/.500.

This drastic split in 2016 was, for the most part, an anomaly for Aoki as his career first/second half marks are faily even, with a .289/.352/.366 in the first half, and a .289/.353/.414 in the second.

Add all of this up, and Aoki was worth 1.2 fWAR in 2016 while Smith was worth 0.5 fWAR.

Given all of these factors, its hard to imagine the reason for keeping Smith over Aoki, especially since Aoki would have cost less.  Perhaps Dipoto did so in order to retain Smith as a trade piece in to fill other needs, much akin to the San Diego Padres picking up Joaquin Benoit’s option last off-season with the intent to trade him.

Smith did hit 16 homeruns last season so, in a league that still values the long ball, Dipoto may feel Smith would appeal more to other teams looking to upgrade their offense.

Dipoto has repeatedly stated that no single transaction should be viewed in isolation.  Let’s hope picking up Smith’s option is just the first step in a series of connected future moves to improve the team for 2017.

An Early Look at Projecting the 2016 Mariners

To say the New Year has brought change to the Seattle Mariners would be a drastic understatement.  A flurry of transactions this off-season by GM Jerry Dipoto has resulted in 18 players being removed from the 40-man roster inherited from Jack Zduriencik.  A Mariners squad that went a disappointing 76-86 in 2015 has been reshaped into the type of team Dipoto envisions being playoff caliber.  Gone is a manager predisposed to “old school” thinking rather than advanced analytics. Gone are players deficient in athleticism, defense, and the ability to get on base.  Gone is a starting rotation lacking depth, and a bullpen lacking versatility.

In their places come a slew of new faces, most notably first time manager Scott Servais; starting pitchers Wade Miley and Nate Karns; relievers Steve Cishek and Joaquin Benoit; and position players Adam Lind, Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, and Chris Iannetta.

It’s been nearly three weeks of inactivity since the surprise December 18th resigning of Hisashi Iwakuma. By all accounts, Dipoto has finished making significant moves this off-season.  The question now is: are the Mariners really improved?

For many, Dipoto’s first off-season with the Mariners comes with skepticism.  No acquisition of a big bat like Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes. Nor the addition of a front line starter such as Zach Greinke or David Price.  Instead, fans saw the acquisition of players many were unfamiliar with, and a suspect bullpen becoming even weaker by dealing away Tom Wilhelmsen and Carson Smith.

But acquiring expensive household names was never Dipoto’s plan.  Nor was investing the majority of available payroll into just one big time player. Rather, the plan was to spread the money around in order to assemble a defense better suited to the expanse of Safeco Field, to fashion a roster more athletic and consisting of a productive Plan B in case Plan A did not work out, to lengthen the starting rotation, and construct a more versatile bullpen with arms that had a propensity to miss bats.

And in that sense – at least on paper – Dipoto succeeded.

Martin and his 15.4 UZR/150 from last year should provide gold glove-caliber defense in center field, with Aoki providing plus defense in left field (7.0 UZR/150) and a solid ability to get on base (.353 OBP).  Lind and his .291/.364/.478 over that past three seasons will be a huge upgrade over Logan Morrison at first base.  Iannetta solidifies the catcher position with solid defense, excellent pitch framing abilities, and improved offensive output even if he repeats his .188/.293/.335 from last season. Miley and Karns add two solid starting rotation arms to the mix of Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. And Cishek (2.98 ERA, 77 saves the past three seasons) and Benoit (1.98 ERA, 37 saves the past three seasons) fortify the back of a bullpen that amassed 24 blown saves in 2015.

Even wins above replacement (WAR) projections by Fangraphs’ Depth Charts (combining Steamer and ZiPS) show a marked improvement.  Last season, the Mariners finished with a team WAR of 24.4.  Depth Charts projects a team WAR of 36.1 for 2016, translating to an 84-78 record. The chart below shows positional WAR totals from 2015 and projections for the upcoming season.

