Game 89, Rockies at Mariners – M’s Extend Jerry Dipoto

marc w · July 6, 2018 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. German Marquez, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day to you and yours. It’s been an especially happy Felix day for one Gerard Peter Dipoto, who signed a multi-year extension. His contract was up at the end of the 2018 season, and while he wasn’t exactly on the hot seat with the team sitting at 24 games over .500, this gives him some security.

It felt a bit like a formality not only due to the M’s performance this year, but because he just inked Wade LeBlanc to an extension. If you’re comfortable with a GM making multi-year commitments to players, you’re probably comfortable with that GM’s vision for the next few years, even if those commitments are small (like LeBlanc’s bargain deal). This news is not a big surprise to anyone, but a few of you may have navigated over here to hear what I, one of Dipoto’s more annoying critics, think of it. Here you go: I like it.

The organization the M’s have in place right now was created in ways I vaguely dislike, in contexts I don’t really know/understand, with input I can only guess at. All of that said, the M’s certainly look weaker in certain aspects than many of the superclubs in the AL right now, particularly the AL West heavyweights in Houston. What I think many of us want is this sense that *our* GM is simply better at identifying talent than his peers, and uses that asymmetry to create a juggernaut. That’s a cult-of-the-GM simplification, but it’s got some explanatory power. The Astros have used the game’s best player development AND excellent pro scouting to great effect, turning complete non-prospects like Jose Altuve and Marwin Gonzalez into all-star talents AND getting more out of established stars like Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Their PD leaves a minor league system where high draft picks and the latest unheralded stars (Josh James?) provide depth for the big league club and desirable prospects for trades. The Cubs traded off anything of value a few years ago and rebuilt their own system, and then used a series of remarkable trades (and the draft of Kris Bryant, of course) to create a dominant 2016 club and a contender for years to come. They identified future contributors like Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, and Jake Arrieta, and got more out of them than anyone else thought possible. The process was painful at times, but it’s helped create a perennial contender as well as a Series winner.

The M’s don’t look like either of those clubs, as close as they are in the standings to both. The M’s have made a flurry of moves, and the results are fairly normally distributed at best. The franchise-altering trade for Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger is clearly, clearly in the win column, but there are a hell of a lot of misses, too. In the past, I’ve harped on their pitching acquisitions, but I’ve mocked the Healy trade, the Dee Gordon experiment, and many others. Now, if they worked out – if they were precisely the sort of raw material the M’s player development coaches excelled in forging into weapons of baseballing war (WAR?) – then that’d be one thing. But for every Mitch Haniger, there’s Healy and his .279 OBP. There’s Seth Smith for Yovani Gallardo, or Chris Taylor for Zach Lee, or the Adam Lind deal. There are clear, important adds, and the Marco Gonzales deal seems to be turning into one, but they don’t seem to be the product of a preternatural gift for talent evaluation. If you trade for a million guys, *some* of them are bound to be remarkably good.

So, is the argument that he’s not infallible, like Theo Epstein in the fever-dreams of daily fantasy sports bros? No, it’s that the relentless churn impacts the ability of the team to develop the way “good” orgs seem to develop players. Last year, the Tacoma Rainiers famously used 56 pitchers. Series to series, it was somewhat hard to predict who would be on the roster. Now, injuries both in AAA and in Seattle played a huge role in that, so what would happen this year, now that the injury plague has moved on? Well, it’s early July, and the Rainiers have already used 36 pitchers. The Rainiers operate a little like an independent league team, and I don’t say that just because half of their starting rotation came from an independent league a month ago. This is the byproduct of the kind of trades the M’s make – the draft picks are moved, leaving organizational needs that have to be filled via the waiver wire or calls to the Atlantic League. That’s not awful, and the team’s pretty solid because of it…but it’s essentially impossible to say that any development is occurring. Homegrown sorta-prospect Ian Miller has been shunted off to the OF corners for waiver claims like John Andreoli and Andrew Aplin.

Sooooo, you hate the extension then? No. There are two main reasons. First, extending Dipoto is necessary to give not just the FO but the coaching staffs at every level a modicum of security and, crucially, a vote of confidence. GM’s don’t work well if they think the next move they make has to turn out well *right now*. Coaches need to know that their superiors understand that player development takes time, and that mechanical changes may include periods of poor performance when the body reverts to old habits or struggles with changes. Second, and even more important, I started to recognize that there are other ways to build a winning club. My vision of Dipoto’s “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks” approach is reductive and skewed, sure, but making trades is one aspect of the GM’s job. Another big one, if really hard to measure, is setting a tone, and allowing a culture to develop around the team.

