In an effort to maintain full disclosure as the holiday season approaches, the Twitter Mailbag isn’t a huge fan of Thanksgiving — though it isn’t quite as loathsome as Christmas, which was the worst even before the Hallmark Network was created.
Last year provided the Mailbag’s greatest Thanksgiving ever, spent in the company of two 50-inch televisions — one showing football and the other used for a binge of Peaky Blinders or PlayStation 4 — for the better part of 16 hours with no familial interactions and dinner being a frozen pizza.
Most important, general manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t make a trade or any news the night before, and follow-up work wasn’t needed. In past years, he made the trade for Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura at 8 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving. The next year, he released the first episode of his podcast “The Wheelhouse” with his first public and highly detailed comments about the organization’s pursuit and plan to court and sign then-free agent Shohei Ohtani at 7 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving.
With Thanksgiving looming in a few weeks and pitching help needed for a 2021 season that has increased expectations, the Mailbag probably shouldn’t make any plans for next Wednesday night.
A piece of advice: If the stuffing (the best part of the Thanksgiving) isn’t made by your mom or grandma, it’s best to avoid it. You will only be disappointed. And no amount of gravy will make you feel better.
As always, these are real questions submitted by the pilgrims that are the Mailbag’s Twitter followers … What’s next?
Because Andrew asked four solid questions in his one tweet, there really wasn’t a need to dig deep into the collection questions that the Mailbag has accumulated after one early request in October. So let’s unpack and answer them one by one.
Question: What are the consequences of Dipoto saying the goal for ’21 is competing for the playoffs?
Answer: I don’t know that there are additional consequences for saying it publicly because that seems to be the entire organization’s expectation. Dipoto is verbose and probably more open than any other current general manager in baseball.
We know Dipoto will always take the optimistic outlook. It’s just his personality. His timeline for the success of the “step back” always felt a little accelerated. A more pragmatic timeline always seemed to be the 2022 season.
We still don’t know what the overall impact will be from the cancellation of the minor-league season. The Mariners have been creative to lessen the developmental damage, but something has to have been lost in all of this.
From a financial standpoint, it was serendipitous the Mariners had significantly reduced MLB payroll over the last two seasons and minimized future financial commitments. But all teams took a big financial hit this season with only 60 games, no fans and lost revenue. And with restrictions and limitations expected for 2021, projected revenue will still significantly be down compared to the 2019 season.
So while the Mariners’ current projected payroll commitment is around $70 million, Dipoto’s pre-COVID plan of getting his payroll budget back to around $160 million in the coming years isn’t guaranteed.
That would hinder the timeline to success because the Mariners still need add some established MLB talent through free agency to fill out the roster.
It was surprising to hear manager Scott Servais, who is more measured and cautious in such situations, express his belief that this team will compete for a postseason spot in 2021 before Dipoto made his comments.
It speaks to their overall belief in what has been constructed thus far into the rebuild.
While neither Dipoto nor Servais could come out and say the 2021 season is going to be about development and results are secondary to that, they did set an expectation level.
It would’ve been easy for both to use the aforementioned challenges as reasons to hedge the timeline to success and the postseason. But they didn’t.
One thing to note, by saying that they expect to compete for a playoff spot instead of saying they expect to make the playoffs, they provided wiggle room in the definition of what it means to compete for a playoff spot vs. actually earning one. There isn’t a defining level to that achievement.
Technically, the Mariners competed for a postseason spot until the final week of the 2020 season. And you could say they competed for a postseason spot in 2018, 2016, 2014, 2009, 2007, 2003 and 2002.
Of course, many fans are only going to overlook “competing” and focus on “playoffs” as the determinant for success.
Q: Is he able to use it to swing FAs?
A: A team philosophy or statement doesn’t usually change the mindset of free agents as much as money and years of commitment in a contract. That’s the overlying goal for a free agent, particularly players experiencing free agency for the first time. Then the other factors like fit and opportunity on the roster, expected role or playing time, the geographic location of the team, the team’s past or projected success and family fit also matter more than a declaration by a general manager.
I’ve said it before, but when it comes to the elite free agents, the Mariners will always have to pay above the market value in salary or contract length for a variety of reasons. The midlevel free agents come down to money, fit and opportunity.
For free agents, it’s not about what Dipoto says. It’s about what he offers.
Q: Is his job in jeopardy if they don’t compete?
A: Again, we are dealing with the nebulous definition of the team competing in the 2021 season. Is it their record? Is it staying in the playoff race all season? Is it level of play on the field? And how do you measure that? How do other teams in American League and their success or failure factor into it?
I do think the last 30 games of the 2020 season and how competitive the Mariners were in those games, the growth of rookies Kyle Lewis, Justus Sheffield, Evan White and others provided some reassurance to ownership that the rebuild plan is trending in the right direction.
But if this team comes out and falls on its face next season, and the young core of this rebuild regresses, then Dipoto, who received a contract extension of undetermined length (rumors say it was three-year extension with an option year) in July 2018, could be in trouble.
Or maybe Servais, who signed his contract extension a few weeks after Dipoto, is made the first scapegoat if there are struggles.
Q: Do fans abandon trust in the rebuild if they win less than 80 games?
A: It’s hard for me to say what fans will or won’t do. I’m not a fan, and it’s impossible to speak from that mindset. It’s also illogical to think all fans think the same way.
I always believed this sort of rebuild, which the previous ownership wouldn’t commit to, was needed and should’ve been done after the 2010 season.
There are plenty of fans who never trusted Dipoto or his rebuild plan from the beginning. Given the failures since 2001, highlighted by questionable decision-making in almost every aspect, the organization has lost any cachet it had within the fan base. Skepticism or pessimism toward the Mariners is fair and earned. Other fans may look at what has been built thus far, the prospects in the pipeline and the more cautioned projection of 2022 and think a suboptimal 2021 season is part of that progression. The idea of potential and prospects outweighing present production and problems is intoxicating for some.
What if the Mariners win less than 80 games, but they are competitive, and players like Lewis, White, Crawford, Sheffield, Justin Dunn continue to show improvement while Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert make their debuts and look solid and Julio Rodriguez has a monster minor-league season and seems on the cusp? Should trust remain in the rebuild if those key parts of it are successful when the win-loss results are not?
Regardless of the win-loss record, the definition of competing for the playoffs or how you measure improvement, we are going to know a lot more about this rebuild’s timeline to success or possible failure after the 2021 season.
Based on comments and interactions … usually the second one.