BY Art Thiel 06:16PM 09/29/2015

Thiel: In Dipoto, Mariners, finally, get one right

Besides his extensive experience in the game, new Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has dealt with oddball owners and stubborn managers. Talk about a fit for Seattle . . .

Jerry Dipoto gets the star treatment Tuesday at Safeco, along with wife Tamie and daughter Taylor. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Many were the intriguing topics covered Tuesday during the introductory press conference of new Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, also attended by the man who chose Dipoto, club president Kevin Mather. Believe it or not, most answers were reasonable, even enlightened. I know, I know: I see your eyes rolling from here.

The community skepticism surrounding the Mariners is already at least as dense as a cubic mile of lead. Deservedly. But I choose today not to dig into it. My pick broke long ago.

Instead, I pass along answers to two questions that helped me in deciding whether to take this latest leadership change seriously.

I asked Mather whether he asked Dipoto if he knew the current Mariners roster was ill-suited to the home ballpark.

“I didn’t have to,”  Mather said. “He told me.”

This news represents a breakthrough. For seven years, Dipoto’s predecessor, Jack Zduriencik, kept building a roster of home-run hitters for a stadium that played slightly smaller than Belgium.

The result this season was a team fifth in the American League in home runs, yet out of playoff consideration by the Fourth of July. After weak drafts and mediocre player development, the thick, square pegs in Safeco’s round hole were a critical reason Zduriencik’s teams missed the postseason in all seven seasons of his tenure.

The Mariners roster should look a lot more like the 2014-15 Royals than the 1965 Yankees. Saving runs via pitching and defense are nearly as important as making runs. In running down a ball in the massive Safeco outfield, there’s not enough time to hitch up the Conestoga wagons to the oxen.

The second question was directed to Dipoto. I asked why he failed to convince his former boss, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno, that he should NOT sign addiction-plagued outfielder Josh Hamilton to a mega-contract in the winter of 2013 — unless Dipoto thought it was a good idea.

The reason is relevant to the Mariners because Zduriencik was in the middle of the same free-agent foolishness, waving his checkbook at Hamilton, who failed miserably in Anaheim despite the red flags that were seen from the International Space Station.

Dipoto explained that the owner screwed up. He didn’t use that phrase, but I caught his drift.

His explanation:

“Every decision you make is a collaboration. Josh was a free agent. I met with his wife and family. Obviously, Arte and upper management were heavily involved in what we were doing. Rightly so. That decision was the owner’s decision to make.

“As I understand it here, my position here is to manage what I’ve been given. That’s what I do. With the Angels, we did our best to put a team as good as we could around the core players. As Arte told me at the time, ‘My decision (on Hamilton) is mine.’”

Whew. One of the worst free-agent signings in recent major league history apparently was not Dipoto’s idea.

Now, some will say he’s lying, or that he’s dodging responsibility. I’m going with the idea that anyone operating off more than his medulla oblongata understood that Hamilton was a great talent but unworthy of a $125 million risk.

Where that puts Zduriencik, who was the driver on Seattle’s pursuit of Hamilton, I don’t know. But he’s under the bus now, so nobody cares.

Asked about the Hamilton episode, Mather said, “I would suggest that (Dipoto’s) previous employer was much heavier-handed than our ownership. We defer to our general manager.”

Then he cringed: “I’ve probably said too much.”

It’s our secret, Kevin.

But the episode reveals that Dipoto is experienced in ownerships that don’t know baseball. The skill won’t show up in his bio, but might be as important as any other asset in Seattle because of the other key news Tuesday, this from much-criticized CEO Howard Lincoln.

“I don’t have any plans to retire,” said, Lincoln, who showed up to the presser and took numerous questions. “I’d sure like to retire after we win the World Series . . . or make the playoffs.”

That’s a fairly wide target, but the lower end of Lincoln’s spectrum offers some optimism to the legions who hold him chiefly responsible for the Mariners’ 14-year absence from the playoffs, baseball’s longest drought.

