Heading into 2015, the Seattle Mariners not only had playoff aspirations, but some analysts even tabbed them as a World Series team. Upon eventually crossing the finish line with a disappointing 76-86 record, change at the top was bound to happen.
Once it did, plenty of other changes took place, too.
Former general manager Jack Zduriencik was out of a job before the calendar flipped to September, followed by Jerry Dipoto being tabbed as his successor by the end of that month.
From that point on, the Mariners went through as close to a complete makeover as one organization possibly could in one offseason. We knew Dipoto had a clear vision as to what kind of team he wanted to field on Opening Day since the changes were coming fast and furious within his first few months on the job.
Between the trade market, free agency and action on the waiver wire, he managed to turn over nearly half of the 40-man roster. Better yet, most of his moves were made by Christmas! It had everyone, including ESPN’s Jayson Stark, keeping track of what he was doing because it was so interesting to watch.
But why were he and his staff furiously making moves to acquire players like Nate Karns, Joaquin Benoit, Steve Cishek, Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Steve Clevenger, Wade Miley and Adam Lind (among others)? The roster Dipoto inherited relied too much on the “what if” game. As we saw in 2014, there was the possibility of this squad, constructed how they were, of being successful.
However, we also saw in 2015 what happens when everything doesn’t go right. Fundamentally at its core, Seattle’s roster was too dependent on power, lacked depth and wasn’t nearly athletic enough. When you’re a team playing home games at Safeco Field, those three characteristics aren’t desirable.
In a quick and informative Twitter rant on Monday night, SB Nation’s Lookout Landing nailed exactly why this all makes sense:
During the Winter Meetings back in December, Dipoto said he wanted to raise their performance floor. Are there still questions the team and first-year manager Scott Servais will have to eventually answer? Absolutely, but the Mariners now have a clear mission, identity and backup plan(s) moving forward instead of just doing more of the same and hoping luck is on their side.
Going through this drastic and quick roster makeover with a sense of urgency mostly has to do with the players currently categorized in Seattle’s core: Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz. Here’s why time is of the essence (salary information taken from Spotrac):
|Player||Age||2016 Salary||Under Contract Through…|
|Nelson Cruz||35||$14.25 mil||2018|
|Robinson Cano||33||$24 mil||2023|
|Felix Hernandez||29||$25.85 mil||2019|
|Kyle Seager||28||$8 mil||2021|
There isn’t much time left before the organization starts seeing their performance dip while continuing to pay them top-tier salaries. Some may say they’ve already wasted King Felix’s best years, and it’s astonishing to find out that a hurler like him has never pitched in the postseason despite entering his 12th big league season.
Although he had a huge second half, Cano’s first half made everyone realize that locking up a player in his 30s for the next decade maybe wasn’t the greatest idea. Now in his late-30s, expecting another 40-homer campaign from Cruz isn’t responsible (but welcomed if it happens). Seager is the youngest, but his physical prime could be ending sooner rather than later as he approaches 30 himself.
The time to attempt making the postseason is right now, but because of the roster and other limitations Dipoto was given, it was essential to get creative. If he didn’t make wholesale changes, the Mariners are probably about a .500 team if everything went their way. That’s something they can’t settle for given who’s earning the team’s highest salaries heading into 2016 and beyond.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “I feel like we just watched a general manager do this kind of stuff recently,” you’re absolutely right.
This is the second consecutive winter we’ve seen a GM make a huge first impression in their new job. Nobody could stop raving about what San Diego Padres GM AJ Preller did to immediately transform his squad into a contender for 2015. He made trades for guys like Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton while playing hardball in free agency and landing a pitcher like James Shields.
He was awarded a shiny plaque for being the “winner of the offseason” with his unequivocal aggressiveness, which led to excitement and high expectations for his club. What did many of us ignore in all this, though? He surrendered a fair amount of prospects, brought in some older players who would be tough to trade in the future and put the payroll in an uncomfortable spot in the process, increasing it by nearly $47 million from 2014 to 2015. Oh, and they didn’t make the playoffs.
That aggressive version of Preller was nowhere to be found this winter. He was busy trading guys like Benoit and Craig Kimbrel to get some prospects in return, while opting for a one-year deal with shortstop Alexei Ramirez instead of making the big splash for Ian Desmond.
This is exactly what makes Dipoto’s offseason even more impressive. He made all these deals to improve the team, yet only increased payroll by about $10 million. That increase only happened when Hisashi Iwakuma fell into their lap after his three-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers fell through.
Such wholesale changes to the roster also aren’t putting them in a tougher financial situation for the future. The players acquired through trades are under organizational control via the arbitration process or team-friendly contracts. Meanwhile, none of the free agent deals handed out were for more than two years. So, if this plan doesn’t work, they’re not saddled with huge future payroll commitments outside of the ones they already have and can try to shift again next winter, if necessary.
Winning the offseason is fun and exciting, but it only matters who wins in October, not February. However, what a team does in the winter can set them up for success during the season, and that’s what Dipoto has done. He’s seemingly gained both roster and financial flexibility for the present and future without sacrificing production, and quite possibly, increasing it.
Each team always formulates a clear plan on how to attack their offseason. It doesn’t happen how they script it most of the time, but for Seattle, it appears mostly everything did. Who knows if it’ll get them into the postseason for the first time since 2001, but with the increase in this squad’s depth and athleticism, there appears to be a more solid floor and a much higher ceiling with regard to performance.
And if all doesn’t go according to plan once October rolls around, we can’t fault Dipoto and his staff for not giving an honest try at quickly turning things around in Seattle. Plus, they’ll have the flexibility to make another attempt.
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