Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and his staff believe that better and more consistent communication with players will lead to a culture change within the organization and success on the field.
“Communication” and “culture” were the words of the day at Safeco Field.
If you had a dollar for every time a member of the new Mariners regime used either at the annual pre-spring training media luncheon Thursday, you wouldn’t have enough to pay for 1/1,000th of Robinson Cano’s yearly salary. But you might have enough to pay for a decent seat for a game during the season.
It didn’t matter if it was general manager Jerry Dipoto, manager Scott Servais or director of player development Andy McKay, or even holdovers such as assistant general manager Jeff Kingston and director of scouting Tom Allison. They share a belief that better and more consistent communication will lead to a culture change within the organization and success on the field.
“The biggest thing to me, and I’ve said it to Jeff, to Tom, to Andy and Scott, some for many years, the biggest thing for me is the ability to communicate,” Dipoto said. “If we’re effectively communicating up and down and side to side, then the ball doesn’t drop, the players always know where they’re supposed to be. They’re always in a position to succeed, and moves like these that we’ve made through the offseason are easy to understand because we’ve effectively communicated them both internally and externally.”
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With a new philosophy and roster, they believe success isn’t far away.
“I have high expectations of any club I’m ever with,” Dipoto said. “I like playing in the postseason. I’ve had the opportunity to do it a handful of times in my life, and it’s a blast. I believe this club is as well-suited as anybody to compete in the (American League) West. It’s a tough division.”
And though it’s a tough division, the postseason seems attainable thanks to the second wild-card berth. The Mariners haven’t reached the postseason in 15 years — the longest drought in baseball. The AL West put two teams in the playoffs, with the Rangers (88-74) winning the West and the Astros (86-76) grabbing the first wild-card spot.
“We will start the season with the idea that we’re going to get into the mid-80s,” Dipoto said, referring to wins. “We built the roster with the idea to get into the mid-80s and keep on getting that 85-, 86-win zone and then let the chips fall where they may. It’s amazing how frequently you’re going to wind up winning a lot more games than that. It’s all going to be about the culture that we develop.”
The development of the culture already has begun. It started when Dipoto was hired and he decided to replace manager Lloyd McClendon with Servais. He then made moves within the front office to underline the message — bringing in McKay and retaining Kingston, Allison, director amateur scouting Tom McNamara and director of international scouting Tim Kissner.
“You’re hearing the same terminology from all of us,” Servais said. “There is a reason. We are connected, and that communication is awesome.”
There already are signs of change. The Mariners held a “hitting summit” in late January at their spring-training complex in Arizona. They brought in coaches from their affiliates, roving instructors and 15 players — including catcher Mike Zunino, first baseman Jesus Montero and shortstop Chris Taylor — to join McKay, Servais, hitting coach Edgar Martinez and other front-office members to form a cohesive message about the organization’s hitting approach: “Control the strike zone.”
“You had a major-league manager and a major-league hitting coach out there working with guys that played in Clinton and Everett,” McKay said. “It’s not just talking about communication and being a team. It’s actually living it. And Scott Servais believes in that. We were just trying to begin to put it in their heads what we are going to be about and how we are going to measure them. We wanted to get a head start so that at spring training we had guys at each level that had an understanding of it and help us spread the word.”
The singular message is part of the emphasized communication that leads to a culture change.
“It’s everything,” McKay said. “That’s where communication comes into play. You have a major-league staff that’s using the same terminology that your minor-league staff is using, that your scouting group is using. Common language is probably the most obvious result of a strong culture.”
Kingston believes divergent messages helped sidetrack Zunino’s career, along with him being rushed to the big leagues. The former first-round draft pick struggled in his second big-league season, hitting .170 with a .530 on-base plus slugging percentage and 132 strikeouts in 112 games before being sent to Class AAA Tacoma. He and Taylor were not called up in September, instead being sent to work out their hitting issues in Arizona.
“The biggest takeaway that I got back from those players and the feedback I received was that where we failed as an organization was our consistent communication to the players,” Kingston said. “It’s hard enough to hit in the major leagues. When our players were getting different messages from different voices with different ideas on what they should and shouldn’t be doing from a hitting standpoint, it really made it a difficult. That’s one thing I took away from last year where we need to do better as an organization.”
For Dipoto and his crew, communication and culture won’t be just the words of the day, but the words for every day.