As well as experience managing up to lightly informed owners, Dipoto has experience managing down to lightly informed managers. The Mariners manager, Lloyd McClendon, is a lot closer to the Angels field boss, Mike Scioscia, in terms of acceptance of advanced statistical analytics. As in, almost no acceptance.

The issue was said to be the reason Dipoto unexpectedly resigned the Angels GM job in July. Scioscia was said to have resisted deploying the information in Dipoto’s reports. The argument was won when Moreno sided with his 16-year manager.

But Mather claims that was not the issue.

“It’s really ironic that that media thinks Mike and Jerry got sideways on analytics,”  he said. “Jerry’s not an analytics guy. He has people who show him stuff that he uses.”

Whatever happened in Anaheim, Dipoto is here now, experienced in dealing with oddball owners and stubborn managers. He’s also a former major league pitcher, a scout, and a personnel director. He’s a polished personality and talker who delivers perfect sound bites to please TV, such as:

“My baseball philosophy is to build flexibility, build versatility, create balance, and that will lead to sustainability,” he said. “I believe that starts today.”

So yes, he gets how the job works. Dipoto and this change are worth taking seriously. But will Mather, Lincoln and ownership persist in compromising their help?

Mather recalled being part of the pre-game ceremony in August celebrating Jamie Moyer’s entry into the club’s Hall of Fame that drew 39,000 to Safeco. He said he leaned over to Lincoln and said,  ‘Think of what would happen if we put a winning product on the field.’  We once drew 3.5 million people (2002, leading baseball).

“This sounds crass, but there’s money in this town. People buy tickets, food and beverage and merchandise. We just need to put a winning product out there. Our ownership is tired of losing. They look at me and say, ‘You gotta treat the fans better,’ and then they kick me under the table and say, ‘Don’t forget ownership. You gotta treat us better.’

“I’m going to put more resources to Jerry’s end of the table than maybe Jerry’s used to.”

There you have it: Spend money to make money, and hire the right people and get out of the way. Two axioms to which anyone with a lick of business sense would stand up and say, “Duh!”

This organization has been breathtakingly slow on the uptake. Change comes when they know how long they’ve been wrong. Sounds as if they know.


YourThoughts

  • Tim

    “The community skepticism surrounding the Mariners is already at least as
    dense as a cubic mile of lead. Deservedly. But I choose today not to
    dig into it. My pick broke long ago.” Priceless! Did I ever need that laugh.

    • Long-Time Mariners Fan

      Art, as a scientist and a (very) close reader, I can say that a cubic meter of lead is just as dense as a cubic mile. It’s the distance that we hack away before our pick breaks that counts. But I do defer to your assessment – you were hacking away long before I moved to this neck of the woods.

      • art thiel

        When exaggerating for effect, larger is always better than smaller.

    • art thiel

      Thanks.

  • Jamo57

    “Let me introduce the new leader of our Baseball Department……”

    That quote alone from Kevin Mather illustrates all that is wrong with the Ms. It’s a baseball FRANCHISE, Kevin. But I’m sure you’ve learned that, or you should say “confirmed that”.

    Same as it ever was…..

    • 1coolguy

      Wow – he really said that? Clueless and therefore scary.

      • Bayview Herb

        The good side of that is that he knows what he doesn’t know.

        • Trygvesture

          Does he? Really? The idea that anybody in that organization knows what they don’t know is pretty much unfounded by any data. See “baseball department” as a point in fact.

      • art thiel

        Mather has a better grip on reality, but still has been in the Lincoln machine for too long.

    • art thiel

      I heard that too. Mather needs a little work to understand the franchise’s problem of tone-deafness.

  • Effzee

    We’ll see. It’ll either work or it won’t. No reason to think it will, really. But I like what the guy has to say. I’m just predisposed to assume Howard’s meddling, and therefor the suckingness of the franchise, will continue in perpetuity.

    • Bayview Herb

      One of the negatives is when I checked AAA standings, Tacoma was in the basement.

