Besides yesterday’s comments from the main press conference on the dais, new Mariners’ general manager Jerry Dipoto also spoke afterward with reporters for some individual questions and follow ups (pictured above). Hard-working columnist Larry Stone was in that group and was nice enough to transcribe the questions and answers:
On playing in the same division as his former team, the Angels?
“I’m obviously very competitive. I care a lot about the players in that clubhouse, a lot of the people that make up that team. I spent four years of blood, sweat and tears helping to put it together. Now, like they will with me on this side, I’d like to go beat them. That makes them one of 28 others I’d like to go beat.”
I learned this from Kirk Gibson, who I worked with in Arizona. We were going in to play the Mets. The Mets were my childhood team, we were flying in, and it was my first time as a GM. I said to Gibby, this one would be special. I would very much look forward to beating these guys. He said, ‘Oh, it would be special, and just so you know, I want to beat them all.’ That’s my answer to that question. As much as I care about the people with the Angels, I would like to beat them. As I’m sure they’d like to beat me.”
On being interested in the Mariners’ GM job immediately when it opened
“Like I said, it’s not a joke, whether it was going through the interview seven years ago, or this time through with Howard (Lincoln) and Kevin (Mather), it really is a dream job. My family loves this region of the country. We have relatives that live not that far away. It’s some place we’ve spent a lot of time over the years. Once this ballpark was built, coming in as a scout, there’s just a magnetic draw to the ballpark that makes you want to be here.
This ballpark, the foundation of the club, the resources that this organization has, and an ownership group that, frankly, is always interested in moving the ball forward and allowing you to think freely, is really appealing to me. This is a fantastic opportunity, and I’d take it over any of the other 29.”
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On what the current team needs
“First, depth. Depth has to happen. I think every organization sees depth in a different way. Depth to me is setting up a Plan A, and having guys in back of Plan A so in the inevitable case where something of the Plan A does not work out, Plan B can step up and provide a productive solution, rather than just a crash and burn. You can’t put yourself in a position where one injury, one under-performance creates such a downward spiral that you can’t compete. I think the best organizations are the deepest organizations. Frankly, right now, if I look around baseball, if I cite the deepest organizations in baseball, they’ve all already qualified to play next month, and they’ve been doing it for quite a while. Teams like St. Louis and presently Pittsburgh. Teams like the Dodgers that are doing this year in and year out. That’s a remarkably positive thing.
This is maybe a tough one to put into words, but this team has to better represent a team that fits this ballpark. We’ve got to be more athletic, and that starts at the grass roots of the organization. That is not a quick fix. There is not an open-all-night 24-hour supermarket for good athletes that play baseball at the major league level. We have to acquire and develop them. I do think the bullpen needs more layers. The bullpen in 2014 was one of the best units I ever encountered in the big leagues. It was remarkable to see how well that group did, particularly seeing them as frequently as I did. They did great job putting that group together. Unfortunately, the bullpen can often be as unpredictable and volatile … I can tell you that from personal experience. Sometimes you’re good, sometimes you’re bad. That needs to be addressed.
That brings us back to No. 1. Some of that is addressed through depth, some through impact. I also think we do have some needs to address in scouting, player development, front office development, that are required. Change begets change. There are a lot of people here I know. I have a long history with a couple people around the club. Most notably Tom Allison, who I worked with in Arizona for four years and I think quite a lot of. He’s an exceptional judge of talent and I’m really glad to be re-associated with Tommy. Jeff Kingston, from the years in the NL West, we’ve had a rapport that continued on in the AL West. Tom McNamara, whom I’ve known since the early 2000s and think a lot of his judgment and ability to go find a player. We will continue to carve through and make the right decisions, but those are the primary needs and things we want to address sooner rather than later.”
On how difficult it is to find athletes in baseball:
“I actually think it’s becoming, I don’t want to say easier, a little more reasonable to find the better athletes in the United States. Some of that has occurred through the advent of the RBI program, MLB done much better job reaching youth in inner cities. I also think baseball is becoming fashionable again. Exciting young players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper. These guys turn on the next generation. It’s fun to watch them play. The best athletes globally for what we’re looking for, they’re available. The best athletes in Japan play baseball; the best athletes in Latin America play baseball. We can go access those players, and then it’s just a matter of picking the right guys, getting them in your system, and watching them grow.”
On if he expects to aggressive the trade or free agent market …
“I will be frank: The trade market is always my first alternative. You draft, scout and develop, you trade, and to me free agents augment the roster you have. In a perfect world, you get to a stage where the foundation is strong enough you use free agency as a pure accent move rather than a foundational builder.
Right now, as an organization, we do need to improve. The depth in the minor-league system, we do need to improve the stream of players that are on their way to the big leagues. That’s no different than my last stop. I have had some career successes, whether it becoming through Arizona, or what we did in the trade market with the Angels. It’s about developing a pool of players. If you focus on any one area, whether it be free agency, trade, scouting, player dev, the draft, etc, you’re pooling the players. What you want to do is have the biggest, most diverse collection of 26-and-under players you can choose from, and in an ideal world they have options and they’re flexible and can all play multiple positions. Sign me up.”