C 1B 2B SS 3B LF CF RF DH SP RP
2015 -1.9 -0.7 1.6 2.2 3.9 3.2 1.1 7.4 4.6 8.7 1.1
2016 2.6 1.8 3.5 1.8 3.7 1.3 1.7 1.7 1.6 14.6 1.8

As indicated, Depth Charts projects improvements at catcher, first base, second base, center field, starting pitching, and the bullpen.  However, Depth Charts also foresees a slide at left field, right field and designated hitter.  Two interesting things to note is the fairly significant projected drop in WAR in right field and designated hitter, and the fairly significant projected increase in WAR from the starting pitching.

Depth Charts’ projections for Cruz are probably the major contributor for the decrease in WAR in right field and designated hitter where Cruz falls from 4.8 last season to a 1.6 in 2016.  This is surely based on the belief Cruz will spend the majority of time entrenched at designated hitter (546 plate appearances) and far less time in right field (70 plate appearances). Depending on how one views Cruz’s defensive prowess moving forward, keeping him off the field is probably a good thing.  But for the purposes of WAR, the lack of any defensive production at all probably accounts for the slip.  As for the starting rotation, Hernandez (5.0 WAR), Iwakuma (2.9 WAR), and Walker (2.4 WAR) lead a deep rotation that adds Miley (1.9 WAR) and Karns (1.3 WAR).  The wild card in the group is Paxton who is recovering from injury.  If healthy and able to pitch a full season, he most certainly would surpass the 0.8 WAR projected for him.

So, in terms of playoffs, what does this all mean?  Despite the overall team improvement, Depth Charts still has the Mariners finishing second in the division to the Houston Astros (39.7 WAR), and behind the Yankees (41.8 WAR) and Blue Jays (39.0 WAR) for one of the two wild card playoff spots. Does that mean Dipoto should go out and acquire a player like Cespedes and his projected 3.1 WAR?  I’m guessing most fans wouldn’t have a problem adding a player like Cespedes to the mix. But with a 15% margin of error, projecting the Mariners at a 36.1 WAR and the Astros at a 39.7 WAR could be projecting the Mariners at 41.5 WAR (+15%) and the Astros at 34.1 WAR (-15%), or somewhere in between. From an advanced analytics standpoint, a player such as Cespedes may be seen as an unnecessary expense.

Of course, all of this is really guesswork. Depth Charts is just one of many available projection systems. Others like Marcel or PECOTA may have the Mariners faring better or worse.  In addition, projected WAR totals are simply based on past production, and does not account for the myriad of unforeseen variables that can occur over the course of a regular season such as injuries.  But despite the uncertainties with WAR, it still remains a relevant (and fun) tool as every GM constructs their rosters using the same basic principal: utilizing a player’s past production to predict future success.  And if the projections for the players Dipoto has assembled hold fairly true, there’s no reason to believe the Mariners won’t find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt come the end of the season.

Jerry Dipoto And Mariners Setting the Offseason Bar

If there is one thing we can say about new Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, it’s that he has a vision, and he’s not wasting any time turning that vision into a reality.

Fresh off completing his fourth trade of the offseason – acquiring shortstop Luis Sardinas from the Milwaukee Brewers for minor league outfielder Ramon Flores – and sixth overall transaction since the start to free agency on November 2nd, rumors of a possible Mariners-Marlins deal involving outfielder Marcell Ozuna heading to the Mariners in exchange for one of their young starting pitchers – Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias or Nathan Karns – is lighting up the hot stove.

Now, we here at Mission Mariner don’t need to go into great detail about our thoughts of an Ozuna acquisition. We championed that idea over a year ago, and then again at last year’s trade deadline.  So it goes without saying that the idea of Ozuna patrolling the outfield is a strongly welcomed one, even if it means parting with Walker.   And before people take to their pitchforks over the thought of trading away Walker, let me just say that yes, Walker is a talent.  And, yes, Walker might be the next coming of Felix Hernandez.  But Ozuna is also a talent, and may be the next Carlos Gomez.  And when it comes to choosing between a future Felix Hernandez or a future Carlos Gomez, one is better off acquiring the player that will be playing every day rather than the player who will play just once every five days.

