The reverberations from the Mariners’ purge of their scouting staff Thursday continued to be felt a day later throughout Major League Baseball.
While most organizations employ 30-plus scouts per season, covering amateur baseball, MLB and the minor leagues, international scouting and more, the tight-knit scouting community feels small, like a town in rural Washington or Montana. Everyone knows everyone, and they stick together. In the business, gossip spreads fast and bad news can elicit a tornado of text messages.
The first came at 3:31 p.m. on Thursday, when an opposing scout from a National League team sent a text saying he’d heard that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto “gutted” the team’s amateur and pro-scouting staffs.
An MLB source said that there would be some scouts and front-office staff members whose contracts would not be renewed for 2021, including Tom Allison, the Mariners’ vice president of scouting. Allison has been with the Mariners since 2012 and was promoted to oversee all aspects of the organization’s scouting five years ago. He worked with Dipoto in Arizona as the director of scouting and was responsible for drafts that produced Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock.
Allison confirmed the news via text a few hours later.
By the end of the day and into Friday, text messages started to accumulate, with three scouts from opposing teams using the word “bloodbath” to describe the layoffs. The list of names of those not coming back continued to grow, confirmed by multiple sources in the Mariners’ organization and by some who will be officially unemployed by the organization when their contract expires on Oct. 31.
Of 11 other non-renewals, there were a few notable names, including Tom McNamara, who returned to the Mariners in 2008 as the director of amateur scouting. He was promoted to special assistant to Dipoto. Pro scout Greg Hunter has been with the Mariners organization for almost 20 years, serving in a variety of roles, including Mariners’ director of player development. Other scouts confirmed the list included personnel manager Jason Karegeannes, who Allison hired away from the Cubs, Howard McCullough (special assignment scout), Taylor Cameron (West Coast crosschecker), Jordan Bley (area scout), Amanda Hopkins (area scout), Alex Ross (area scout), Gary Patchett (area scout), Dan Rovetto (area scout) and Chris Rosenbaum (pro scout).
Sources indicate that the Mariners have informed a handful of coaches and coordinators on the player-development side that their contracts will not be renewed for 2021.
So why do this?
Mariners chairman John Stanton stopped in the T-Mobile Park press box Friday to clarify the reasoning.
Given the financial situation of the organization and other franchises during the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortened season without fans in attendance, there was going to be some changes. Stanton said that some of the cuts were directly due to the lost revenues of the 2020 season.
The Mariners decided to follow the path set by the Astros, A’s and the Orioles in restructuring and streamlining their scouting department, combining the amateur and pro side. The Mariners have decided to invest heavily in the analytical side of scouting, emphasizing the usage of data accumulated through technologies such as Trackman, Statcast and Rapsodo that offer reams of useful data. They are going to have scouts use this data and technology that will be processed through computer algorithms created by the analytics department as a large part of their reports. This isn’t new thinking. The aforementioned teams have done that while the Rays have pushed this usage, but have actually added scouts during that process.
It does seem like the days of scouts traveling to every part of the country, armed with radar guns and stopwatches, sitting behind home plate are dwindling. And there is an expectation that any scout remaining with the organization will need to embrace the new push toward video- and data-based scouting.
With the push to data, could these experienced scouts become the new “market inefficiency” to be exploited for an advantage.
As a scout pointed out, “to discount/marginalize/squash the value of insight and experience is short-sighted — innovation can be obtained through adjustment just as easily through TNT.”
Stanton mentioned the expected contraction of 40-plus minor league teams, as well expected reduction of future amateur drafts to around 20-25 rounds, as another reason for the reduction in scouting staff and likely the non-renewals in player development.
And with the scouting department significantly reduced, the need for managers like Allison and Karegeannes was also lessened.
Manager Scott Servais plans to reiterate to his players how much caution they should take when it comes to being exposed to someone with COVID-19.
The Mariners opened their first homestand of the season Friday and won’t have the bubble of a team hotel to remain in before and after games. While some players are staying at hotels near the stadium for the next few months, others have rented houses or apartments. Servais wants them to remain vigilant after reports that the laxity displayed by Marlins players and staff led to their 20-person outbreak.
“I’ll continue to have meetings with our guys,” Servais said before Friday’s game at T-Mobile Park via a video media session. “I thought we did an excellent job on the road. Once you’re kind of locked into the hotel and just going to the ballpark, it may be a little easier.”
But it all changes in Seattle.
“Now that we’re home, certainly families play into it,” he said. “And the guys who don’t have families in here have to make really good choices on what they’re doing away from the field. We’ll continue to harp on that. It only takes one guy making one bad choice that can put us all in a really bad spot. It’s one of those things we’re going to have to deal with continuously throughout the season and just remind our guys how important it is in the decisions they’re making.”
Servais confirmed that a member of the front office will serve as a COVID compliance offer and continually monitor the behavior of players and staff to make sure they are following MLB rules.