Notes from Dipoto’s press conference

The Seattle Mariners made it officially official Tuesday morning, announcing the hiring of Jerry Dipoto as the club’s Executive V.P. and general manager. Dipoto spoke at the presser like a man who was prepared not only for the media, but for the job itself.

Here’s what I took from the press conference:

Dipoto values outfield defense
It’s obvious to most, but Dipoto made it clear he too sees the issues with the current roster, including a lack of athleticism and fits to the ballpark, just as we thought he’d assess.

This is why I wrote in Tuesday morning’s piece that both Mark Trumbo and Seth Smith are top candidates to be traded away, both to reallocate salary — the pair will combine to earn somewhere north of $16 million for 2016 — and to create a more athletic roster. Trumbo is below average in the outfield and belongs at first base or DH and Smith is fringe-average at very best — and as he ages that’s being kind, though he catches what he gets to and actually takes solid routes.

When Dipoto spoke of depth in the presser clearly he was talking about the ability to manage when the club suffers an injury or even a situation like the Mariners saw this spring when Robinson Cano wasn’t Robinson Cano. The downfall of one player cannot be the reason a team fails. Depth also means being able to adjust your plan on the fly when multiple players in one unit — for example, the bullpen — fail. Seattle did very little to combat the failures of Fernando Rodney and Danny Farquhar this season. Staying the course isn’t an option when the club has a legit chance to compete for a playoff spot.

Dipoto’s belief that more speed helps the Mariners at Safeco, particularly in the outfield, is a relieving breath of fresh air. It also bodes well for the future of Ketel Marte, who has taken a full step forward since being called up to the big leagues. Literally he’s a better player than he was six weeks ago, including plate discipline and defense. He’s probably the club’s opening day shortstop next April, offering contact and speed, but it looks like he may be ready to give the team some on-base percentage, too.

No decision has been made on the manager
Dipoto made it seem very clear that he will indeed strongly consider retaining Lloyd McClendon. “This week will be a very important one for Lloyd and I to spend time together,” Dipoto said. “We decided that we will spend time together each day, sit down and talk, mostly get to know one another’s baseball, for lack of a better way of putting it.”

One doesn’t spend that kind of time and effort into something unless there’s a real possibility McClendon is the guy.

Notably, Peter Gammons tweeted late Monday, however, that he has a favorite in the clubhouse to be the next Mariners manager:

Bogar spent 2014 as the Angels special assistant — hired by Dipoto. He was also hired by Dipoto to be the organization’s Class-AA manager two years ago and played with Dipoto in 1995-96 with the New York Mets. Gammon may be onto something here.

Player Development
This is probably the No. 2 area where Dipoto will make a noticeable difference right from the get-go. He mentioned Tuesday that he saw many of the club’s prospects racking up a lot of strikeouts. “You’ve got a lot of guys striking out. Very talented players with a lot of upside potential to tap into… that’s only going to happen if we can somehow develop more contact. I think that’s important, that’s going to be step No. 1.”

This doesn’t mean prospects such as D.J. Peterson and Tyler O’Neill aren’t good prospects, but clearly steps need to be taken to help them even out their strikeout rates, put the ball in play more and in general let their natural talents take their course.

The Mariners have not done a good job finding ways to helps young hitters figure out this sort of thing. Even players such as Chris Taylor and Alex Jackson strike out too often, despite good minor league numbers and flashes of big-league ability.

Dipoto isn’t suggesting the club has drafted poorly, only that some of the hitters are swinging and missing too much. Not ironically at all, that was Kris Bryant‘s issue early in his pro career, and he still strikes out a lot. But he also draws walks because he’s disciplined at the plate, doesn’t expand the zone too much and squares up pitches for big damage at a high rate. More contact will be the goal for a lot of these hitters, yes. But the answer also lies in not missing the 1-0 fastball — hitting it hard, instead — and not expanding the strike zone. It’s not simply about swinging through pitches in the zone or not timing the offspeed stuff.

The other thing Dipoto said that was notable and I think important is that developing talent is a “slow burn.” That doesn’t mean some draftees can’t skip through the system quickly, but the vast majority need the right kind of nurturing environment to develop the skills. We all know that didn’t happen under Jack Zduriencik, even though player development director Chris Gwynn often fought against the aggressive promotions.

Dipoto isn’t afraid
Dipoto made it very clear he’s going to make mistakes. Having such an approach is necessary in his profession. Making mistakes, admitting those mistakes and moving on to bigger and better is how good general managers operate. That did not occur much over the past 10 years for the Mariners.

Every GM gets trades wrong, signs players that don’t work out like they hoped. Look at Billy Beane, who traded Addison Russell in a package to acquire Jeff Samardzija and then Yoenis Cespedes to add Jon Lester to the rotation. I’d say despite the club sneaking into the 1-game Wild Card and losing, that such a deal did not go the way Beane hoped.

Then the A’s moved Josh Donaldson, perhaps the American League MVP this season, for pieces including Brett Lawrie. That deal has not and probably will not end up in Oakland’s favor. It happens. The key is to avoid becoming stubborn because you believe in a certain player. If Lawrie doesn’t play well, Beane will move on and add another and it won’t take very long for Lawrie to be out of a job if that is the case.

It appears Dipoto has the right mindset in this kind of scenario, which bodes well for success building a winner and sustaining one.

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Jason A. Churchill

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