    • art thiel

      I understand the predisposition. My approach was to consider taking change seriously. I do.

      • Trygvesture

        Not a fan of the guy who said it, but ‘trust but verify’ comes to mind. Minus the “trust” part.

  • Lodowick

    We’ll see. It will be interesting who stays and who goes. Some of the top guys do not have trade-able contracts though. So unless they are throwing another $20 mill into the pool they will have to trade talent for talent. Guti, a free agent, is an interesting part of the picture because Jackson is gone so there is no true center fielder. Do he and Trumbo stay or go? Miller seems to have secured a spot as utility player or starter. Lomo is certainly gone. Who is the first baseman? Backup catcher? #3 starter? Good luck.

    • art thiel

      He knows better than all the holes throughout the org, and he still took the job.

  • 1coolguy

    I wish him well and the M’s good luck.
    When Lincoln leaves I will buy tickets again.

    • Jamo57

      I’m waiting for ground to be broken on an arena. Don’t know which will be a longer wait, yours or mine.

      • art thiel

        Cold, Jamo. But fair.

    • art thiel

      I admire you sticking to principles, but attendance is up about 3,000 this year.

      • 1coolguy

        There was so much hype about their winning this year after finishing strong last year. “There’s a sucker born every minute” has never been so apropos.

    • canyudigit

      I’m with you. I actually miss going to the games sometimes, but is long Howie is involved leave me out of it. Lincoln is one self-centered selfish individual.

      • Wilma Dame

        Last tuesday I got a top of the McLaren F1 from earning $16020 this last four weeks and also 15-k last-month . this is definitely the coolest work I have ever done . Without any question it’s the most financially rewarding Ive had . I started this 4 months ago & practicaIIy straight away began to bring home over $97 p/h .V.isit weblink to start immediately.
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  • Sonics79

    Time will tell and I hope for the best. On the bright side the Ms have landed a GM who had market value. For once they didn’t dawdle and watch another team pounce, like Boston with David Dumbrowski, I think my glass is half-full at this point.

    • art thiel

      I’m trying my best to be open minded, partly because he was a sought-after talent.

  • sabasarge

    I also wish him well. His drafting record with the Angels (check it out) doesn’t hold out much promise as a prognosticater of MLB talent, but hey, who knows?

    • art thiel

      Trout came before Dipoto, so he gets no credit there.

      • sabasarge

        You’re right Art, and I was being serious. Look at his draft picks and how they’ve fared in the Angel minor league system.
        It’s not a pretty sight.

  • Jeff Shope

    Not so sure about that stat geeks who interfere with field managers daily decisions do NOT excite me in the least

    • notaboomer

      it’s called research. you should try it some time.

    • art thiel

      No one is supposed to be excited. The manager is supposed to be better informed.

      • Trygvesture

        Perfect.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        Hello Art, speaking of managers. If you were a betting man would you put money on McClendon being retained?

        • art thiel

          I’m guessing after his experience in LA, Dipoto wants his own man.

          • 2nd place is 1st loser

            My thought also, thanks. I enjoy your perspective on Seattle sports. Always a great read.

  • notaboomer

    i thought safeco field was built with pull-hitting lefty ken griffey, jr. in mind. 326′ down rf line is supposed to be easy hr for lefty yet doesn’t seem to ever work out for lefties signed by mariners. in fact, the top 3 left-handed batting hr leaders for mariners this season hit as many or more home runs on the road than at home, as does the right-handed batting hr leader, cruz:

    player bats total hr/hr at safeco/hr on road
    cano L 20/10/10
    seager L 25/6/19
    lomo L 17/7/10
    cruz R 43/16/27

    • Bayview Herb

      Seagar needs to learn to hit opposite field. Any player that invites a shift should figure out that he is predictable. They can’t do that with Cruz/Cano. Lomo may not be an automatic reject. He is an excellent defensive first baseman.

    • art thiel

      Safeco remains a pitcher friendly park even with fences in.

