Dipoto has added 17 new players to the team since he took over in late September. He’s been buying low and hoping for the best. How will that work out?
Jack Zduriencik’s tainted blueprint for the Mariners, such as it was, has been systematically torn asunder by his successor, Jerry Dipoto.
It was a process Zduriencik himself started by divesting the ballclub of once-foundational pieces like Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley. Now Dipoto, in a stunning whirlwind of almost daily transactions, is finishing the job.
I’ve counted 20 players from the Zduriencik regime that have been sent packing, one way or another — but the day is young. Meanwhile, Dipoto has added 17 new players to the mix since he took over in late September.
So, what are we left with? It’s not quite a rebuild, because the core of the Seattle roster Dipoto inherited — Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz — has been left untouched.
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Still, it’s nothing less than a complete philosophical reboot around those Core Four. And give Dipoto credit for this: He’s done almost exactly what he said he’d do at his introductory news conference.
He wanted to cut down on strikeouts and raise the team’s on-base percentage. He wanted to build outfield defense more suited to spacious Safeco Field. And he wanted to add to the team’s overall roster depth.
So in has come Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin for the outfield, Adam Lind to play first base, Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger to catch (at least until Mike Zunino gets straightened out), Wade Miley and Nathan Karns to fill out the rotation, and Joaquin Benoit for the bullpen.
Other new players will compete for jobs or provide Class AAA depth, in the likes of relievers Anthony Bass, Evan Scribner and Jonathan Aro, infielder Luis Sardinas and outfielder Boog Powell.
Not to say that it’s all been perfect. There’s a certain aspect of robbing Peter to pay Paul in all this, which is inevitable when the talent pool is as shallow as the one Dipoto inherited.
The Miley trade was a classic example — to get a sturdy starter like Miley, along with a relief prospect (Aro), they had to give up a young late-inning stud in Carson Smith (along with starting depth in Roenis Elias), thus creating a new hole.
Dipoto also has a tendency to buy low and hope for the best. Martin, for instance, is coming off a weak, injury-riddled season, while Iannetta hit just .188 last year. But both have much better performances in their résumés, and Dipoto is banking on a return to form.
“Coming off a down year, frankly, is when you acquire guys,” Dipoto said earlier this fall.
The risk, of course, is that sometimes guys stay down. Just ask Zduriencik, who bought low on the likes of Jack Cust, Corey Hart, Adam Kennedy, Rickie Weeks and Casey Kotchman — there’s more, but I don’t want to scar you permanently — and got minimal return. The difference here is that Dipoto is targeting younger and more recently successful players in Martin and Iannetta, but there are still no guarantees.
The Mariners’ pitching rotation seems just as vulnerable to injury or poor performance as it was last year, particularly with the recent departure of Hisashi Iwakuma. The projected starting five of Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Miley, James Paxton and Karns is solid, but if one of them gets hurt or flames out, right now the replacements are still Mike Montgomery or Vidal Nuno, minus Elias.
Meanwhile, the bullpen is largely barren behind the 38-year-old Benoit. The few holdovers include Nuno and Charlie Furbush, who didn’t pitch after July 9 because of a slight tear in his rotator cuff.
Bullpens are notoriously fickle, volatile and unpredictable. The Mariners are exhibit A, going from one of the best in the league in 2014 to one of the worst in 2015.
But a good GM can rebuild a bullpen with a few deft moves, and Dipoto has promised that this is still a work in progress. I’ll defer judgment, for now.
The ultimate success of Dipoto’s regime, of course, will be unveiled over the long haul. It will come by virtue of the mechanism whereby Zduriencik failed most damagingly — his ability to stock the organization with top-level talent through the draft and other means of acquisition.
But for now, Dipoto is like a mad scientist, wildly putting his stamp on the ballclub in some fairly innovative ways. I’m fascinated to see where it’s all headed, and reluctant to make a definitive judgment until we see what the finished product looks like. At his current pace, he may have only just begun to reshape.
What I admire is that Dipoto is sticking to the vision he articulated. Check that, what I admire is that he has a cohesive, fully formed vision in the first place, and isn’t just winging it, willy-nilly, depending on his current whim.
In the best-case scenario, these frenetic early days of Dipoto and company could be reminiscent of the formative initial season of Pete Carroll and John Schneider with the Seahawks, when they made so many transactions that you wondered where it was all headed. And then we found out.
This is Dipoto’s honeymoon season, so I’ll restrain myself from the almost instinctive skepticism that eventually greeted most of Zduriencik’s moves as his tenure moved along.
Dipoto’s vision hasn’t failed yet — it hasn’t had a chance to — so I’m going to sit back for now and watch it play out. After all, the old way (and the old way before that) didn’t work out so well, did it?