Churchill: M’s make solid choice in Dipoto

At the start of the club’s search for a new baseball leader it was my opinion that Jerry Dipoto would be, at least, a satisfactory choice to replace Jack Zduriencik. As the process unfolded the public was not privy to all that were contacted, every interview conducted or how those interviews went. In the end, the club landed on the former Los Angeles Angels general manager, who reportedly finished No. 2 in the running in 2008.

Who is Jerry Dipoto?
Dipoto spent three and a half years as the GM and V.P. of baseball operations for the Angels before resigning his post July 1 of this past season. Dipoto and long-time manager Mike Scioscia did not see eye-to-eye on many things and it appeared clear Dipoto would not be allowed to build the kind of team he wanted, therefore the resignation.

Prior to being hired in Anaheim, Dipoto served in multiple roles with the Arizona Diamondbacks, including player personnel director (2008-09), V.P. of player personnel and interim GM (2010) and Executive V.P. of scouting and player development (2011).

Dipoto, who was a third-round pick in 1989 by the Cleveland Indians, played pro ball for 12 years, including parts of eight seasons in the majors. He was a right-handed pitcher making 390 relief appearances. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University prior to being selected by the Indians.

Dipoto started as a pro scout for the Colorado Rockies (special assistant to GM) in 2001, moving to the Boston Red Sox as a pro scout in 2003 and left only to become the pro scouting director for the Rockies in 2005. Dipoto took off for Arizona after the 2007 season to take the same role under Josh Byrnes, who was the D-Backs GM from 2008 to July 2010. This is when Dipoto took the interim GM gig (July).

After leaving the Angels in July, the Red Sox hired Dipoto in an advisory role with the idea that he’d help them with their offseason overhaul. Dipoto is married and has three adult or near-adult children, in case you were wondering.

During his tenure with the Angels, Dipoto made several key moves. Some worked, some did not. Overall, it was a decent run — the club won 98 games in 2014, 89 in 2012 sandwiched around a disappointing 2013 in which Albert Pujols missed 63 games and the bullpen couldn’t hold leads.

Here are some of Dipoto’s most notable transactions as GM of the Angels:

2011 Offseason
Acquired C Chris Ianettea from the Colorado Rockies for RHP Tyler Chatwood
Ianetta has been the club’s regular backstop for four years now and has produced above-average numbers across the board.
Signed 1B Albert Pujols to 10-year, $240 million contract
This move is generally credited to owner Arte Moreno, so if there is blame to go-round that goes to the owner, too.

Signed LHP C.J. Wilson to five-year, $75 million contract
I didn’t love this deal at the time, but despite some struggles and time on the disabled list, Wilson hasn’t been a complete disaster. He hasn’t however, been the No. 2 starter the club paid him to be and may spend the final year of the contract as a league-average starter, as he did in year four.
Signed RHR LaTroy Hawkins

May 2012
Traded 2B Alexi Amarista and RHP Donn Roach for RHR Ernesto Frieri

July 2012
Acquired RHP Zack Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers for RHP Ariel Pena, SS Jean Segura and RHP Johnny Hellweg
The club was in the pennant race and used pieces that were not essential to their future to add an ace to their rotation. It was a rental, but it was the right move, and aside from Segura the Brewers didn’t get tons for Greinke.

December 2012
Signed LHP Sean Burnett
Signed OF Josh Hamilton
Hamilton was a bad idea, but most around the organization believe Moreno, again, was behind the move. That’s two, and no wonder why Dipoto would eventually resign.

Acquired LHP Jason Vargas from the Seattle Mariners for 1B/DH Kendrys Morales
This worked out for both clubs.

November 2013
Acquired 3B David Freese and RHR Fernando Salas from the St. Louis Cardinals for CF Peter Bourjos and OF Randall Grichuk
The Cardinals have turned this deal into a solid one for them and clearly it helped the Angels fill needs in the bullpen and at the hot corner.

December 2013
Acquired LHPs Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs in a three-team trade with the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for 1B/OF/DH Mark Trumbo and a player to be named later.

March 2014
Traded 1B/C Matt Scoscia to the Chicago Cubs for OF Trevor Gretzky
I note this one only because it was Dipoto trading Mike Scioscia‘s kid. Maybe the skipper didn’t like this.

June 2014
Drafted RHP Joe Gatto, LHP Sean Newcomb
The first two drafts under Dipoto’s watch lacked first round picks or extra picks and haven’t looked great thus far. The ’14 class has looked solid through a year and a half of development.

July 2014
Acquired RHRs Huston Street and Trevor Gott from the San Diego Padres for RHP R.J. Alvarez, RHP Elliott Morris, SS Jose Rondon and 2B Taylor Lindsey.
Further evidence that Dipoto knows how to build and/or repair a bullpen. Street was the headliner here and while the haul was very much bulk many believed it to be too much for a non-elite closer. Gott has been solid in his rookie year, however, after being thought to be a throw-in.