The GM can do that in many ways, from insulating players/managers from ownership, to selling ownership on his/his manager’s direction, to selling free agents to become culture-setters or bask in the warm glow of that culture’s success. For the last two years at least, the M’s clubhouse seems to be unusually together/optimistic, and that includes one year of bitter disappointment in the standings. I have no idea how to measure this, or how to apportion the credit for its creation between Dipoto, Scott Servais, and clubhouse leaders like Robinson Canó or Nelson Cruz. But I DO know that Dipoto didn’t thwart it, and didn’t try to rein the team’s free-wheeling, idiosyncratic, often goofy, identity back in, either in the name of focus or of “respecting the game.” No, allowing long haired outfielders doesn’t make Jerry Dipoto a good GM, but building a clubhouse that players seem to actively like being a part of is an essential part of the job, albeit one that we can’t rank on Fangraphs. It’s a task that allows individuality while respecting the need for preparation and development, which I think previous M’s teams have lacked.

There’s another reason, too. If you’ve been around here for years, you know that my grudging admiration for what the Astros have accomplished echoes my earlier admiration for Jon Daniels and the Rangers, who built an AL West power 10-12 years earlier. That team was different, as it was buoyed up by a remarkable string of international free agent signings, thanks to AJ Preller. Still, it wasn’t like those teams were a collection of international, home-grown players. Instead, they, more than most teams, were the product of an almost obsessive-compulsive number of trades, both minor and major. Not all of them worked out. The Rangers were the source of a few of the Cubs’ 2016 stars, include Hendricks and Carl Edwards Jr., and Daniels left a trail of lopsided trading L’s, like dealing Chris Davis for a little-used Koji Uehara, right before Uehara became a star with Boston. It didn’t hurt them too much, because they’d just develop other players and do the same thing again.

I realize the M’s don’t have the Rangers’ player development group of 2009-2011 – though Scott Servais was pretty important in that unit – and they certainly aren’t as active internationally as the old pre-bonus-pool Rangers were. There’s an argument that Jon Daniels *without* those advantages will give you the Rangers of 2018, not the Rangers of 2011, and I suppose we’ll wait and see. But the point is that you don’t have to win every trade. A poker player or any other gambler knows that you can exploit even a small advantage if you keep at it (and if your bankroll can survive some losses). Dipoto seems to believe that you can jump-start development if you find a player who clicks with what your coaches are trying to do. James Pazos may be such a player, just as Chris Taylor was in Los Angeles. Not all of them will work out, and that’s fine so long as you keep acquiring new ones.

The churn does indeed prevent the M’s from building the kind of system that could compete for Manny Machado this year or whoever your favored trade target might be. But even there, Dipoto’s figured out a short- to medium-turn workaround: the trade for contract relief. Mike Leake hasn’t turned into a solid #2, and his 2018 numbers are actually worse than his career averages. But on a team like this one, a solid, dependable #4 was critical. The M’s acquired him not so much for talent as for salary relief – the Cardinals had a ton of young pitchers on the way up and didn’t need Leake’s expense. The M’s acquired Leake – and cash – despite not having a lauded system. I’d argue the same is at least partially true of the Dee Gordon deal, and while Gordon’s OBP isn’t what you want from your leadoff hitter, he’s been a clubhouse leader since arriving. The M’s were able to acquire MLB vets despite not having MLB-ready talent in return (that’s more true of the Leake deal than the Gordon one) because they’ve been able to find room in the budget for it. And there’s room in the budget for it in part because so much of the rest of the team’s been built cheaply – Healy, Zunino, Edwin Diaz, and Mitch Haniger are all making ~ league minimum.

There’s work to do here. However close the M’s are right now, the Astros and Yankees seem to be fundamentally different, and the M’s will need a real farm system soon. But I’m fine with the club giving Dipoto the freedom to work on that now.

Today, the M’s face the club Dipoto pitched for in his playing days, the Colorado Rockies. Colorado’s offense has been poor this year, while their bullpen’s gone from an intriguing strategic gambit to a terrible waste of tons and tons of money. All of that’s spoiled a solid performance from their unherladed starters, especially the group behind Jon Gray, who was just demoted due to ineffectiveness. By fWAR, they’re neck and neck with the Mariners. Last year, the group led all of baseball in four-seam fastball usage, a bold move in the year of the home run at altitude. But it worked, as the group worked around a few too many walks and produced an abnormally high ground ball rate. They’re not as extreme this year, which is kind of funny – they’re throwing more sinking pitches now, but it’s resulted in fewer grounders.

