The Dipoto files

Since taking over the reins of the Seattle Mariners’ baseball operations, GM Jerry Dipoto has maintained a frenetic pace while he reshapes the team’s roster. To date, he’s added 17 new players and shipped one of them – reliever C.J. Riefenhauser – in the deal that sent slugger Mark Trumbo to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for catcher Steve Clevenger.

Considering that major league baseball’s Winter Meetings kick-off next week, observers of the Mariners are curious to see if Dipoto will continue to aggressively add new assets to the major and minor league rosters while he’s in Nashville.

A few good men
So, how much has the Emerald City’s baseball team changed since the start of last season? Of the 25 players who were on the team’s 2015 Opening Day roster, only 12 remain on the their 40-man roster. That’s as of today, of course. Take a look to see who’s left.

Starting pitchersFelix Hernandez, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker
Relief pitchersCharlie Furbush, Tyler Olson, Carson Smith
CatchersMike Zunino, Jesus Sucre
InfieldersRobinson Cano, Kyle Seager
OutfieldersNelson Cruz, Seth Smith

Considering that Dipoto has acquired two catchers and prefers to have Zunino start the season at Class-AAA Tacoma, it’s unlikely that the former number-three overall draft pick and Sucre will break camp with the team next year. That would bring the count down to 10 survivors.

Dipoto’s predecessor – Jack Zduriencik – certainly had a hand in adding new faces. But, the Mariners’ new GM is the architect of the team’s new identity, which will rely upon getting on base, defense, depth, and athleticism.

Since the 47-year-old has a track record that includes building a winner with his former organization – the Los Angeles Angels – I decided to look at “the Dipoto files” to see if there are any parallels between his acquisition history with Los Angeles and Seattle. Let’s start with the Mariners.

New kid in town
Dipoto has yet to pull of a blockbuster trade or sign a major free agent, but he’s found ways to quickly improve his club’s major league roster, while also improving minor league depth. Here’ a breakdown of his transactions and the players that he’s added since taking over on September 29.

The Mariners GM has been impressive as he’s transformed Seattle’s roster in such a short period. It’s not just the number of players that he’s added, but also the type of players and the pace that he’s maintained. Whether his moves lead to success will be determined at a much later date. But, his tenacity is extraordinary.

LA confidential
Dipoto became the GM of the Angels in October 2011 and held that post until he abruptly resigned on July 1 of this year. That gave him four off-seasons to help shape the club’s roster. The following table is a breakdown of his moves during that span. For the purposes of this discussion, any signing of a free agent to a major league contract for three years or longer is considered “long-term” and anything less was a “minor” signing.

Trade Long-term FA Short-term FA
Minor League FA Waivers Total
22 3 8 103 9 145

As you can see, the majority of transactions were via the trade market and minor league free agency. It’s important to note that team owner Arte Moreno reportedly spearheaded two of the three long-term free agent signings – Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. The third was southpaw C.J. Wilson, who is still with the Angels.

The fact that Los Angeles only signed three big free agents in four off-seasons can be attributed to two things. First, Dipoto has repeatedly stated that he views free agent signings as “supplemental” in nature. He prefers a more balanced approach to roster building.

The other factor is the fact that the Pujols and Hamilton contracts significantly reduced payroll flexibility, which made building a supporting cast more challenging for Dipoto. It’s no coincidence that increasing payroll flexibility has been a priority of his since arriving in Seattle.

Let’s look at the Los Angeles 2015 Opening Day 25-man roster – including the four players who were on the disabled list at the time– to see how Dipoto built his last roster with the Angels. The players highlighted in yellow were acquired during his time in the City of Angels.

Trade Homegrown Long-term FA Short-term FA
Waivers
14 9 3 2 1
Matt Joyce Kole Calhoun Albert Pujols Joe Smith Taylor Featherston
David Freese Mike Trout C.J. Wilson Drew Rucinski
Chris Iannetta Erick Aybar Josh Hamilton
Johnny Giavotella C.J. Cron
Drew Butera Efren Navarro
Collin Cowgill Jered Weaver
Hector Santiago Matt Shoemaker
Huston Street Mike Morin
Fernando Salas Garrett Richards
Vinnie Pestano
Cesar Ramos
Jose Alvarez
Cory Rasmus
Tyler Skaggs

Inheriting Jered Weaver and having players like Mike Trout and Garrett Richards in the pipeline certainly helped Dipoto build his roster. But, the above table reinforces that he prefers to build rosters with homegrown players, trades, and tactical free agent signings – not high-profile free agents.

Final thoughts
I don’t share a brain with Dipoto like Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill does, but I expect that the GM will continue to rely upon the trade market to improve his major and minor rosters. Signing high-profile free agents probably won’t occur very often, if ever.

When it comes to free agency, Dipoto’s track record with the Angels suggests that his most frequent targets will be role players for his bench and bullpen. Occasionally, he’ll add a primary position player like Chris Iannetta. But, that won’t be the norm.

With that said, he may need to turn to free agency to add one or two starting pitchers, especially if Hisashi Iwakuma doesn’t re-sign with the team.

Even if Seattle doesn’t get every piece they seek by Opening Day, I’d advise fans to be patient and refer back to the “Dipoto files.” The GM isn’t averse to moving past mistakes and making in-season improvements, when needed. While with the Angels, Dipoto retooled his bullpen in 2014, which included adding closer Huston Street. That team went on to win 96 games.

Mariners fans aren’t used to having a GM with so much energy who is also completely focused on achieving his strategy. Then again, fans aren’t accustomed to seeing a consistent winner at Safeco Field. Perhaps, Dipoto’s vigor and approach will be the perfect blend that changes that paradigm for Mariners faithful.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. During the baseball season, he can be seen often observing the local team at Safeco Field. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins
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