That said, should an Ozuna deal go down, it would highlight an incredible first month of roster-makeover activity from Dipoto.  It would punctuate a divergence from former GM Jack Zduriencik’s deliberate “wait out the market” approach.  Dipoto’s more aggressive “know what you want and go get it” style has already resulted in the acquisition of nine new players, at least seven of whom figure to be on the 25-man roster.  So far, Dipoto is this year’s A.J. Preller, but with a bit more restraint and pragmatism.  Consider:

In contrast, it was expected for Zduriencik not to get into the offseason game until the December Winter meetings or thereafter.   While this usually had no repercussion if one was targeting a blue chip free agent, it often meant that many of the second and third tier free agents – players often in the Mariners’ targeted price range – would be off the board by then.  This often resulted in ill-advised trades (see the Pineda deal), or signing low risk players who hopefully could provide high rewards (see Jack Cust).

Below is a list of Zduriencik’s first offseason transactions in each of his seven years as GM:

Of course, not all the deals were bad.  Kendrys Morales proved to be a productive hitter, and J.A. Happ provided solid innings as a middle of the rotation arm. The rest? A mixed bag mostly of disappointing returns.

More to the point, however, is the timetable of initial deals in contrast to what we are seeing now with Dipoto.

Zduriencik’s earliest notable offseason deal happened last season with the December 3rd trade of Michael Saunders, just over one month later than Dipoto’s first deal this offseason.  In 2012, it wasn’t until January 23rd – roughly two and one half months later than this year’s first transaction – when Zduriencik made his first notable offseason deal.

So what does all of this mean?  Well, for one, its clear Dipoto has a plan and he is quickly acting upon it.  Zduriencik might have had a plan as well, but, for whatever reason, he did not have the same urgency to put it into motion.  More importantly, though, by getting a jump on the offseason, Dipoto is getting the players he wants.  Conversely, it appeared most often that Zduriencik acquired players after most had already been picked through by the rest of baseball.  This seemingly was the result of Zduriencik choosing to wait out the market and then target players left over who could be signed at a lesser cost.

For seven years, that strategy never reaped much success.

Time will only tell if Dipoto’s “fast and furious” manner will provide the success he is looking for, and the results fans are expecting.  But whatever the outcome, Dipoto’s success or failure will rest with the players he wanted, not with players he didn’t.

And that, if anything, should be a welcomed change.

Seattle Mariners 2016 Preview, Offseason Plan

Nearly a year after being pegged by most MLB experts as strong World Series contenders, the Mariners find themselves regrouping after a disappointing 76-86 season that resulted in the dismissal of General Manager, Jack Zduriencik.  To right the ship, President & Chief Operating Officer Kevin Mather turned the reigns over to ex-Los Angeles Angels GM, Jerry Dipoto, hoping his expertise in analytics and scouting will accomplish what Zduriencik was unable to do after seven (mostly) forgettable seasons: propel the Mariners into the post season.

Dipoto’s first step toward the playoffs was to revamp his coaching staff. Dipoto tapped Scott Servais to replace Lloyd McClendon as manager.  Dipoto then added Tim Bogar to serve as bench coach, Mel Stottlemyer Jr. as pitching coach, Manny Acta as third base coach, retained Edgar Martinez as hitting coach, and retained Chris Woodward as first base coach (Woodward has since turned down the offer in order to find a coaching position closer to his Florida home.)

Entering the offseason, Dipoto has made clear his priorities: more depth in his starting pitching, a stronger bullpen, more athletic defenders better suited to the dimensions of Safeco Field, and a better ability by hitters to get on base.  In other words, a roster completely opposite than what was previously put together under Zduriencik.

Of course, that won’t be an easy task as the Mariners are short on starting pitching, and possess an over-abundance of athletically-challenged, non-versatile, and strike-out prone position players better suited to the tidy confines of a Fenway Park rather than spacious Safeco Field.  To make matters worse, the minors fail to offer much in the way of MLB-ready pitching and position players who fit the Dipoto mold.  And with a to-do list that includes finding help at catcher, first base, all three outfield positions, a couple starting pitchers, and bullpen reinforcements, it’s no exaggeration to say Dipoto has his work cut out for him.

