BY Steve Rudman 04:57PM 09/30/2015

A 3-step to-do list for Mariners’ new GM Dipoto

Jerry Dipoto needs to make a menu of changes as he takes over as GM of the Mariners. He can start by trading the team’s best hitter, slugger Nelson Cruz.

The Mariners should trade slugger Nelson Cruz. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

The quick answer to the question most asked today — what should new Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto do first? – is that he should really reconsider his decision to join a franchise that has made only four playoff appearances in 39 years (none since 2001), squandered almost two million members of its fan base over the past decade, and killed the careers of the majority of his predecessors.

Assuming Dipoto opts to keep the job, he will have to re-do the major league roster to make it compatible with Safeco Field and revitalize a bankrupt minor league system, ranked 25th by Baseball America. In other words, Dipoto is going to have to re-boot most of the franchise. He can start by making three moves once he comes to a yea or nay on manager Lloyd McClendon.

  • Trade Nelson Cruz.
  • Jettison the catching corps.
  • Gut the bullpen.

I’m not the first to advocate the trade of Cruz, Seattle’s best hitter, nor will I be the last. While such a swap will create an avalanche of criticism, it will signal Dipoto’s intent to finally erase a tortured past and start with a new slate.

The Mariners would have to eat some of the $42.75 million that remains on the Cruz’s contract, but they can afford the hit – especially since CEO Howard Lincoln claims to be taking fewer dollars out of the team pot as a self-imposed punishment for all the gaffes that led to Dipoto’s hiring.

Besides, there is little point in Cruz playing for a team that isn’t going to compete for a postseason when he could return multiple impact prospects.

Dipoto probably can’t trade Felix Hernandez or Robinson Cano due to their onerous contracts, and he has no player other than Cruz who can bring in the type of players who can be successful at Safeco Field, where Cruz has been good, but not nearly as good as he’s been on the road: 16 homers at The Safe, 27 away from it.

Cruz is an adequate right fielder, but the Mariners, who have one of the least-athletic lineups in baseball, need to address the issue of saving runs as much as generating them. I’d be good with Cruz for a catcher, a closer and prospects, probably starting with a catcher.

This year, Seattle used five catchers: Mike Zunino, Jesus Sucre, John Hicks, Wellington Castillo and Steve Baron. If you didn’t know, you have been watching baseball-catching history I’d describe as epic.

A few weeks ago, Bill Arnold, in his syndicated “Beyond The Box Score” column, astutely pointed out this astonisher: Zunino, Sucre, Hicks, Castillo (since traded) and Baron had a combined .156 batting average. The group is on pace to become the worst-hitting catching unit since 1901.

Arnold published the column Sept. 18. In Seattle’s 11 games since, and with Zunino having been sent to Tacoma, Sucre, Hicks and Baron found a way to go into an even deeper slump. In the 11 games prior to Wednesday’s game, they are a combined 3-for-33, an .090 batting average.

Imagine you are sitting in Washington Park, between Third and Fourth avenues, in Brooklyn, NY., on Oct. 7, 1909, the final day of that season. William Howard Taft is in the White House. New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii are not yet states. No one pays income tax. Jim Thorpe is a rookie, the Panama Canal under construction.

Babe Ruth is six years away from his first home run, and you are watching the Brooklyn Superbas, forerunner of the Dodgers, take on John McGraw’s Giants. Superbas fans are probably still tossing barbs at New York first baseman Fred Merkle for his infamous “boner” a year earlier.

By the end of the day, the three Superbas catchers, Doc Marshall (.201), Bill Bergen (.163) and Joe Dunn (.160) are hitting a combined .157. Who knew that it would take 106 years, or 18 presidential administrations, to break that standard for lowest team catcher batting average?

But these Mariners, barring the late signing of a young Johnny Bench, are going to do it, as the following stunner shows.

