PEORIA, Ariz. — John Stanton stood with his arms crossed, peering through the chain-link fence, as players took a spirited round of batting practice, smacking the ball all over Field 2 of the Mariners’ spring-training complex.
This windswept day was still preferable to the last day he was in Arizona when, as the managing partner of the Mariners, he had to deliver an in-person apology to the assembled players, many of them directly mentioned in less-than-pleasing undertones by now former president Kevin Mather in a Zoom call to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club.
But on this Wednesday morning, almost two weeks later, most of the players were oblivious to his presence. Most quickly moved on from Mather and resumed their focus on their career. The daily routine of baseball will do that.
Stanton doesn’t have that luxury. He’s had to deal with the continued fallout from Mather’s wide-ranging comments, serving as the interim president and CEO, while also figuring out a leadership strategy.
In his first media interview since announcing that Mather had resigned his position, Stanton outlined plans for opening day and a new leadership structure for the organization and Mather’s future presence in the organization, which will be nonexistent.
Stanton confirmed that Mather will no longer have an ownership stake in the Mariners. He was given it as part of his promotion to president and CEO. But he wouldn’t confirm if Mather is being offered a severance package or would be compensated for the ownership stake or if it was forfeited.
“We’re in the process working that through, but Kevin will not be a partner moving forward,” Stanton said.
Besides moving on from Mather, the Mariners will no longer have someone in a president and chief executive officer role where everyone reported to them and they reported to Stanton.
“I’ve decided to split the roles,” he said.
The new structure will separate the responsibilities between the baseball and business side.
“We’ll have one person running the team and one person running the front office,” Stanton said. “Each of them will report up to us. I talked to a number of people in baseball and including the commissioner (Rob Manfred), who said, frankly, if my partners and I are willing to commit to this it’s a better structure for a lot of reasons.”
Whomever they hire to fill Mather’s role will be responsible for the Mariners’ front office and aspects not related to baseball, including sales, marketing, communications, ballpark operations and anything business related. That person who becomes president will report directly to Stanton and the Mariners ownership group.
All baseball operations will fall under the direction of general manager Jerry Dipoto, who will report directly to Stanton and the ownership group. In the previous structure, Dipoto had to report to Mather on numerous matters, including payroll and operating costs.
“Jerry’s always had responsibility for baseball operations and he’s always made the baseball decisions,” Stanton said. “I don’t think it’s particularly new for him because the big decisions end up being important to ownership. When there is a big issue, he’s always involved me and some of my partners. This is not new. We feel great about the leadership that Jerry’s shown, and I feel good about the relationship that I have with Jerry.”
Stanton said he expects both aspects to coexist without friction.
“That’s the way most teams do it,” Stanton said. “I looked for advice and I wanted to find out what the best approach. This is what I repeatedly heard. I think this has the virtue of giving us a broader potential candidates for the president.”
The Cubs, Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Red Sox all have similar leadership structures. It’s something the Mariners considered when Chuck Armstrong retired in 2014, but they ultimately remained with the same structure and promoted Mather.
Most teams with split leadership roles, give the title of president to each person. Will Dipoto get a title bump from vice president and general manager to president of baseball operations? How does this affect his situation where he is operating in the final year of his contract with no club option for 2022?
“I will continue to talk with Jerry,” Stanton said. “And I will probably talk to Jerry about his role and position before I talk with you about it.”
When asked about possibly changing the leadership structure in his previous news conference after Mather resigned, Stanton was noncommittal, saying he would evaluate the situation internally.
“Every kind of challenge that we face represents an opportunity to look freshly at the way we do things,” he said. “I view this as an opportunity to say, ‘OK, what’s the right way of doing this?’ … So this is a chance to look and ask that question, and it’s not necessarily the right answer for all time, but I think it’s the right answer for now.”
The search for Mather’s replacement will be led by Jeff Raikes, who will run a search committee comprised of people in the organization and outside of it.
Raikes is part of the Mariners ownership group and serves as the chair of the Stanford University Board of Trustees. He has roots in Microsoft and served as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“He’s been involved in searches in that context and in the private-sector context,” Stanton said. “I’m excited for him to be able to do that. And I think that the result will be that we’ll have a good and thorough process and the opportunity to find the best possible candidates to lead the organization.”
Stanton expects Raikes to have a creative search that will also include internal candidates but also possibilities from businesses outside the sports world. The idea of fresh eyes, different thinking and new philosophies might be needed for an organization that had seemed to rely on a “well, we’ve always done it this way” mindset.
“I view this as reducing the limits or broadening the aperture of the hundreds of candidates that we can get, and I expect it to be a diverse pool,” Stanton said. “… Jeff is a broad-minded thinker. You like people where you learn something from them. Every time I spend time with Jeff Raikes, I learn something.”
There is no timetable to hire Mather’s replacement. Stanton is comfortable handling the day-to-day operations as an interim president and CEO.
“From my perspective, when you put a clock on something, you tend to force a conclusion,” Stanton said. “If I say I’m going to have to be done by ‘X’ that means I need to be at this point by ‘Y’ and this point by ‘Z.’ Jeff and I talked about it, and I think we need to get the right answer. And I think that the right answer is going to come as a result of a thorough search. That’s the priority.”