Which is most likely why Dipoto got an early jump to the offseason already by dealing shortstop Brad Miller, first baseman Logan Morrison, and reliever Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay for starting pitcher Nathan Karns, reliever C.J. Riefenhauser & minor league centerfielder, Boog Powell.  True to his vision, Dipoto’s first move as the Mariners GM saw him trade away a slow footed first baseman, a shortstop with glaring defensive shortcomings, and an inconsistent right handed reliever.  In return, the Mariners received a mid-rotation arm who immediately plugs into the starting rotation, left handed depth for the bullpen, and an athletic MLB-ready outfielder who can flash the leather and get on base.

Moving forward, Dipoto has much more work to do.  But as we previously wrote about, the right type of players are available in order to lift the Mariners into the playoffs.   Dipoto prefers acquiring players via trade rather than the free agent market.  But Dipoto simply does not have enough tradeable pieces to fix the Mariners through trade only.  To upgrade, Dipoto will have to dip into the free agent market.  Luckily, with a projected payroll of $130M (or more) for the 2016 season, Dipoto should have the necessary flexibility to acquire the resources he needs.

Without further ado…

  • Resign SP Hisashi Iwakuma to a three year, $33M contract.
  • Resign Franklin Gutierrez to a one year, $1M contract
  • Trade SP Roenis Elias, RP Tom Wilhelmsen, and 3B/OF Patrick Kivlehan to the New York Yankees for CF Brett Gardner.
  • Trade 1B Mark Trumbo to the Baltimore Orioles for RP Brian Matusz.
  • Sign RP Tyler Clippard to a three year, $18M contract
  • Sign OF Nori Aoki to a two year, $15M contract
  • Sign 1B Steve Pearce to a two year, $12M contract.
  • Sign C Chris Iannetta to a one year, $5M contract with an option year.
  • Sign RP Mark Lowe to a one year, $800K contract.

The Lineup

Position Players

  1. Brett Gardner, CF
  2. Nori Aoki, LF
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH
  5. Kyle Seager, 3B
  6. Seth Smith, RF
  7. Steve Pearce, 1B
  8. Ketel Marte, SS
  9. Chris Iannetta, C

Bench

  1. Franklin Gutierrez, OF
  2. Chris Taylor, INF
  3. Jesus Sucre, C
  4. Jesus Montero, INF

Rotation

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. James Paxton
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Taijuan Walker
  5. Nate Karns

Bullpen

  1. Tony Zych
  2. Mayckol Guaipe
  3. Mark Lowe
  4. Brian Matusz (L)
  5. Charlie Furbush (L)
  6. Carson Smith
  7. Tyler Clippard

Analysis

Here, Dipoto makes a series of moves to address his desire of making the Mariners a much deeper team both in starting pitching and athletic defenders who can get on base.  Last season the Mariners finished 11th in the American League in on-base percentage (OBP) and tallied the second highest strikeout totals.  The Mariners also produced the third worst ultimate zone rating (UZR ) in the American League with a -29.6. Worse, the Mariners finished dead last in defensive runs saved (DRS) with -60, while the next closest team was the White Sox with -39.

Dipoto has stated his first order of business is to resign Iwakuma for the rotation.  For the past three seasons, Iwakuma has teamed with Felix Hernandez to form one of the best pitching duos in the American League.  Iwakuma missed roughly two months last year due to a strained lat muscle, but dominated hitters after he returned by posting a 9-4 record in 17 starts, a 3.10 era, a .230 BA against, with 100 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 113.1 innings pitched.  Yes, Iwakuma will turn 35 in 2016, but even if he starts to decline from his former ace-like self, he will still serve as a valuable middle of the rotation arm.

After resigning Iwakuma, Dipoto must turn his attention to two major areas of need: center field and catcher.