Worst-hitting team catching since 1901

Year Team Avg. # Cs Worst-Hitting Catcher
2015 Mariners .152 5 Mike Zunino .174 BA, 132 strikeouts, 112 games
1909 Superbas .157 3 Bill Bergen (career .170 BA) batted .139
2014 Dodgers .181 4 Starter A.J. Ellis batted .191 in 93 games
1964 Colt 45s .184 4 Jerry Grote hit .181, .240 OBP in 100 games
1989 Braves .185 5 John Russell hit .182 (.225 OBP) in 74 games
2011 Twins .185 3 Drew Butera .167 BA, .449 OPS in 93 games
1969 Athletics .188 5 Dave Duncan hit .126, .236 OBP in 58 games

Forgetting the 1909 Superbas, Seattle’s .152 is 29 points worse than the next-worst team and 44 points worse than the .196 that famously inspired “Dave Valle Days.”

In the late summer of 1991, a Pioneer Square restaurant and bar called Swannie’s launched the so-named promotion, offering well drinks or beers at a cost based on the Mariner catcher’s anemic batting average. Valle’s .196 became the butt of jokes, but Valle would be Pudge Rodriguez on today’s Mariners.

So Dipoto needs to fix that. Then he can fix the bullpen, one of the best in the American League in 2014 but awful this year. The problems started with Fernando Rodney’s six blown saves. That ineffectiveness infected nearly everyone else in the pen.

At the same you are watching the worst-hitting catching corps since Abner Doubleday, you are also watching the worst bullpen in team history, which is saying something since Bobby Ayala is 16 years removed from Seattle.

With one more loss in the season’s final four games, this bullpen will break a franchise record for single-season defeats. Most bullpen losses in a season:

Year Manager Losses Loss Leaders
2013 Eric Wedge 33 Y. Medina 6, C. Furbush 6; 6 relievers with 3
2015 Lloyd McClendon 33 D. Farquhar 6, F. Rodney 5, C. Smith 5
1999 Lou Piniella 31 J. Paniagua 11, J. Mesa 6, F. Rodriguez 4
2008 John McLaren 31 M. Batista 14, R. Dickey 8, J.J. Putz 5
2004 Bob Melvin 30 R. Villone, S. Hasegawa, C. Nageotte, all 6
2009 Don Wakmatsu 30 M. Lowe 7, C. Jakubauskas 6, D. Aardsma 6
1989 Jim Lefebvre 29 M. Schooler 7, J. Reed 7, C. Zavaras 6
1998 Lou Piniella 29 B. Ayala 10, P. Spoljaric 6, H. Slocumb 5
2005 Mike Hargrove 29 J. Mateo 6, J.J. Putz 5, J. Harris 5
2010 Don Wakamatsu 29 B. League 7, L. French 7, D. Aardsma 6

It’s easy (too easy) to bash the Mariners for failing to make the playoffs since 2001, and for failing to be relevant this year after the Fourth of July when they fell so far behind in the division race that they had no hope of catching up. But there are two sides to everything.

The Mariners lost 12 walk-off games, 28 one-run games and 12 times in extra innings. They lost 14 times when tied after seven innings, 10 times when leading after seven, 11 times when they were tied after eight and 21 times when they out-hit an opponent.

They did that with a very flawed team, one that Dipoto told the Mariners in his hiring interviews was not built to win at Safeco Field.

Trading Cruz would help Dipoto address the issues that kept the Mariners irrelevant for the 35th time in 39 seasons. A catcher is the logical place to start and a new bullpen is a must.


YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    Dipoto has his work cut out for him. I sure hope, for his sake, he has a “hands off” deal with Lincoln, other wise he won’t last. Lincoln is a cancer and until he is gone, I will continue to not buy M’s tickets.
    M’s management is the worst in Seattle’s history, next to Schultz, who will never be exceeded in local hate.

    • Effzee

      Hey man. Don’t forget about Wally Walker. Never forget about Wally. He drove the fanbase into the ground, which led directly to the need to sell, and then he held the secret poisoned well meeting that the Oklahomos used to win their case. Wally Walker should always be remembered as the official murderer of professional basketball in Seattle.

      • Rj Smith

        What was the Wally Walker Sonics sabotage story? I don’t know about that, I wasn’t living in the area at the time? I remember him as a decent color guy & kinda bad GM, squandering all those 1st Rd picks on absolutely awful big guys like Swift, Sene, etc… Maybe those weren’t Walker picks, but if they had picked good players instead of those scrubs, the Sonics might still exist. I’m kinda surprised Walker led the OKC charge…..