December 2014
Acquired LHP Andrew Heaney in a three-team deal with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers for 2B Howie Kendrick.
Value wise in 2015, the Angels lost this deal because Heaney wasn’t able to pitch much. But the Halos also saved nearly $9 million in salary, which in theory would have allotted them the payroll flexibility to tinker with the pitching staff during the year. Dipoto wasn’t around for the trade deadline.

April 2015
Traded OF Josh Hamilton to the Texas Rangers for cash.
The deal saved the Angels about $6 million in 2015-17. They are on the hook to cover $56.82 million of the contract over the next two seasons.

June 2015
Drafted OF Jahmai Jones, C Taylor Ward, RHP Grayson Long

In Addition…
Other developments under Dipoto in L.A. that are of note include how they managed Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron and Garrett Richards. Dipoto was not the general manager when the club drafted any of the three players — and Dipoto did not hire scouting director Ric Wilson. He did, however, hire Bobby Scales to run the player development department (after the 2012 season).

The key here for most Mariners fans is that two of the three above players noted are hitters.

Dipoto not only will be allowed to make the final decision on manager Lloyd McClendon, as president Kevin Mather stated prior to the search, but he’s also going to be allowed to make decisions on the player development staff, including the director’s position currently held by Chris Gwynn, and the scouting staff and its director, the position held by Tom McNamara for the last six years.

If I had to wager here on Day 1, I’d bet all three of the above names keep their gigs for 2016. Not because Dipoto doesn’t have other options but because it will help keep some of the positive continuity. It’s worth mentioning that when Gwynn was hired, the general consensus suggested a terrific hire. Gwynn simply wasn’t listened to enough, it seems, including in regards to Zunino, I believe.

McNamara has done a solid job — one or two times high in the draft the club’s philosophy hung the scouting department over the coals — but while I never have been able to get McNamara himself to at least admit the player development department and decisions within it may very well have (likely, even) derailed some talents, i.e. Zunino, Dustin Ackley, there’s plenty of talent in the system from the 2009-2015 drafts, it just hasn’t developed.

The industry generally favors both Gwynn and McNamara over the average at their respective positions, including most potential candidates Dipoto might consider if he were to make a change.

Expect numerous changes, however (perhaps including one or all of the above), including pro scouts, special assistants and assistant general manager types. The player development staff likely will undergo a massive overhaul over the next 16 months or so.

Conclusion
Monday afternoon, minutes after the club made the announcement, I made a call I’d been waiting to make: to one of Dipoto’s former superiors on one of his previous stops. Here is the best quote from that conversation.

“You told me they wanted a guy with experience and someone who understood the significance of player development and knew how to install it, and that is what they will get from Jerry. He owns the room … and I think he’s a perfect blend of the advanced stats and goold-old fashioned scouting. He played the game at the major league level but latched onto the analytic side like someone who didn’t play and needed to have an angle. Jerry has both. If he’s given the chance that team will get better right away and be good for a little while.”

I also spoke to a rival front office source who previously was skeptical on Dipoto — he resigned mid-season, the Angels had not won as much as expected, the players sided with the manager, etc. — and he flipped his opinion.

“Maybe he quit on the Angels, I wasn’t there, I don’t know all the details. Maybe I would have quit, too. But give him the benefit of the doubt, put that aside and look at what he did as the GM there… really not bad, and there are signs, looking at the deals he made, that he really knows what he’s doing putting together a roster for the big club.”

Dipoto will not have Mike Trout on which to lean, but he will have Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and King Felix Hernandez. If he does for the M’s what he did for the Halos in 2014 the Mariners instantly become six or eight wins better than they are paced to finish this season.

In the end, I was wrong. Yes, I ultimately predicted Dipoto would be the guy, but my first inclination was that the Mariners would screw up the hire. That is not what occurred with the hiring of Dipoto, 47. He’s a well-rounded baseball guy who will cater to the home ballpark, recognize what wins games in Major League Baseball and understand how to acquire the pieces. He’s not new school, but he’s far from old school.

I’m disappointed we didn’t hear certain names in the running, but Dipoto has a shot to be at the helm of a playoff team in 2016, and it won’t be because Mike Trout carried him there. Mather gets high marks for the hire, the organization gets high marks for the hire and I’m more optimistic today than I was in 2008 when the club hired Zduriencik.

My exact words then were “I think Zduriencik gets the club half way to where they want to be,” and I was probably dead-on with that assessment. Dipoto is inheriting a better organization from top to bottom, but when what he’s inheriting is gone or not the core anymore, the club has a much better chance to sustain some success in the hands of Dipoto.

If Dipoto is supported the way Zduriencik was the last few years, Mariners fans may be in for a nice surprise. A real nice surprise.

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Jason A. Churchill

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