Today’s starter, German Marquez, is belatedly following the league-wide trend towards fewer fastballs. Last year, he threw a four-seamer or sinker 65% of the time. This year, it’s down to 57%. Those FBs are now sliders, which is an interesting move in and of itself. Last year, he was primarily a FB/Curve pitcher, but he had a hell of a time getting righties out – which is strange because Marquez is a righty himself. He saw roughly similar amounts of rightes and lefties, but gave up 3X more HRs to righties. Hence, he’s now throwing far more sliders to them than ever before. As a pitch with high platoon splits, you understand the thinking. And lo and behold, it’s working. He’s fared far better against RHB this year. Only…now lefties are hitting him hard all of the sudden.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Span, LF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Gamel, RF
8: Herrmann, C
9: Heredia, CF
SP: FELIX

A third straight start for Chris Herrmann, as Mike Zunino’s on the 10-day DL with an ankle bruise – one that may keep him out 2-3 weeks. Further complicating things is the fact that Mitch Haniger’s also out with a sore right knee, albeit one that doesn’t seem to be DL-able. John Andreoli would figure to be the call-up if the M’s need OF depth; they’ve already recalled David Freitas at C.

Kyle Lewis will represent the M’s at the Futures Game during the All Star Break. It’s been an up-and-down year for Lewis, who spent the first month or so getting his surgically-repaired knee ready. Nice to see him healthy for a prolonged period of time.

Logan Gilbert, the M’s first-round draft pick, hasn’t played yet in the M’s system, and now we know why: he’s got mononucleosis, and has for some time. Get well soon, Logan!

Comments

29 Responses to “Game 89, Rockies at Mariners – M’s Extend Jerry Dipoto”

  1. Steve Nelson on July 6th, 2018 5:55 pm

    I think one important element is simply gaining stability in the organization. If Servais stays as Manager through the 2019 season, he will become the second-longest serving manager the team has ever had (behind Lou Piniella).

    It seems to met that ins a stable, well-running organization, there has to be continuity in vision and implementation from the executive level to the operations level, with information flowing in both directions. From this outsider’s perspective, it appears to me that the relationship between DiPoto and Servais as GM and MLB manager is better than any that I’ve ever seen as a fan.

    I don’t know how/if that translates to the minor league operations. But I hope progress is being made there. And realistically, it takes several years to generate stability, particularly when there is a history of churn such as has been the history with the Mariners throughout their entire history.

  2. WTF_Ms on July 6th, 2018 7:20 pm

    When will Felix stop giving up early solo homers? He’s now no better than a 2nd starter on a good day.

  3. WTF_Ms on July 6th, 2018 7:39 pm

    Oh lord. Here we go.

  4. Sowulo on July 6th, 2018 7:40 pm

    3 runs early….Felix is a broken record…..

  5. WTF_Ms on July 6th, 2018 7:42 pm

    He’s either broken or old. I’m leaning towards both.

  6. WTF_Ms on July 6th, 2018 8:40 pm

    Felix Day is turning into a day nobody looks forward to.

  7. mrakbaseball on July 6th, 2018 8:55 pm

    The Dipoto extension is not a surprise considering the half season the Mariners are having. I guess a Servais extension is inevitable too.

  8. WTF_Ms on July 6th, 2018 9:20 pm

    Hopefully one of them, with their newly found job security will do something about Felix.

  9. Sowulo on July 6th, 2018 9:20 pm

    It seems there is always a HR immediately after a baserunning blunder….

  10. mrakbaseball on July 6th, 2018 9:24 pm

    And Gordon has been removed from the game. Hopefully nothing serious.

  11. mrakbaseball on July 6th, 2018 9:27 pm

    What are the odds Healy is the Mariners starting first baseman next year? I guess it depends whether they extend Cruz or not. Cano will be back, will he remain at second though?

  12. WTF_Ms on July 6th, 2018 9:40 pm

    Gordon plays like a kid. Great energy and speed. Keep him. Center field or elsewhere.

  13. Grayfox3d on July 7th, 2018 2:15 pm

    It would be nice if the Offense could pull their heads outta their a**es and start scoring runs!

  14. Jake on July 7th, 2018 2:36 pm

    When you’re running out Heredia/Romine/Freitas/Andreoli as your bottom four, it’s going to be a long day.

  15. tame on July 7th, 2018 2:52 pm

    Why does Dipoto insist on spending money and prospects on negative WAR 1Bs. If positive contribution from the position is impossible cant we just give the ABs to Chris Carter or someone who costs nothing. Can he just DFA Healey already so we don’t have to watch his awful ABs anymore.

  16. WTF_Ms on July 7th, 2018 3:13 pm

    Long day starts now. Another 3 run deficit late.