        • Effzee

          Oh dear god…. Worst. GM. Ever. Makes Bavasi and Zduredjuzdenicec look like genii.

          • Rj Smith

            I don’t know……. Trader Jack Z & Boobasi, those guys are legends of bafoonery

          • art thiel

            The Sonics decline in play post-99 strike didn’t help, but they’re in OKC because Schultz didn’t want to fund a KeyArena remodel with his ownership’s funds, and took a fat offer from outsiders with an ambition to relocate.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Yes. Because of course that was how to justify the “public trust” he had been given–sell it out.

          • bugzapper

            For a paltry $200 million. Or about what it costs for a Belltown condo today. Seattle SuperSchmuck.

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    • art thiel

      Don’t forget the Behring years — he moved the Seahawks to Orange County for two weeks — or the late-stage Sounders of the NASL. It’s a competitive field.

  • coug73

    My gosh, it’s like pulling teeth. Trade this, acquire that. Hope all works out well.

  • Tman

    Does anyone have a Steve (Rainbow) Trout Baseball Card?

  • jafabian

    How can the bullpen be gutted when Jack already did that? At least Furbush should be coming back. The only closer worth mentioning that is available in free agency is Joakim Soria and whoever gets him will probably overpay for his services. Not a promising option but I don’t think anyone currently in the bullpen can be closer either. I’d like to see Eric O’Flahtery and/or Matt Thornton return.

    Catcher should be the #1 priority and I’d like to see the club go after Matt Wieters. Assuming Zunino remains a Mariner the two could be a decent platoon. Denard Span could be a good leadoff hitter as well as playing CF. A decision needs to be made at 1B. Are LoMo and Trumbo the answer?

    For this team to contend it needs to go after a solid pitcher to be #2 and possibly take over at #1 if Felix ever gets hurt or struggles, especially since Kuma has missed time due to injury the last two seasons. David Price would be idea if ownership is willing but why not Doug Fister? I agree with Dipoto that a core for a contender is there and a few pieces are all that’s needed and some depth. Unfortunately that depth isn’t coming from the farm as that got gutted just like the bullpen. I bet they’ll regret trading minor league prospect Gabby Guerrero.

    • Rj Smith

      Thornton is about 40 years old & was/is not even a decent closer. He’s also currently washed up & bad at baseball. Doug Fister is also no longer very good, he is a 5th starter at best. Wieters is 30 & will be overpriced, mainly because of “name recognition” & unfulfilled promise/organizational hype. Dionar Navarro is a much better short term/stop gap solution. Denard Span is not the answer currently, 3-5 years ago maybe. CF’s are difficult to find, I can easily see the M’s moving Marte out there FT next year with Taylor playing everyday at SS. I also think Cruz could play RF if two speedsters are in the OF, such as Jones/Marte with Guti/Miller as 4th options. As much as I don’t really like BUMbo/Trumbo immensely, he has much more value than Morrison. The M’s also need a LEGIT number 1 or 2 SP, if Felix/Iwakuma are easily your 1-2 punch, they will fail miserably in the postseason IF they even make it. More reastically instead of them making a big pitching splash, I see them hoping Walker turns into a legit ace next year & they acquire a middle/back end SP. I’m sure DiPoto is looking for a great winter/spring from Paxton so he can be moved. The M’s should look similar but also very different next year.

    • art thiel

      Wieters has had a lot of injuries. They need a 120-game guy, and money should be no object.

  • bugzapper

    Rudman, you are completely useless. Any 10-year-old Mariners fan could have written this junk.

    • Tian Biao

      If you don’t like the site, then don’t read it. easy solution.

      • bugzapper

        I love you “easy solution” guys. You’re always the first to miss the point. Who said anything about the site? I’m talking about a poorly-conceived piece of year-end click bait. How you gonna know it’s crap til you read it? Or should I just presume everything Rudman writes is going to be crap, and skip it?

