Mariners Outsource For Success

Anyone familiar with the Seattle Mariners knows general manager Jerry Dipoto is aggressive, yet disciplined when making roster moves. Ideally, he’d like to win now without forsaking his organization’s future.

That’s no easy task considering he inherited one of the weakest minor league systems in baseball. According to Keith Law of ESPN, the Mariners’ farm system continues to rank in the bottom 10-percent (subscription required).

Sure, team management shrewdly transformed former starter Edwin Diaz into a reliever last season and fast-tracked the youngster to the big leagues within a matter of weeks. But, the 22-year-old was the only rookie from the Mariners’ system to make a significant impact in 2016.

Despite a shallow minor league pool, Dipoto found a way to construct a competitive roster that remained in contention until the last weekend of the season. It wasn’t easy and there were many bumps and 13 starting pitchers used along the way. But, in the end, the Mariners still had a chance entering game-161.

How did Seattle transform from a 76-win team into a relevant September contender in just one season? They used a strategy that’s unpopular with the public when used by other industries, but far acceptable in baseball — outsourcing.

The Mariners aren’t farming out work to other nations as some companies do. Rather, they’re importing talent from outside their organization to fill holes they can’t fill organically.

Last offseason it was veterans such as Wade Miley, Nori Aoki, Adam Lind, Dae-Ho Lee, and Chris Iannetta. All have moved on, but Seattle continues to look elsewhere for major league ready help.

With Dipoto aggressively importing talent since arriving in September 2015, I thought it’d be fun to look at where the players on Seattle’s current 40-man roster actually came from.

On the following Mariners tables, I’ve broken down the roster into three groups — homegrown, free agents/waiver acquisitions and trades. You’ll see that I’ve included each group’s combined 2016 fWAR next to the table’s title.

 

As you can see, there are several pivotal homegrown players on the roster — Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino, and Diaz. Barring unforeseen circumstances, at least four of them will appear on Opening Day when Seattle takes on the Houston Astros on April 3. If they’re holding onto a tight lead in the ninth inning, Diaz were certainly enter the fray.

Obviously, the most notable player among the homegrown group is Hernandez — a holdover from the Pat Gillick days. King Felix is not only an icon in Seattle; he’s the longest tenured Mariner by a long stretch. The remaining eight players are from the Jack Zduriencik era.

Since taking the helm of the Mariners, Dipoto has made it clear he doesn’t favor adding high-priced free agents. Instead, he views free agency as a way to augment his roster. That becomes readily apparent after reviewing the following table.

Free Agency / Waivers (12.6 fWAR)
Robinson Cano Nelson Cruz Shawn O’Malley
 Hisashi Iwakuma  Marc Rzepczynski Casey Fien 
 Steve Cishek  Guillermo Heredia Tuffy Gosewisch *
 Mike Freeman *    
 * Selected off waivers

 

The most prolific offensive players on the 2016 Mariners were both free agents signed by Zduriencik — Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. On the mound, Hisashi Iwakuma is also a “Jack Z” import.

The rest are Dipoto acquisitions and are either relatively inexpensive veterans or youngsters with considerable team control. Among that group, Steve Cishek is the most likely player to play a key role for the Mariners in 2017.

Through time, the number of critical free agents will decrease as the contracts of Cruz and Iwakuma come off the books. Ideally, prospects from the Mariners’ system and trade acquisitions will fill the void and permit the club to enjoy sustained success.

Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle recently noted Dipoto has made 37 since taking over. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. “JeDi” freely admits he prefers the trade market.

Drayer also noted 18 of the 42 players he’s added are no longer with the club. Here’s a look of the 21 currently on the 40-man roster, plus the suspended Boog Powell.

Trade Finds (15.9 fWAR)
Jarrod Dyson Jean Segura Dan Vogelbach
Mitch Haniger Leonys Martin Carlos Ruiz
Danny Valencia   Yovani Gallardo  Drew Smyly
 Nick Vincent  Evan Scribner Chris Heston 
 Boog Powell *
 Ben Gamel  Taylor Motter
 Ariel Miranda Rob Whalen  James Pazos 
 Zac Curtis  Shae Simmons Tony Zych 
Dillon Overton
   * Suspended

 

Among those 21 imports, manager Scott Servais will find his starters for all three outfield spots, first base, and shortstop.

Yes, Mr. Dipoto is a deal maker.

In total, the Mariners have nine homegrown players on their roster — third lowest number in the big leagues. Look at the following table to see what other clubs are thin on players from their respective farm systems.

Fewest Homegrown Players in MLB
Team Homegrown FA/Waivers Trade Rule 5
ATL 6 12 19 2
SDP 7 14 18 1
SEA 9 10 21 0

 

Considering that Law ranks the Atlanta Braves farm system as the best in baseball, it might surprise some to discover the Braves have so few homegrown players on their 40-man roster.

True, Atlanta has a top-notch minor league system, but most of their upper tier prospects were acquired either via trade or reside at the lower levels of the club’s system. Only first baseman Freddie Freeman is likely to be in their Opening Day lineup.

After taking over as general manager of the San Diego Padres late in the 2014 season, A.J. Preller was in a “win now” mode like Dipoto. Since then, Preller has shifted gears and his farm system now ranks third. Most of the Friars’ homegrown players are several years away from debuting. Hence, few are on their current 40-man roster.

How a roster is constructed doesn’t necessarily dictate success or lack thereof. Look no further to the Midwest to see what I mean.

The World Series champion Chicago Cubs have 13 players from their system on their 40-man roster. So do their rebuilding crosstown rivals — the White Sox. Conversely, the American League champion Cleveland Indians currently have 21 homegrown players.

It’s more important to have good players than ones from your system. That’s why Dipoto has been wheeling and dealing.

Still, it’s easier — both competitively and financially — to sustain success when a club can leverage a strong minor league system to either fill their roster or acquire big league talent.

That’s Dipoto’s end game. But, he can’t wait for a youth movement, especially with aging stars — Hernandez, Cano, Cruz, and Iwakuma — playing key roles and eating up a significant chunk of his team’s payroll.

For now, he’ll continue to outsource.

 

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who was sent to the Pacific Northwest by the Navy and then decided to stay. He grew up as a New York Mets fan and continues to follow them from afar, although he can be frequently found at Safeco Field observing the hometown team. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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