    • ksmyth

      I don’t think that’s such a surprise in such a big park. If anything it confirms the idea the M’s should construct a lineup around high average, gap hitters with speed and focus more on pitching and defense than trying to hit home runs.

  • Bayview Herb

    None of the writers that I have access to has commented on Mariner retention. So I got on the contracts web site. To my surprise, some real prominent players appear to be free agents for 2016. For instance, Iwakuma, Trumbo, Morrison, Wilhelmsen, Furbush, Gutierrez, Miller, Paxton, Walker, Carson Smith, Sucre, Elias, Marte, Montero and others. I realize that they may have options or control over some of the rookies, but that info was not available on this site. I think this would make a great column for you to pursue.

    • Alan Kelly

      Many of those you list are young players with less than 6 years in the big leagues. All of those play on one year deals and then if they have less than three years, they work out a new deal or have their contract renewed. If they are between 4 and 6 years they are arbitration eligible. None of them will become free agents though unless the Mariners release them. So, of all the players you list, the only ones who will be free agents if the M’s don’t resign them are Iwakuma and Gutierrez.

      • Effzee

        Betcha a dollar one of Howard’s first items of business is to tell the new Figurehead to re-sign Gutierrez.

        • art thiel

          I’m thinking Howard this time around is deferring to Dipoto.

          • Trygvesture

            You think? Why? It would be a cataclysmic shift, wouldn’t it? The ultimate control freak sans competencies is unlikely to have a self-awareness revelation at this stage in his life and career. He may be confronted with significant push-back and power-negotiate into less-devasting interference, but sit back and let the “Baseball Department” have final say? They still think it’s a Baseball Department — one department of the Real Business.

      • Bayview Herb

        Thanks, Alan

        • Trygvesture

          Batting coaches have little impact tyowards change at this level, as has been well documented. Guys with the problems of youthful ignorance and bad habits might be helped, but it’s supposed to have happened well before being called up. Zunino went back to AAA– for example.

      • art thiel

        Alan is correct, then Mariners control all but Iwakuma and Gutierrez.

  • ksmyth

    The habitual doubters can doubt, but I think it’s a great signing. He’s young, but not too young, brings a balance of perspectives to the job. If you’re a fan of baseball in Seattle, you should be excited. If not you may be waiting for Howard Lincoln’s obituary–which simply seems sad and petty.

    • Trygvesture

      Retirement, not obit. The sooner the better.

  • bugzapper

    I was enthused for about a minute. Then I read that the M’s did so poorly this year that perennial spare-changer Howard Lincoln is taking a pay cut. A throat cut would be a better idea.

    • Trygvesture

      Wait, wait wait: Lincoln is taking a pay cut? Says who? When? How much? in which of his paid positions?
      It’s does ring true in that it’s the kind of pathetic pandering for cred that he ocassionally shoves across the table to the fans–e.g. “Hot Seat” and a few others.

      • art thiel

        He said he took pay cuts for losing seasons, and increases for winners. You’re right. It is pathetic pandering for cred. We don’t know if he makes $10 a year or $10M, so it’s irrelevant, and further evidence of his tone-deafness regarding what fans’ expectations are. Never should have said it.

  • Paul

    I’m a fiction writer Art. Admired your use of the language for a long time. Also your courage to say it like only you can say it. You did it again!

    • art thiel

      Made my day, Paul.

  • Wilma Dame

    Last tuesday I got a top of the McLaren F1 from earning $16020 this last four weeks and also 15-k last-month . this is definitely the coolest work I have ever done . Without any question it’s the most financially rewarding Ive had . I started this 4 months ago & practicaIIy straight away began to bring home over $97 p/h .V.isit weblink to start immediately.
    .vs………
    ➤➤➤➤ http://GoogleSuperPayingTopJobsDataEmploymentProjects/Get/Start/Today… ✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱✱

  • Skipper17

    You can have Diquitter and his Sabermetrics. While Hamilton and Pujols weren’t his decisions, he made plenty of other bonehead moves.