By acquiring Gardner, Dipoto not only finds a capable center fielder, but someone who can leadoff and allow rookie Ketel Marte to move down in the batting order.  Last season, Gardner produced a .259/.343/.399 including a .291/.373/.462 up through the end of July.  However, Gardner slumped badly the final two months of the season, producing a combined .203/.288/.290 in August and September that tempered what had been one of the best offensive outputs of his career.  Defensively, Gardner spent most of 2015 in left field where he posted a -0.9 UZR and +1 DRS.  No longer the player he was back in 2008 and 2009, Gardner still has plenty of value (2.6 WAR last year) and a move back to his natural center field position may result in numbers closer to those of his last stint as an everyday center fielder (2013) where he posted a -0.5 UZR and a +6 DRS.  The Yankees may not be keen on trading away that type of production, but with Gardner mirroring the same skill-set as Jacoby Ellsbury, and still owed $39.5M over the next three years, moving Gardner to acquire needed pitching and payroll relief makes sense.  Of course, dealing away Elias who is cost controlled and who has shown success at the MLB level, along with a late-inning reliever in Wilhelmsen who has dominating stuff, may be dangerous territory for the Mariners.  But the addition of Karns to the rotation and the emergence of Carson Smith as a viable set-up man allows Dipoto the ability to move some pitching.

With Mike Zunino set to spend 2016 in the minors trying to reinvent himself as a hitter, the Mariners are in need an everyday catcher.  Dipoto’s first move as GM of the Angels back in 2011 was to acquire Iannetta from the Rockies, so a reunion of the two would make sense.  A solid defensive player who works well with pitchers, Iannetta suffered through a down offensive year in 2015 where he slashed a .188/.293/.335 in 92 games.  However, the previous three seasons, Iannetta averaged a .238/.357/.386.  Odds are that Iannetta will revert back to something closer to those numbers, but even if he doesn’t, his 2015 numbers would still be a fairly large upgrade over the .159/.205/.258 the Mariners received out of catcher position last year.

If there was one area last season that killed the Mariners, it was the regression of the bullpen, specifically its inability to hold leads.  Upgrading the bullpen will be a must.  Here, the Mariners bring in Clippard to bolster their late inning relief corps.  A proven set-up man, Clippard also has success closing out games, as seen by his 32 saves for the Nationals in 2012, and 19 saves this past season for the Athletics and Mets.  Depending on how the Mariners use Carson Smith, Clippard will prove invaluable in the late innings either by bridging the gap to the closer, or as the closer himself.

With first baseman Mark Trumbo symbolizing everything Dipoto is not looking for in a player, dealing him to a team looking for power makes sense.  With first baseman Chris Davis a free agent and sure to land a contract out of the Orioles’ price range, the Mariners are able to offer Trumbo as a replacement for Davis at a fraction of the cost.   A former starter, Matusz has spent the last few years pitching out of the Orioles bullpen.  With the Mariners, Matusz would continue to serve that role while also offering the ability to move to the starting rotation if needed.

To fill the void at first base, the Mariners turn to Steve Pearce. Pearce lacks the raw power of Trumbo, but he provides more versatility due to his ability to play a corner outfield position as well as at second or third base.  In addition, Pearce doesn’t come with all the strikeouts that Trumbo does, and he costs half as much.  The downside is that Pearce struggled to a .218/.289/.422 last year (which, really, isn’t that far off from what Trumbo would give you).   The good new, however, is that Pearce’s track record shows much better, as seen by his .292/.373/.556 in 2014, and his .261/.362/.420 in 2013.

Lowe’s return to the Mariners last year resulted in one of his best seasons before being dealt to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline.   In 36 innings pitched for the Mariners, Lowe posted an impressive 1.00 ERA while striking out 47 batters and walking just 11.  Lowe made it known he wouldn’t mind returning to the Mariners in 2016. Dipoto places a great deal of value on strikeout and walk ratios.  With those numbers, the Mariners would be smart to bring the veteran reliever back.

Revamping the outfield will be an important ask for Dipoto.  Seth Smith returns as the regular right fielder against right handed pitching.  Gutiérrez showed last year that he can still wield a potent bat when healthy, producing a .292/.354/.620 and 15 home runs primarily against left handed pitching. Gutiérrez wants to return, and should the Mariners believe he can stay healthy for a second consecutive season, he would, once again, serve as the ideal compliment to Smith in right field.

The Mariners round out their outfield with the underrated Aoki.  While not a power hitter, all Aoki did last year was put up a solid .287/.353/.380 along with a 3.6 UZR in left field.  With Dipoto looking for defense, athleticism, and the ability to get on base, he’ll find all three with Aoki.

