The anniversary of his contract extension with the Mariners, which few people would’ve remembered or felt the need to recognize, came and went Tuesday at T-Mobile Park without Jerry Dipoto making an appearance in the afternoon sun.
Instead, the Mariners general manager spent the majority of his day in meetings with the team’s collection of scouts and crosscheckers in the Ellis Pavilion of T-Mobile preparing for the upcoming 2021 MLB amateur draft.
Three years ago on July 6, 2018, the Mariners announced that Dipoto, who was hired in September 2015, had received a multiyear extension. While the team doesn’t reveal contract details, MLB sources at the time confirmed it was a three-year extension. It included a lengthy news conference with Dipoto, Mariners owner and chairman John Stanton and then-team president Kevin Mather all optimistic about the future of the organization.
Dipoto was in the final months of the initial three-year contract he signed with the Mariners, replacing the fired Jack Zdurienicik. While he had hoped to receive an extension and some security before the season, Stanton and Mather waited, presumably using the time to evaluate the team on the field and the overall status of the organization.
At that afternoon news conference, Mather was asked about waiting until July to extend Dipoto and provide some clarity for the future.
“I look at it as the normal course of business,” he said. “We are two and a half years into a three-year deal. It’s not like I don’t talk to Jerry on a daily basis. It’s not like we don’t know where each other is at and what we are doing. It’s getting close to the All-Star break, and it was time to get the extension done and move forward as an organization so everybody can relax and do their jobs. I was happy to do it. And it was always kind of a done deal in my head.”
The Mariners came into that Friday in 2018 with a 56-32 record and 1½ games out of first place of the American League West and leading the surging A’s for one of the two AL wild card spots by 7½ games. A return to the postseason for the first time since 2001 seemed more than possible.
The 2018 Mariners eventually faded over the next three months, posting a disappointing 33-41 record in that span. The A’s continued that surge, going 49-26 to run away from Seattle and other teams. After that season, Dipoto convinced Mather and Stanton to embark on a “step-back” rebuild that saw the Mariners trade away veteran talent for salary relief and prospect return while putting a less-than-stellar product of the field with the hope of sustainable success in 2021 or 2022 and beyond.
Now Dipoto finds himself in the familiar “lame duck” situation. He is in the final months of his three-year extension. The Mariners came into his extension anniversary with a surprising 45-40 record and in contention for the wild card. A team with a seemingly flawed and inexperienced roster coming into the season and injuries to key players in the first months has overachieved to this point.
Stanton has shrugged off multiple questions about the status of Dipoto’s future since spring training. With Mather resigning in disgrace in late February after video of his inflammatory comments made on a Zoom call to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club went viral, Stanton announced a change of the leadership structure that would split the responsibilities of the team presidents into separate jobs — business operations and baseball operations.
Asked then about Dipoto, Stanton replied:
“I will continue to talk with Jerry. And I will probably talk to Jerry about his role and position before I talk with you about it.”
There has been no mention of a contract extension for him though multiple MLB sources have mentioned that the Mariners floated the possibility of a one-year extension for 2022. Presumably, Stanton is waiting to see how the third year of Dipoto’s rebuild is working. With the shortened season due to COVID-19, the loss of the 2020 minor league season, the team’s reticence to spend on free agency in the offseason and the upheaval caused by Mather, trying to evaluate the situation isn’t typical.
Dipoto has opted not to discuss his job situation in interviews. Though he did say on his weekly radio show on ESPN 710 that he has had discussions with Stanton.
“They are always ongoing, but I agree with you — I am pulling for an extension,” Dipoto said with a laugh. “I try not to worry about it too much. Just like we preach to the players, just focus on what you can control. We are making progress, and I believe that our ownership and John Stanton see that, and that will be reflected in the way that me and our baseball operations are handled moving forward.”
It is fair to wonder how Dipoto’s lame duck status might affect his decision-making before the upcoming MLB trade deadline. He’s always maintained that he would never make decisions that were personal or as a reaction to the past few weeks or make moves in an effort to keep his job. Could that change in the coming weeks?
The Mariners have players with trade value in Mitch Haniger and Kendall Graveman if they decide to sell and plenty of prospects in the system if they try to buy. If Stanton and the owners haven’t made a decision by then, would they even allow Dipoto to make major trades?
Manager Scott Servais is also nearing the anniversary of his three-year contract extension, which was given to him by Dipoto on July 20, 2018. He was the first Mariners manager to receive a multiyear contract extension since Lou Piniella.
Like Dipoto, he has opted not to address the situation when asked.