When Jerry Dipoto interviewed for the General Manager’s position with the Seattle Mariners, it is certain that he guaranteed a change of direction. It is not uncommon for the new guy to try and leave a strong first impression. In fact, it’s almost necessary for that to happen if the new guy is going to last. These statements are equally as true for an MLB team’s offseason with a new leader in the front office. A new GM (or President of Baseball Operations for that matter) is coming into things with a promise to change the projection of the team. Formulas and strategy are brought in by this new “baseball mind” to mold a franchise from one that is not succeeding into one that is flourishing. Since he has taken his post, there is one element that is essential to remolding, or changing the direction of a franchise that I feel Mr. Dipoto has completely ignored: a sense of timing.
Since September 28th of 2015, when Dipoto was hired by the Mariners, the team has acquired Chris Iannetta (C), Leonys Martin (CF), Anthony Bass (RP), Joaquin Benoit (RP), Nathan Karns (SP), Wade Miley (SP), Steve Clevenger (C), Nori Aoki (OF), Adam Lind (1B), Evan Scribner (RP), Luis Sardinas (2B), Steve Cishek (RP), and Justin de Fratus (RP) for a total of 13 players that are expected to a fill spot on the 25-man roster.
Notable names that were traded away include Mark Trumbo (1B/OF), Carson Smith (RP), Tom Wilhelmsen (RP), Brad Miller (SS), Roenis Elias (SP), James Jones (CF), Logan Morrison (1B), and Danny Farquhar (RP), and Hisashi Iwakuma (SP) departed in free agency. Acquiring thirteen players and departing with nine over the first month and a half of the offseason sure seems like a lot of wheeling and dealing for a new GM, doesn’t it? In fact as I was writing this article I had to update the list of players acquired (Lind, Cishek and Scribner). In the team’s current state, Jerry Dipoto has replaced more than half of the active roster in less than two months. The reason I am drawing attention to this seemingly endless list of transactions is because it has been done before, several times, and it rarely works.
Following the 2011 season, the Marlins were in transition from being the “Florida Marlins” that played at Sun Life Stadium to the “Miami Marlins” that play at Marlins Park. The team’s front office tried a similar tactic, acquiring a new manager in the fiery Ozzie Guillen, and big names like Mark Buehrle (SP), Jose Reyes (SS), Heath Bell (RP), Wade LeBlanc (RP), John Buck (C), and Carlos Zambrano (SP) in the offseason to go along with their shiny new ballpark, eye-popping jerseys, and “new” location.
In addition to their major signings, the Marlins were rumored to be in pursuit of the legendary Albert Pujols. Thankfully for everyone involved, “King Albert” never signed on the dotted line, and turned down an offer of $275 million over 10 years. I feel it is also worth noting that the Marlins signed Jose Reyes to play shortstop while they already had a big name (with a terrible reputation) in Hanley Ramirez filling the position. People did not expect Hanley to respond positively to his position being shifted at the whim of the owners, and he didn’t. Negative attitudes in the clubhouse can really sink a team’s chances of succeeding, especially if it’s coming from a supposed team leader.
Even without the Pujols signing, the Marlins still acquired a total of 6 high-profile, Major League players and a well known, outspoken manager. The following season resulted in a 69-93 record, placing last in their division, and the Marlins swiftly traded star pitcher Josh Johnson, along with Buehrle, Reyes, and Buck to the Blue Jays in the 2012 offseason. The Marlins front office took tons of backlash after promising the fans contention, only to give up after one season.
If this example does not prove my point, I have two more. Both of them are more extreme than the Marlins case, and much more recent. During the 2014 offseason, newly hired GM of the Padres A.J. Preller (known by some as a rockstar) promised a new attitude in San Diego. Over the course of a single offseason, Preller acquired Justin Upton (OF), Matt Kemp (OF), Craig Kimbrel (RP), Will Middlebrooks (3B), Brandon Maurer (RP), Brandon Morrow (SP), Wil Myers (OF), Clint Barmes (SS), Derek Norris (C), and a workhorse pitcher in James Shields (SP).