On his favorite player Tom Seaver:
“I saw him lot as little kid. I played for the Mets two years in 90s, fortunate enough those were years he was doing TV broadcast work … Tom Seaver where I was from, if you were a Met fan growing up, and you were a good Catholic boy from Jersey, you walked in and there was a picture of Jesus on the wall to the left, and a picture of Tom Seaver on the wall to the right. He was Elvis where I came from if you were a Mets guy. He was very good to me when I played for the Mets, he was very good to my son. When he was born and we gave him the middle name Seaver, Tom was kind enough to send him a basket of goodies. And then continued to for a couple of years. My son has had a picture of Tom Seaver hanging over his bed since he was in a crib. He never saw him play, but I think he knows the importance of him from when I was his age, what he meant to me, what he meant to my brother.”
On if he still has SABR membership:
I lapsed, when started directing departments, found out time wasn’t as easy to come by as used to be, let membership lapse, about 10 years ago. Also about the time in my life I realized no time to play fantasy football. There’s other tings to do.
More on tailoring his team to a home ballpark
“One of the things we were able to achieve in Anaheim was looking at the available pool of players. I got the job in winter of 2011, had at time what was expiring pitching staff (Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, 60 million for 3), very little coming behind them in the system. We took one young guy, Tyler Chatwood traded him to Rockies for Chris Iannetta. Then had to make decisions how go forward as pitching staff. The way we did that was take the ballpark into consideration. We had an ability to focus on a style of pitcher that a lot of other teams just walked by. I’ll use this in relations to the analytics in the game. Analytically, you are more inclined to look toward the ground ball/strikeout model, the guy who keeps it on the ground, limits homeruns. We thought, where can we look and find advantage where some might not. We were in a ballpark where contact and fly balls didn’t scare us because we have Peter Borjous and Mike Trout and Torii Hunter. They could run ‘em down. We took different liberties in how we built a pitching staff. I don’t think that’s far different from what you’re able to do here.
What we need to do is find a mix of the athletic and the tried and true, find guys that can keep the lineup moving. Sometimes you can keep a lineup moving with two guys, one in the upper third, one in the bottom third. Just create a flow. You might be able to flank a center field with one guy and you cover two-thirds of the field and find now you can afford some bop on one corner. There’s a lot of ways you can put it together, but you have to understand, first and foremost, that this ballpark affords you abilities to build a pitching staff and create a defensive model other parks just don’t.”
On what he’s learned in looking closer at the Mariners
“Don’t know if anything snuck up on me. That’s part of the wonder of the analysis available in today’s game, and playing the Mariners as frequently as we did last four years. You felt you knew who they were. After leaving the showroom and moving into the engine room, I was a little disheartened at the overall strikeout rate in the minor leagues. You’ve got a lot of guys striking out a lot. Now they are a lot of very talented players with a lot of upside potential to tap into. That’s only going to happen if we can somehow develop more contact. I think that’s important. That’s going to be step No. 1, and that’s more from a developmental aspect than major league aspect. The big league club, we see them enough that nothing shocked me. Excited to get up close and personal look at some of the pitching that is here. I’m very excited about some of the stuff-ier young guys, watching what they can do on a more regular basis.”
“Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Carson Smith. Really excited to see them. I think Vidal Nuno has done a really nice job for the Mariners. He’s not the stuffiest guy, but he knows how to pitch. We’ve seen that group on a couple of occasions from other side…I’ve seen Taijuan Walker dating back to high school, that’s a guy to me that has an elite upside. I’m very excited for the progress he made in the second half of this year and expect he’ll move forward. James Paxton, it’s been an unfortunately battle with small injuries and issues that have kept him off the mound, but the stuff is unquestionable. We need to find the ways to get him out there more frequently and consider all the avenues in doing that. I’m really excited to watch this group work.”
On if he was watching Mariners’ games on television
When I could. In between, I did take a job with Red Sox. I believe I did exactly what Red Sox hired me to do and maybe a little more. Roughly six weeks to get through their major-league club and entire minor-league system and evaluate the players, which was a tall order. Spent 3 or 4 days with Dave (Dombrowski) just running through what I saw, which was great. I got a peak under the hood of a well-run organization which is chock full of good young players. That was a lot of fun, but it did create a little gap in how many games I could watch on I-pad.
On what he would tell Mariners’ fans
“I am hopeful of what comes next, I hope you are too. You will notice I’m energetic. This is who I am. I am positive. Every situation to me, the glass is half full. Somehow, I’m going to pull you over to my side of the line. I believe that’s true, and it will happen with this org, too. I can’t promise you we’ll be ready to run at full steam by Nov. 11. But come April of next year, May of next year, September of next year, you’re going to see steady improvement, steady development of depth. We are going to get to the point we are versatile, flexible, and sustainable. There’s no doubt.”
On promises to fans
“I’m not big on campaign promises. I believe in my own ability, mostly believe in my ability to put the right people around me to help me do the job well. I do believe I’ve been a good evaluator through the years, and I will continue address those needs. I’ve checked down in a lot of areas in scouting. Most importantly, it’s getting the right players and putting them in the right environment.
When you get to the ballpark and see a positive and energetic environment, with players that are fun to watch, as I said to a friend the other day, you can say what you want about contracts, the I guess you could say slower flow of players to the big leagues, when you have Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz and you’ve got Taijuan Walker ready to burst on and become something, there are lot worse players to be than with that foundation. Putting that group out of the field in the right environment, it can really stoke good things.
This is a team – the media and those within the industry really thought this team, in 2015, had a chance to do really good things. That wasn’t accidental. Now we have to figure what went wrong. I think I have a reasonable idea of what went wrong. Some of it starts with what we said were the needs. And when we get to the point we address those needs, we’ll be right back where we need to be, in the world of World Series contender.”