Jerry Dipoto: General Manager/Executive V.P.
I wrote last summer that it’d be difficult to dislike the hiring of Dipoto as the next Mariners GM and there are many reasons why. First, it’s important to dispel a few things; for one, Dipoto resigning from his post with the Angels has brought a few opinions calling him a quitter. This is absurd.
From what I can gather from reported accounts and a few backchannel conversations, Dipoto simply wasn’t being allowed to do the job he signed on to do. The refusal of manager Mike Scioscia to implement things the way Dipoto wanted and then owner Arte Moreno backing Scioscia was all it took. You don’t hire a GM to point your organization in a specific direction — a direction the owner said publicly was one he really liked — and then take away the steering wheel, essentially giving it to the the field manager, when said field manager doesn’t want to do things the way his superior prefers.
Second, Dipoto’s time in Arizona as interim GM cannot be called upon as useful evidence of his abilities as a general manager, at least not in terms of moves made. Interim GMs almost always have less power and clout than full-time GMs, and that certainly was the case in Phoenix for Dipoto.
Third, Dipoto was with the Angels for three and a half years, having been hired in October of 2011. He took over a veteran roster and had big contracts forced upon him by Moreno — Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson included. Year 1 saw the Angels go 89-73, missing out on the postseason by four games. Year two was a struggle at 78-84 and the club won the division title in 2014 with the league’s best record, 98-64. It’s difficult to credit Dipoto a whole lot for the 89-win 2012 season — maybe some, just not a ton. Same goes for the blame of 2013 — some, just not damning blame for going six-games under .500 with an aging, hurting Pujols missing 63 games, Hamilton being mediocre and supposed-ace Jered Weaver missing nine starts.
But if you look at the stamp of the 2014 club — still laced with Pujols, Hamilton and Wilson and the awful farm system he inherited — it’s very much about Dipoto. The December, 2013 trade that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona brought Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago played well for the Angels, and the Peter Bourjos–Randal Grichuk deal that acquired David Freese (.272/.321/.383) added 2.1 fWAR to the ledger. Dipoto also acquired catcher Chris Iannetta two years prior, adding an additional 3.0 fWAR at perhaps the most critical position on that club. Dipot also went out and fixed the bullpen, adding cory Rasmus in a deal for Scott Downs, Joe Smith in free agency and closer Huston Street (and 2015 value Trevor Gott) in a deal for four minor leaguers.
The players and field staff deserve a lot of credit for winning 98 games no matter the personnel and circumstances, but Dipoto deserves a good amount of credit for that team improving 20 wins from the previous season. He made low-rent moves that made an impact, including the aforementioned pitching additions that brought the two-time No. 14 ranked AL bullpen to the best the second half of that season after the Street deal.
Lastly, Dipoto, somehow, gets blamed for the bad farm system in Anaheim. He was there three and a half years, wasn’t allowed to hire his own scouting director and was stripped of high draft picks when his owner forced compensation-attached free agent signings on him. Seriously, in 2012, the Angels didn’t select in either of the first two rounds. The Cardinals received their first-round pick (Pujols) and selected Michael Wacha. The Rangers received the Angels’ second-round pick (Wilson) and selected Jamie Jarmon. In Round 3, pick 114 overall, the Halos drafted R.J. Alvarez, one of the prospects sent to San Diego to acquire Street.
In 2013, due to the signing of Hamilton, the Angels again did not have a first-round pick. In 2014, lefty Sean Newcomb was the No. 15 pick to the Angels. Remember, not having high picks hurts beyond the absence of the picks. It also greatly reduces the club’s bonus pool and therefore its flexibility to go bigger after the first round or two. There was hardly a chance of any of that for the Angels during Dipoto’s tenure. Rebuilding the farm system becomes extremely difficult — almost impossible and certainly more of a five-to-seven-year task — when the top 100 picks in the draft aren’t available.
When I speak to Dipoto’s non-believers and detractors, they constantly point to quitting on the Angels, the job he did while under the interim tag for two months in Arizona (ELL OH ELL), and the current state of the farm system in Anaheim. They also bring up the losing years — 2013, 2015, and downplay the two years the club won while Dipoto was at the helm. I’m not attempting to suggest Dipoto is a proven, great front office executive destined to win multiple World Series titles, I’m here to tell those detractors to shut up. Until you admit the facts, not omit the facts surrounding every scenarios, your opinion means jack to me, and shouldn’t mean anything to anyone.