  17. Grayfox3d on July 7th, 2018 3:18 pm

    Colorado’s Pitching looks pretty good against the Mariners.

  18. WTF_Ms on July 7th, 2018 3:51 pm

    It’s a clown show out there. Get it together!

  19. mrakbaseball on July 7th, 2018 4:08 pm

    Well, nothing like being outscored 12-2 by the Rockies to put you in your place. Yes, Healy is who he is. I would be surprised if he is with Seattle in ’19.

  20. WTF_Ms on July 7th, 2018 4:09 pm

    We have to do something to improve consistency at 1st and catcher. Those two spots are a black hole.

  21. don52656 on July 7th, 2018 9:51 pm

    Cano would make a pretty good 1B, I think.

  22. Stevemotivateir on July 8th, 2018 11:17 am

    My only real question has to do with the type of players he drafts in the future. I get that there needed to be a focus on college players just to thicken the upper levels faster. But I would hope that he starts targeting higher ceiling players soon, rather than high floor players.

    Regarding Cano at 1B, I don’t see how not moving him there is a possibility. Gordon wasn’t that great in center and he’s clearly the better defender at 2B. I think Dipoto would be wise to try to find another outfielder with some pop to balance the lineup better.

  23. WTF_Ms on July 8th, 2018 1:27 pm

    Camp at first would never happen. He’d ask for a trade before moving. Also, refer to my earlier post about giving up solo homers early. Can we please stop doing that?

  24. Stevemotivateir on July 8th, 2018 1:51 pm

    ^ *Cano* literally stated that he was open to playing anywhere, that it’s about what’s best for the team.

    But I would certainly hope he was willing to waive his no-trade clause if a team was actually willing to take the 5/120+ still remaining on his deal.

    Regarding Felix’s 1st inning solo dingers, he has always had that issue. It’s amplified this season because he’s getting hit more as well and hasn’t been able to get through a lineup 3 times consistently. But feel free to suggest how he fixes that. He has an enormous contract and we don’t have a clear alternative, so barring injury, we’re likely going to see him through 2019. I just wonder if he might end up in the pen.

  25. Grayfox3d on July 8th, 2018 3:58 pm

    We can’t completely bash Healy all the time… Like today, he is probably the best reason they actually won today, 5 rbi’s… Goldshmits don’t exactly grow on tree’s and where is this new 1st baseman supposed to come from?

  26. Stevemotivateir on July 8th, 2018 4:30 pm

    Healy, like most players, has his days. But when you look at all of the days collectively, it isn’t hard to see there’s a serious lack of plate discipline and the power doesn’t compensate enough.

    It seems pretty clear that the answer is, or should be, Cano for the future.

  27. WTF_Ms on July 8th, 2018 4:45 pm

    @Stevemotivateir darn auto correct. After the suspension I think he’d waive the no trade. It’d be tough to get someone to assume that money. If he plays 1st on the regular though, that’d be good. Felix is going to have to a back of the rotation starter or long relief. Hopefully he’s got a nagging injury that he’ll take care of in the off season. If I had better answers, I’d be in the front office! For now, I’ll just complain that we don’t sweep every series! 😉

  28. Stevemotivateir on July 8th, 2018 5:39 pm

    I’ve had the same issue with auto-correct, it gets the best of us.

    Felix would probably hate the idea of going to the pen, but it wouldn’t be his call and Servais seems to have excellent communication skills. So, maybe we’ll see that happen in the post season and continue into 2019? I know people would argue that he starts games poorly and that wouldn’t bode well for the bullpen. But I would argue it’s a different mindset and it’s worth a shot.

    Nobody in their right mind would take Cano unless it was a bad contract swap, but I think it’s even less likely he would agree to a trade. He’s happy here and has been instrumental in this offense. I could see him being more productive as a first baseman, given that the position is less physically demanding. Staying healthy could do wonders for him and the team.

    That said, if it were possible to move him, Boston has some dead weight that could help offset some of his salary.

  29. mksh21 on July 9th, 2018 10:46 am

    Cano at first base (or DH)had to be the end game at some point. Who knows what the roster will look like when he gets back?

    It would be nice to platoon Cano at first against righties and put Cano at 2nd vs. lefties (with Healy at 1st), but IDK what their feelings on Gordon shifting back and forth between CF and 2nd are.

    Also, if we are going to be a playoff team that Cano can’t play on- how much and where to play him is a question as well.

    Healy’s splits aren’t even that drastic as I look them up. 97 OPS+ vs. right 109 OPS+ vs. left. He’s pretty much bottom of the barrel either way. I DID not know he was only 26 so maybe there is some hope.

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