  • inplaylose

    Just because you weren’t the first to suggest trading Cruz, it doesn’t make it any better of an idea, because it wasn’t any good of an idea when it was first suggested. You’re not likely to fetch the sort of package you’d hope for, given his age and given how unwilling franchises are to part with position players in trades these days. (Look at the trading deadline deals, where franchises simply dumped pitching prospects galore, but very few bats.) Bullpens are fickle, but they can also be restocked relatively easily. The catching position is a tire fire, and I’m not sure where the answer lies, although I like the Wieters idea if he can stay healthy, which he hasn’t been. This team has actually played reasonably well in the second half of the season despite basically having a skeletal starting staff and a dysfunctional bullpen. The trouble for Dipoto is that he’s got win-now contracts on the books and a fanbase sick of rebuilding, so focusing entirely on building the farm system won’t do. It’s a tricky spot and he’ll need to be creative about it.

    • art thiel

      That’s why trading Cruz makes sense. He’s a viable, quick-fix bat for a contender and he’s still at his peak. Nearly everyone on the roster is either unattractive or too expensive.

  • Trygvesture

    Terrific piece. Again.

  • Charlie Norwood

    Always a good read, thanks! Shout out to swannie, gonna fire up battered bastards of baseball on netflix right now.

    My TL:DR thoughts:

    Dip is high on the Cano/Cruz/Seager heart and ownership and fans really like Cruz, so I think it’s pretty unlikely he’ll get traded. Hitting more dingers on the road than at safeco isn’t telling of much in my opinion. If it was 27 and 7? Maybe. But 17 shots in safeco is godlike. We need Boomstick. He’s still one of the few hitters in the game that can actually BEAT the park, even though he doesn’t need to, it’s not like he hit .260 this year like a typical power sell out.

    This failed season really came down to a bad outfield that couldn’t save runs, Cruz being out there cost us runs and probably games. He should have been DH 100% of his starts. And then thinking that our 2014 bullpen that played out of their minds (and peripherals) in 2014 would do the exact same in 2015, especially after trading Mauer, arguably our best reliever in the second half of 2014. If the ’14 Los Doyers could win the division carrying AJ Ellis’ submendoza average AND a pitcher in their lineup every day, then I don’t think it follows that having a catcher that can hit would really do much for this squad – other than not being an embarrassment. Zunino can generally be an above replacement level player if he figures out how to throw to second because his pitch framing is some of the best in the league. He’s also 24, and was rushed up, so it’s possible that he can work with Edgar in the offseason and figure something out.

    Most lineups can carry one hole, for the NL, it’s often their pitcher, in the AL, it’s often the catcher or ss. The problem with the M’s is that at any given time our catcher, and one or two position players just flat out don’t hit – and when we play in NL parks it’s a disaster.

    Lastly the big issue with our lineup is Lloyd. He ignores even the most basic of metrics — Oh, RHP Lance McCullers carries some very obvious reverse splits? Doesn’t matter, he’s gonna sit Guti and run 6 lefties out there anyway. It was like this all season. Bullpen management was almost as bad, not until Rodney lost his job (too late for it to matter) did Lloyd even think about using in game context (except for loogy beimel, that he would then leave in to get mashed by a righty), let alone stats/metrics in his relief pitcher selection.

    I’m actually surprised that, as far as I can tell, no M’s writers have really levied an opinion on whether they think Lloyd should stay or go yet. Like you said, Steve, it’s clearly the first move Dip will make, but I’d be curious to see what your opinion is?

    • art thiel

      Steve and I agree that given Dipoto’s history with Scioscia, it seems a change gets him what he wants at mgr. Keep an eye on Tim Bogar of the Angels.

      • bugzapper

        Which would make what, 40 managers since Lincoln and Chuckie Cheesehead drove Lou out of town?

  • guybert

    After last night, Farquahar is up to 7.

  • Lodowick

    RISP killed them this year. They were anti-clutch. Bullpen was very poor, of course. But they were often trying to protect a lead of one or two runs and that was because the M’s had so few laughers. They could not build large leads. The starting staff is overrated. Felix pitched like a #2 this year. Iwakuma was absent half the year. Paxson, reputed #3 was a bust. Walker has #5 stats although he was a #3 or #4 the second half of the year. Lack of team speed hurt. Lack of outfield arms hurt. The problem at catcher was horrific. Zunino does not have a great arm either. Problems all over the place. Seager, Cano and Felix have untrade-able contracts. Makes me think of the Brian Wilson song – “God Only Knows”.

  • Dave Erhardt

    Fortunately, the catchers batted .159 for the season and so they didn’t set the record, if you call that good news.