Having said all that, Dipoto has a lot to prove. He’s yet to actually build a sustained winner — more than half of the talent in Anaheim already lived there when Dipoto arrived — Mike Trout, Weaver, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Kole Calhoun — and Seattle has yet to play a single meaningful inning with his revamped roster.
The difference for Dipoto in Seattle is that he was allowed to bring in his own manager, make the final decision with that manager on the field staff, to make his own front office choices. He chose to keep a few of the incumbents, including Tom Allison, whom he knows well from their days in Arizona, and Tom McNamara, the club’s Director of Amateur Scouting since 2009.
The first three years in Seattle will write the script for Dipoto’s version of ‘Moneyball.’ The veterans already are in place, he has as much as control as most general managers — more than some, including his successor in Anaheim — and Howard Lincoln and company’s brilliant negotiation strategy that led them to their current TV deal is providing Dipoto with the necessary financial support to win in Major League Baseball. In other words, there simply are no excuses at hand.
Jeff Kingston: V.P./Assistant GM
I’ve written a little about Kingston in the past, despite not knowing a ton about him. I’ve used what I have heard directly from Kingston and as a result may be one of his biggest fans. I can’t explain how important it is for me to hear straight-forward responses to questions, opinions that are clearly not aimed at protecting a false belief or misleading characterization of a player’s abilities. That’s important to me not because it gives me information, but because successful organizations have to have truth tellers.
Kingston is analytically inclined, but most importantly a truth teller.
Tom Allison: V.P. Player Personnel
Allison’s long-term track record resides mostly on the amateur scouting side, but he was hired by Jack Zduriencik as a pro scouting director and now serves as one of Dipoto’s assistants, essentially.
I don’t know a lot about Allison, either, but one of his strengths lies in his belief system: Test your young talent, teach them how to fix the broken, and find ones that have the stones to — here’s that phrase again — tell the truth about their experiences.
Roger Hansen: Special Assistant
Hansen has been around for more than a decade, moving to special assistant after spending years as the club’s catching coordinator. It was his task to take Jeff Clement, a bat-first catcher out of USC, and flip him from a 30-grade glove to a major-league caliber one. If Clement would have stayed healthy enough to develop, he’d have played in the big leagues even if his bat remained the missing link.
Joe Bohringer: Special Assistant
I know less about Bohringer than I do about Allison or Kingston, but if you’re as confident in the decisions of the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer-Jason McLeod group with the Chicago Cubs as I am, you’ll be at least optimistic about Bohringer’s presence in Seattle.
Bohringer was hired in November of 2011 by the Cubs to serve as pro scouting director. He has years of player development and scouting experience — including his five years as area scout from 2002-06.
Ken Madeja: Special Assistant
Madeja is another holdover from previous regimes — he’s been with the Mariners for nearly 30 years in all — including 19 years in scouting amateur players for Seattle, and 10 in Detroit. He is credited with the scouting and signing of Matt Thornton, J.J. Putz, Matt Mantei, Derek Lowe, John Smoltz and Chris Hoiles.
Tom McNamara: Director Amateur Scouting
We’re probably going to learn a lot more about McNamara’s abilities over the next few years than in the previous seven. Why? Because most signs point to player development and development-killing decisions by the club as the biggest reasons for the failures of many high draft picks, including Dustin Ackley and so far, Mike Zunino. You can make the argument the M’s should have taken another player at No. 2 in 2011 rather than Danny Hultzen — even if Hultzen were healthy and pitching in the big leagues, it’s an argument even I made after Draft Day that summer. You also can argue Zunino was overdrafted by anywhere from three to eight spots in 2012.
But let’s say the Mariners held the No. 10 pick in ‘11 and the No. 12 pick 2012 and selected Hultzen and Zunino and the results did not change — injury for Hultzen that some believe the Mariners should have seen coming due to the lefty’s cross-body delivery, and massive struggles at the plate for Zunino in 2015. Would the same people pointing at poor drafting still be doing so? Not those that knew those draft classes.
Ackley as a league-wide consensus No. 2 pick. No other player made any sense at that spot in 2009. Yes, if the club took other players in 2011 and 2012 — perhaps shortstop Francisco Lindor in ‘11 and, let’s say, Addison Russell (who fell all the way to No. 11), in ‘12 — the Mariners would be in significantly better situations and maybe Zduriencik keeps his job because the big club would be better. But how can player development not be the issue here?
