Defending Jerry Dipoto
Perhaps we should consider redefining when the Dipoto era actually began in Seattle.
Jerry Dipoto screwed up.
No, the Seattle Mariners’ President of Baseball Operations didn't say something inappropriate, nor did he end up one the wrong side of the law. Instead, Dipoto had the audacity to tell the truth.
On the radio, no less!
During his weekly visit with Brock and Salk show of Seattle Sports 710 AM, Dipoto shared his thoughts on increasing player payroll. In doing so, he made it clear the Mariners never intended to pursue high-end free agents this offseason.
“Raising payroll is not connected to signing the top of the market free agents.” - Jerry Dipoto
Naturally, Dipoto’s remarks alienated fans wanting the Mariners to sign a premium free agent like Aaron Judge, Trea Turner, Jacob deGrom, Xander Bogaerts, or Brandon Nimmo. With the exception of adding reliever Trevor Gott, Seattle has sat out free agency thus far.
Yes, the Mariners did acquire right fielder Teoscar Hernández and second baseman Kolten Wong via trades. Both should improve the lineup. But Hernández doesn’t possess the star power of Judge; Wong’s presence won’t make fans forget Turner and Bogaerts signed elsewhere.
Still, what Dipoto said to Brock and Salk shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The 54-year-old executive routinely describes the Mariners as a draft, develop, trade organization. Dating back to his September 2015 arrival in Seattle, Dipoto has stressed free agency is a way to add complementary pieces. Never say never, but it’s not his preferred method for landing top-shelf talent.
Honestly, I’m okay with Dipoto’s comment and the direction he and new GM Justin Hollander are taking the team. I realize a vocal segment of Mariners Twitter will vehemently disagree. That’s fine.
Why am I satisfied with the trajectory of Dipoto’s Mariners? There are several reasons.
While serving as Mariners team president, Kevin Mather was viewed as an obstacle to spending on roster improvements. A recent article by Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish reinforced this long-held belief. Divish noted sources suggested Mather wouldn’t permit Dipoto to make a counter offer to Wong when the veteran was a free agent following the 2020 season.
Then, controversial and inflammatory comments Mather made to the Bellevue Rotary Club surfaced in February 2021. He would resign shortly afterwards in what would become a franchise-changing moment.
Mather’s exit opened the door for Dipoto’s promotion to President of Baseball Operations in September 2021. Two months earlier, newcomer Cattie Griggs assumed the role as President of Business Operations. This restructuring by the Mariners partitioned the business and baseball sides of the organization. It also provided Dipoto with an unfiltered line of communication to ownership. Something he didn’t seem to have prior to Mather’s departure.
So, what’s changed since Dipoto seemingly greater autonomy over baseball operations?
Quite a bit. Consider Dipoto’s own words to Brock and Salk last week.
“Raising payroll is doing smart things that evenly balance the team and we are spending more than we did last year. We are doing it a different way. We are doing it by acquiring players who we feel are ready for that next big step, like a Luis Castillo, and extending. We did go out last year and sign a top of market free agent in Robbie Ray. We went out and we extended Julio Rodríguez on what has the chance to be the biggest contract in the history of sports. We have not been tight with the dollar; we’ve spent over a half-billion dollars in future expenditures. We just didn’t sign this year’s top free agents, and I don’t think that’s reflective of a team that’s unwilling to spend. We’ve actually already done that.” - Jerry Dipoto
In the last 13 months, the Mariners have actually done much more to improve the roster than Dipoto described in his quick response on the radio. The second order effect of these actions: an increase in payroll.
Players Acquired Since November 2021
Robbie Ray - Free agent (five-years/$115 million)
Eugenio Suárez - Trade
Adam Frazier - Trade
Kolten Wong - Trade
Jesse Winker - Trade
Teoscar Hernández - Trade
Luis Castillo - Trade
Someone may correctly point out the $11 million annual salary Eugenio Suárez will receive through the 2024 season is about $7.5 million less than what predecessor Kyle Seager received during his final year in Seattle. Still, the Mariners could have opted to replace Seager with a player costing far less than Suárez and did not do so.