Last season the Padres had a record of 74-88 , good for fourth place in the NL West division. So far this current offseason, fans in San Diego have watched Justin Upton leave in free agency, a highly effective setup man in Joaquin Benoit traded to the Mariners, Craig Kimbrel traded to the Red Sox, Jedd Gyorko (2B) sent to the Cardinals, Yonder Alonso (1B) traded to the Oakland A’s, and Clint Barmes had his club option declined, making him a free agent. Since coming on as GM in San Diego, Preller has acquired 10 big names and let go of 6. With little-to-nothing to look forward to from position player prospects (aka no offensive help) after witnessing the farm traded away last offseason, fans are simply hoping their “rockstar” GM can find a way to unload Matt Kemp’s hefty contract after a disappointing season.
During the same offseason that AJ Preller worked his magic, Rick Hahn of the Chicago White Sox was doing his own roster shuffle. Hahn was hired internally for the GM position upon the promotion of Kenny Williams to president of the White Sox back in 2012. Up until last offseason, Hahn’s bigged move as GM was trading Jake Peavy to the Red Sox in a three-team deal that netted Chicago glove-handy shortstop Jose Iglesias and Miguel Cabrera’s doppleganger: Avisail Garcia.
Something gave Hahn the itch to switch (things up) last year, and the White Sox acquired Melky Cabrera (OF), Jeff Samardzija (SP), Dan Jennings (RP), Adam Laroche (1B/DH), David Robertson (RP), Emilio Bonifacio (INF/OF), Zach Duke (RP), and Geovany Soto (C) over the course of three months. Baseball people were psyched, and both Bleacher Report and ESPN were very high on Chicago’s moves, specifically the signing of Melky Cabrera (who had a .708 OPS in 2015 with poor defense) and trading for Jeff Samardzija (4.96 ERA). The 2015 Chicago White Sox sported a record of 76-86, placing fourth in the AL Central. Now Samardzija is gone (free agency), it is being suggested that Melky Cabrera strictly play DH now due to his harmful defense, and the team is actively trying to unload Laroche’s contract.
Hopefully now my point about Dipoto is more clear. No matter how good your plan looks on paper, turning over your roster (virtually) overnight will not work. Baseball has shown lately that building a team through the minor leagues is the way to win a ring. It is important to acquire role players to fill holes on the roster, but the Giants (3 World Series Rings since 2010) and Royals (2015 World Champions, 2015 American League Champions) have taught us that cohesion is essential to success in baseball. A common theme between the Royals and Giants, other than success and chemistry, is having a core that came up together.
Of the Royals’ World Series team, Lorenzo Cain (OF), Yordano Ventura (SP), Luke Hochevar (RP), Danny Duffy (SP), Kelvin Herrera (RP), Salvador Perez (C), Mike Moustakas (3B), Eric Hosmer (1B), Jarrod Dyson (OF), and Alex Gordon (OF) all came up through the Royals’ farm system (although Cain was originally drafted by the Brewers). For the Giants most recent team to win it all, Buster Posey (C), Brandon Crawford (SS), Tim Lincecum (SP), Matt Cain (SP), Madison Bumgarner (SP), Ryan Vogelsong (SP), Joe Panik (2B), Brandon Belt (1B), Sergio Romo (RP), and Pablo Sandoval (3B) all fall under the category of “homegrown talent”.
These guys have known each other for several years. They were in the minors together, some of them were rookies together, they’ve gotten to know each other over time. These are values being taken for granted in Seattle, where Jerry Dipoto does not find this information relevant to his Mariners rebuild. Instead of taking the “traditional route” to rebuilding a team, as the Astros, Cubs, Braves, and Phillies have done lately through the draft and building a strong farm system, Dipoto is taking the Mariners down the same path as the White Sox, Padres, and Marlins. According to history, the tactic of acquiring several players in one offseason has not been successful for teams.
Of course there is the possibility that the recently formed core of Nelson Cruz (OF), Robinson Cano (2B), Kyle Seager (3B), and Felix Hernandez (SP) are getting to know each other a bit more now, creating a culture with a positive, “winning” mindset for the newcomers to rally around. It also shouldn’t hurt that recently-acquired catcher Chris Iannetta is familiar with Dipoto, having played for him last season with the Angels. I personally hope Dipoto’s plan is a success in Seattle. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, I have no choice but to to root for the closest team there is, plus it would be nice to see a roster turnover work for a change.