Conclusion

With the additions of Iwakuma, Clippard, Matusz and Lowe, the Mariners keep their starting pitching in tact while upgrading their bullpen.  Clippard would provide a closer option, thereby allowing Carson Smith to set-up in the 7th or 8th innings, and Matusz would provide added insurance for the starting rotation.  Dealing Elias and Wilhelmsen could prove risky considering the issues that took place with the starting rotation and bullpen in 2015. But the addition of Gardner in center field and Aoki in left field drastically upgrades an outfield that has been plagued defensively by the likes of Trumbo, Raul Ibanez, Logan Morrison and Nelson Cruz in years past.   While far from flashy, Iannetta and Pearce provide steady play at catcher and first base, with Gutierrez providing right handed thump against left handed pitching for below market cost.

Offseason Primer:  As the Mariners Plan Ahead for 2016, They Should Look Back to 1999

With the conclusion of the World Series, the quest to find players who can transform the Mariners into a playoff caliber team is officially under way for new General Manager, Jerry Dipoto. That task won’t be an easy one as Dipoto’s offseason “to-do” list includes finding a first baseman, catcher, left fielder, center fielder, front end starting pitcher, bullpen arm(s), and a closer.

Stepping into such a hot-seat environment is never an ideal beginning.  And it’s not just finding any old players to fill those spots, but, rather, players that will immediately propel the Mariners into late October. Unlike the Jack Zduriencik era, there will be no five-year plan to hide behind for Dipoto. There won’t be extra time afforded to see if prospect A, B and/or C pan out. With an ownership group and fan base expecting immediate results, Dipoto’s worth and effectiveness (and fate) as the Mariners’ GM will be tested without delay.  

But here’s the good news. It can be done. And has been done before.  And, coincidently, with nearly the exact same challenges, and accomplished by a newly hired Mariners GM.

The 1999 season was one that saw the Mariners go a disappointing 78-83, resulting in GM Woody Woodward’s “retirement.” The Mariners headed into the offseason not only needing to fill its GM vacancy, but to address its 25-man roster and, most importantly, deal with Ken Griffey Jr.’s demand to be traded to a team closer to his Florida home. With no GM, numerous roster holes to fill, and the impending loss of Seattle’s franchise icon, the stars were seemingly aligned for a disastrous offseason. 

Enter, Pat GIllick.

Much like Dipoto, Gillick inherited a team full of needs, namely: first base, third base, left field, center field, a top of the rotation starting pitcher, arms for the bullpen, and a closer.

Gillick’s first order of business was to handle the Griffey situation, and he did so by trading the future hall of famer to Cincinnati for centerfielder Mike Cameron, reliever/spot starter Brett Tomko, and minor leaguers Jake Meyer and Antonio Perez.

Gillick then went out and deftly signed a handful of free agents that would meet the rest of the team’s needs for the 2000 season and beyond.  

Gillick signed the sweet swinging John Olerud to play first base, and when the Baltimore Orioles hesitated in signing Aaron Sele, Gillick swooped in and lured the veteran to Seattle to be the ace of the pitching staff.

Gillick continued his mastery with the signings of Mark McLemore to play second base (thereby pushing David Bell to third base), Stan Javier to play left field, and south paw Arthur Rhodes to help bridge the gap to newly acquired closer, Kazuhiro Sasaki.

In one spectacular off-season makeover, Gillick filled four positional needs and revamped his starting rotation and bullpen, all the while creating a deep, versatile, balanced and athletic roster.

Sixteen years later, Dipoto and his staff find themselves facing the same challenges as Gillick, and will endeavor to find similar success. So far, Dipoto has said all the right things by emphasizing pitching and defense, and wanting to make the roster deeper, more athletic, and better suited to Safeco Field.  

As we’ll discuss further in the weeks to follow, the right type of players are available for Dipoto to pull off a 1999/2000 offseason redux. With payroll rumored to remain the same as last season, the $130 million dollar question is whether Dipoto can parlay his talk into productive results?

We will soon find out as Dipoto and company are now on the clock.