If Zunino would have been selected even down in the middle of the first round and not done a damned thing in the big leagues, it’d still look like a failure. Overdrafting or simply picking the wrong player isn’t the problem. Making the right choices for those players, and having a staff in place that can help prepare them, certainly is.
From being rushed to being ignored to being allowed to dictate their own role — all decisions made by a department not manned or influenced by McNamara in the slightest — is the reason so many of the young, talented players coming up through the Mariners’ farm system have failed, or at least failed to reach levels of play that seemed reasonable to expect.
With Dipoto running the show and a sharper, keener focus on developing players and not simply getting them to the majors to show off your draft picks, maybe McNamara’s selections will actually pan out at a higher rate. Having said that, he also is responsible for the pick of Kyle Seager in Round 3, Taijuan Walker at No, 43 overall, James Paxton, Dom Leone, Carson Smith, Carter Capps, Brad Miller, Chris Taylor, as well as prospects Edwin Diaz, Alex Jackson and Tyler O’Neill.
Under McNamara, the cupboard’s never been bare in Seattle. But the curators doling out the medicine have one of the worst track records of player development in recent memory. If the success rate changes for the better, it won’t be due to McNamara changing his process. But such results will vindicate some of his past picks.
Lee MacPhail IV: Director Pro Scouting
MacPhail isn’t new to the organization this season like some have presumed. He simply was promoted from his initial three-year stint with Seattle, after serving as a pro scouting director for five season in Baltimore.
He’s been in the scouting game for nearly three decades — he led the Cleveland draft that landed them CC Sabathia. MacPhail is of the more traditional scouting ways, of course — go see players, evaluate, report.
Andy McKay: Director Player Development
One of the crazy beliefs of McKay is that he’s not a baseball guy, he’s a shrink or some kind of doctor that wants to focus on fixing players’ brains. While there’s an element of truth to the last part of that, nothing else is even remotely the case.
McKay spent 14 years as the head coach as Sacramento City College before taking a job with the Colorado Rockies as the ‘Peak Performance Coordinator,’ which really is a made-up title to describe a performance coach. He;s also coached in the Cape Cod and Northwoods Leagues, which serve as summer, wood-bat leagues for college players to continue to hone their skills. If there’s one thing McKay has experience with it’s 18-22 year-old baseball players and all the craziness that comes with it.
He spent three years in Colorado and now is responsible for fixing the biggest broken piece of the organizational puzzle. He’ll get help from his general manager, rather than overruled rampantly when it comes to when a player is ready to move up or even to the majors. How much his work in organizational behavior, in which he has a degree, can help the club remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: McKay isn’t going to ignore the human element, and that was one of many complaints I heard about the previous staff. That isn’t to throw Chris Gwynn under the bus — the previous director of player development — as he fought for players to be handled a certain way, and was overruled or ignored on many occasions, per numerous sources both inside and outside the Mariners’ organization.
Tim Kissner: Director International Scouting
If it was Kissner’s idea to take advantage of the hit-and-miss nature of international scouting of amateur players, it was a good one. I’ve long believed that clubs are too aggressive on 16-year-old players; think about it: At no time in their actively-being-scouted.coached lives will athletes change more than between 15 and 20.
Physically, a 16-17 year old may not grow vertically much, but he’s going to start filling out, and judging a 16-year-old’s future physical makeup is indeed as difficult than predicting his mental one. Mentally, though, these players will change, too. Will they or will they not have the fortitude to handle the work, being away from home, etc. It’s not a guessing game or a crap shoot as the lazies will suggest, but it’s very difficult. Spending millions on them each summer rarely pans out, and while it can be a very effective way to infuse talent into one’s organization, the success rate of Latin American signees is far less than even prep draft picks in the first round.
Kissner’s approach since joining the Mariners in 2012 has been to find a few — a choice few — to latch onto and then go mining for diamonds in the rough. Many clubs do this, anyway, but with the international signings limited by bonus pools now, too, signing six or eight raw talents for $400,000 each, and one for seven figures, may be more fruitful than getting three high-end talents that take up the club’s entire bonus allotment. It may be the draft equivalent of trading the No. 11 pick for picks 25, 30 and 40.
Kissner’s done that and done that well, and yet stayed on players despite their reported deals with other clubs and landed Christopher Torres for cheap late in the game — because he hadn’t blown his allowance like every other club just for the sake of it.
Overall, the jury still is out on Kissner, and will be for a few more years until some of his signings have a chance to get through the minors, but he was tasked with replacing a scout that is legendary to those in and around the game — Bob Engle — and so far the signs are there that he’s succeeding.