The Mariners looked like sellers when they sent Mike Montgomery to the Cubs in July, but GM Jerry Dipoto has shown since he’s intent on breaking a 15-year playoff drought.
If you haven’t noticed, Jerry Dipoto has not been on vacation during the Dog Days. During the first 10 days of August (first 10!), the first-year general manager of the Mariners made 28 separate transactions that affected his major league roster. The moves included two trades, nine recalls/options involving AAA Tacoma, four DFA’s, a waiver claim and a spate of activity related to the disabled list.
The latest of the aforementioned roster tweaks occurred Wednesday and Thursday when Dipoto first dipped into the Rainiers for Jarrett Grube, a 34-year-old right-handed reliever who started the season with AAA Columbus in the Cleveland Indians organization and signed with Seattle as a minor league free agent June 9.
A day (Thursday) after selecting Grube, and without him throwing a pitch, the Mariners optioned him back to Tacoma. Dipoto’s 29th and 30th moves of the month came Friday when he selected RHP Joe Wieland from the Rainiers to make the start against the Athletics in Oakland. To make room for Wieland, Dipoto designated OF Daniel Robertson for assignment.
Wieland is a 26-year-old native of Nevada who came to the Mariners from the Los Angeles Dodgers Jan. 12 in exchange for minor league INF Erick Mejia. Wieland has largely knocked around the minors since Texas drafted him in the fourth round in 2008, but he will instantly become a man of distinction when he takes the mound against the Athletics: he will be the 29th pitcher Seattle has used this season.
Never in 40 years have the Mariners used that many in a single season, and this one still has seven weeks remaining. If the first 11 days of August are any indication, Dipoto and manager Scott Servais might run 40 pitchers to the mound before it’s all done.
In only two other seasons did the Mariners use as many as 28 pitchers. These are the years in which they used the most:
|1999||Woody Woodward||28||Freddy Garcia 17-8, but staff had 5.24 ERA|
|2015||Jack Zduriencik||28||Zduriencik pulled out all stops to save job|
|2016||Jerry Dipoto||28||Seattle 4th in AL with 3.92 team ERA|
|1996||Woody Woodward||25||Team 5.21 ERA, Mariners missed playoffs|
|2006||Bill Bavasi||25||Mariners finished 78-84, fourth in AL West|
|1995||Woody Woodward||24||Clinched postseason, first time in team history|
|1997||Woody Woodward||24||Randy Johnson 20-4, Mariners won AL West|
The Mariners have used fewer than 20 pitchers in a season 17 times with a low of 13 in 1980. As the Mariners pointed out in their always-informative game notes Wednesday, in the Tuesday night game against Detroit (15-inning walk-off win), they used six relievers (Nick Vincent, Edwin Diaz, Arquimedes Caminero, Drew Storen, Tom Wilhelmsen and Ariel Miranda), none of whom were on the 40-man roster when spring training opened.
Talk about revamping a bullpen on the fly.
Of the six seasons, other than this one, cited in the chart above, 1995 — so far – seems most parallel to 2016. In ’95, the Mariners were never in contention in the first half, in fact far from it, until they signed reliever Norm Charlton as a free agent July 14. On that date, the Mariners trailed the division-leading Angels by seven games.
By July 31, the Mariners were 10 games out (they would ultimately fall 13.5 in arrears), but acquired rent-a-pitcher Andy Benes in a trade with San Diego. As Dipoto is doing now, GM Woody Woodward made 29 more roster transactions after the non-waiver trade deadline. The new players, plus the return of Ken Griffey Jr. from the disabled list and a lot of mojo, helped the moribund Mariners click.
Charlton saved 14 games after joining the club. Benes posted a 5-0 record with a 3.62 ERA over a six-start span from Aug. 29-Sept. 26. OF Vince Coleman, obtained from Kansas City for a player to be named later Aug. 15, hit in four consecutive games (Aug. 16-19) to begin his Seattle career, then hit in seven of nine between Aug. 21-31. In 40 contests, he batted .290 with 16 stolen bases, a key to Seattle’s near-miracle comeback.
Woodward’s late-season roster manipulations enabled the Mariners to win the AL West and reach the postseason for the first time in franchise history after an 18-year drought. Borne of urgency, Woodward’s moves went a long way toward saving baseball in Seattle.
Dipoto faces no such burden this season. But he seems intent on micromanaging his roster, practically on a game-by-game basis, in order to break a 15-year playoff absence, embarrassingly the longest in the majors and second longest in in the four major pro sports.
It looked like Dipoto had tossed in the towel July 20 when he peddled reliever-turned-starter Mike Montgomery to the Chicago Cubs for RHP Paul Blackburn and prospect Dan Vogelbach only 10 days after Montgomery threw 6.1 effective innings at Kansas City. At that point, the Mariners stood 6.5 games out in the AL West race and needed to leapfrog four teams to reach the second wild card. Didn’t seem possible with the Mariners gripped in a win-lose-lose-win pattern.
It seemed even less possible six days later when Dipoto sent reliever Joaquin Benoit to Toronto for RHP Drew Storen, then dispatched starter Wade Miley to the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline for Ariel Miranda. At that point, Dipoto’s swaps seemed justified: the Mainers were nine games out and had five teams ahead of them for the second wild card.
But Dipoto obviously had another agenda, which now seems clear: He wants to demonstrate in his first year that he can break the ennui-inducing pattern of mediocrity by purging the stigma of no postseason.
Thus, his roster churn, designed to give the Mariners their best chance to win every game, because every game now matters with the Mariners (60-53), winners of six in a row, on the cusp of the second wild card (1.5 games out).
The Mariners are not likely to catch Texas (seven games up), but the 1995 Mariners weren’t likely to catch the Angels, either, and they did. While no one should expect from this team the kind of epic, late-season rally staged by the ’95 Mariners, even a one-and-done playoff game seven weeks hence is far preferable to the alternative.
This is why Dipoto is likely to make even more moves this month, almost certainly aimed at shoring up shortstop, left field and perhaps the rotation.
The playoffs are within reach: The Mariners have seven opponents remaining, and those seven are a combined 81.5 games behind in their division races. Only two of the seven, Texas and Houston, have winning records, and winning records against Seattle.
With 28 roster moves this month, and more likely, Dipoto is seeking every edge he can get, every day. Even if the Mariners aren’t successful, Dipoto is a huge and welcome departure from his predecessors, Bill Bavasi and Jack Zduriencik. Woody Woodward, architect of the most exciting team in franchise history, would, we suspect, like what he’s seeing.