The same applies to former second baseman Adam Frazier, who was acquired last offseason, and his replacement Kolten Wong. Internal options with no track record would’ve been cheaper. Instead, management chose the veteran route, which equates to more dollars.
Last offseason, the club took a shot at upgrading the lineup with left fielder Jesse Winker, who arrived in the same trade as Suárez. We know now Winker didn’t pan out. But it’s important to note his $6.25 million salary this year was over five times the amount paid to the team’s primary left fielders in 2021 - Jake Fraley and Dylan Moore.
The recent wave of contract extensions brokered by the Mariners permits the retention of preferred talent. These deals also provide roster and fiscal stability to the club moving forward. Obviously, it takes two sides to broker a deal. But the organization with Dipoto at the helm of baseball operations has been much more successful at extending players than it has been in a long time.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting the Mariners couldn’t have found ways to spend more money right now. Obviously, they could have and chose not to. That said, there has been a re-energized effort to invest more into the on-field product since Dipoto’s role changed.
Perhaps you won’t agree; I find this to be a promising development.
Been there, done that
Consider this; Dipoto is the first person with an extensive baseball background to serve as a Mariners team president in decades. Dan O'Brien, Sr. held the job in the 1979-81 timeframe and was a baseball executive in multiple organizations.
As far as I can tell, that’s it.
In 2014, Mather relieved Chuck Armstrong, who had been team president twice under two different owners. Armstrong’s first stint was in the Eighties. He later returned when Nintendo became majority owner of the Mariners in the Nineties. All told, he was at the helm for approximately 26 years. Well over half the franchise’s existence.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting an executive has to grow up in baseball to successfully oversee a team. But having someone with the depth and breadth of experience Dipoto brings to the job matters.
At least it does to me.
Other people’s money
I get it. I really do. Seattle fans see revenue streams from non-ballpark sources, such as ROOT Sports and the Hatback Bar & Grille, and feel the team should put that money towards player salaries. Same with the $30 million every MLB team is reportedly receiving for the sale of BAMTech to Disney. But that’s not going to happen no matter how often Mariners Twitter rants about it.
Like it or not, every MLB team has a predetermined figure it's willing to obligate to player payroll each season. Perhaps it waxes and wanes during certain years because a three- or five-year rolling average drives the business plan. The Mariners have their strategy and it’s very likely they stick with it.
To be clear, I’m not justifying or defending what the ownership group led by John Stanton is allocating towards payroll. But it’s important to note Dipoto is operating within the budget construct provided. Just like senior executives in successful businesses everywhere.
You can’t argue with results
Since Dipoto took over in September 2015, the Mariners have a 528-504 record (.512 winning percentage) - eleventh best during this timeframe. Not exactly world-beaters. But teams with fewer wins include the New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres, and Los Angeles Angels.
To me, this is impressive considering the Mariners organization undertook its first rebuild in its history following the 2018 campaign. Since then, Seattle has rebounded to record consecutive 90-win campaigns and make its first postseason appearance in two decades.
That’s good, right?
Granted, the Mariners' recent success doesn’t erase previous years of mediocrity. But Dipoto is the architect of the team's renaissance, not its flawed past. This is indisputable.
Face of the franchise
Usually, we associate “face of the franchise,” with a player. Fans come to the ballpark to see the on-field product, not the people pulling the strings behind the scenes. Still, when it comes to Mariners leadership, Dipoto is the organization’s most visible and best-known representative.
Naturally, the amount of attention Dipoto receives makes him a lightning rod for fan frustration on Mariners Twitter and the blogosphere. Especially when he so freely shares his thoughts about the team’s direction with the media on a regular basis.
Still, Dipoto’s openness about the direction he, Hollander, and their staff are taking the Mariners is more preferable than the alternative. At least we have an idea of what’s going on with the team whether we like it or not.
Similarly, defending Dipoto opens me to criticism. It’s only a matter of time before someone on Twitter accuses me of “carrying the water” for Dipoto, Hollander, or Stanton.
Most assuredly, detractors and trolls will quickly remind me of my words, if things don’t go well for the Mariners in the future.
When that happens, I’ll have at least one thing in common with Jerry Dipoto.
My Oh My…
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