BY Art Thiel 06:35PM 01/24/2019

Thiel: Pressure is on Mariners’ Dipoto. Or is it?

A baseball teardown and a litigious throwdown keep general manager Jerry Dipoto the object of Mariners controversy. Then again, the pressure is off until 2021.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto thinks (hopes?) Houston, Boston and Cleveland will be on a fade by 2021. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

The easy joke would be that the Mariners in 2019 are planning an anniversary celebration of the Pilots’ single year in Seattle 50 years ago by having a replica season.

The expansion Pilots were 64-98, drew 848,000 to hastily remodeled Sicks Stadium and were so bad that they were subjects of a seminal sports book (Ball Four) and a hijacking to Milwaukee.

It’s doubtful that that a similar fate awaits the 2019 Mariners. Milwaukee still has the Pilots/Brewers.

But a 64-win season is reachable, given the departures of Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, James Paxton, Edwin Diaz and Mike Zunino, part of group of 21 players purged from the 40-man roster that ended the massively disappointing 2018 season.

Although the Mariners did manage, in the great franchise tradition of under-productive, overpaid veterans, to keep Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager.

Not long after the regular season ended, general manager Jerry Dipoto famously said the Mariners would “step back” from a competitive season in 2019 by unloading expensive vets and re-populating the roster with younger players close to major-league readiness.

The maneuver has worked for others recently in MLB, notably the Astros and Cubs, who came out on the other side of The Great Numbness as champions. But neither had missed the playoffs for 17 consecutive seasons as have the Mariners, prompting the widespread question: “Step back from what?”

At least part of the answer, as disclosed Thursday at the club’s annual pre-spring media luncheon, is stepping back from any pretense. Unlike previous seasons when the Mariners kidded themselves and the public, Seattle baseball fans can feel free to book vacations the first week in October.

The major-league roster “has gotten younger and more sustainable,” Dipoto said of his blizzard of postseason transactions. “While we would not anticipate we are a threat to win the World Series in 2019, we do feel like we’re better situated to do this in 2020 and 2021.

“We especially use 2021 as a target date when we look around at the league’s rosters. Looking specifically at Houston, Boston and Cleveland, we felt like by 2021 — via free agency, age or their (farm systems) — that was the time they would be more susceptible to being caught than they are right now.”

Meantime? Well, you can expect numerous game promotions saluting Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez, as well as a Polynesian-themed “Lou-au” night featuring Lou Piniella and giveaway flowered shirts.

You think I’m making that up. I’m not. Anything to distract from the notion of tanking.

Dipoto promised to squeeze in some baseball between the trucks dumping loads from Amazon’s trinkets warehouses.

“We think we’ve put together an interesting, fun and athletic team to watch in 2019 while we watch our pitching grow,” he said. “In 2020, a new and more robust farm system has a chance to crest and make a really interesting team in the second half of 2020.

“From a roster and payroll perspective, we became more flexible, and reduced our average age by about a year and a half, which is really hard to do in one season while putting a team on the field that’s pretty representative.”

Representative of what, is anyone’s guess. But speaking of guesses, here’s a guess at the starting nine, plus starting pitchers, based in part on what Dipoto, manager Scott Servais and player-development director Andy McKay had to say Thursday.

(Position, name, age and 2018 team; also, it’s possible that by the time the season opens in Seattle March 28, Dipoto will have traded some, many or all of the players below)

C Omar Narvaez, 26, White Sox

1B Ryon Healy, 27, Mariners

2B Dee Gordon, 30, Mariners

SS J.P. Crawford, 24, Phillies

3B Kyle Seager, 31, Mariners

LF Jay Bruce, 31, Mets

CF Mallex Smith, 25, Rays

RF Mitch Haniger, 28, Mariners

DH Edward Encarnacion, 36, Indians

Starting pitchers: Marco Gonzales, 26, Mariners; Mike Leake, 31, Mariners; Yusei Kikuchi, 27, Seibu Lions, Japan; Wade LeBlanc, 34, Mariners; Felix Hernandez, 32, Mariners

Bullpen: Hunter Strickland, 30, Giants (acquired Thursday during the luncheon); Roenis Elias, 30, Mariners, and a really long list of other guys whose chances of sticking are as mysterious as the surface of Jupiter.

Oh, and for the two games in Tokyo:

Ichiro Suzuki, 45, assistant to Mariners chairman

Yes, Ichiro will be back, at least for the regular-season games March 20-21 in Japan against Oakland.

He’s presence is a holdover from April, when the former majority owner of the team, Nintendo of America, exerted its will and forced Ichiro onto the roster for 15 games, whereupon he hit nine singles in 44 at-bats and occasionally looked lost in the outfield.

He’s on the roster because the teams have 28 spots for the Japan trip. When the roster is cut to 25, it’s hard to imagine Ichiro continuing on in uniform.

Then again, the Mariners have done other things hard to imagine. Like hiring and firing  in within 10 months Dr. Lorena Martin, the club’s first director of high performance.

A year ago at the same event, Dipoto was proud to have celebrated her hire to show how cutting-edge the Mariners were about mental-skills training. But apparently after some in-house complaints,  Martin was fired for cause in October. She promptly blasted the Mariners bosses on social media, making claims that Dipoto, Servais and McKay made sexist and/or racist comments, and compromised her ability to her job.

The Mariners denied all claims. MLB sent investigators. Martin filed suit. And speaking of holdover problems, the unresolved case spills into 2019, casting a cloud over the judgment of the man who hired her.

In answering a question about his degree of responsibility, Dipoto was ready with a direct response.

“All of it — I hired her,” he said. “At the end of the day, we believe justice will prevail in the ongoing investigation that I’m not going to get into. I’ve been at this for 30 years. I know a lot of people in the game. I’m not a sexist, nor am I a racist. The accusations made are untrue. I believe that will wash out.

“The responsibility for the program and the hiring of Dr. Martin was on me.  I’m embarrassed with how this has unfolded. But we’re not going to stop the programs. They make all the sense in the world. What we’ve been able to develop at the minor league levels from the high-performance data gathering has been widely successful.

“We all make mistakes. This is one of them, from me.”

The embarrassment likely will continue until the results of the MLB investigation is announced, and/or the lawsuit is resolved.

The good news for Dipoto is that resolution is likely to happen in 2019, meaning some pressure will ease. The even better news for him is the baseball pressure is off until 2021.

Would that the 1969 Pilots had been so fortunate.

 


YourThoughts

  • Kevin Lynch

    “trucks dumping loads from Amazon’s trinkets warehouses”. This is believed to be the first time in the history of world literature that someone has gotten away with five plurals within a seven word sample.

    • Steve Buckholdt

      The bobblehead factory in China must be running 24X7 in preparation for the latest Mariner attempt to distract fans from bad baseball.

      • art thiel

        You should give consideration to the fact that even good baseball is, at best, a distraction.

    • art thiel

      Wow. You’ve joined me in appreciation for the final frontiers of the English language. It’s chilly here, but I’m warmed by your awareness.

    • greybeard56

      [pedant]

      Wait a minute, I only see four plurals. “Amazon’s” is a possessive, not a plural. It would only be a plural if you were referring to two separate Amazons.

      [/pedant]

      • Kevin Lynch

        How about three separate Amazons! That’s counting Long Island and the other place. Maybe they’ll be considered the new Amazonians!

  • coug73

    Oh my, a Polynesian-themed “Lou-au” night featuring Lou Piniella and giveaway flowered shirts. I would attend that game and my size 3XL please.

    • art thiel

      What? Leave home and attend an event? What kind of a fan are you?

      • coug73

        I would be a walking mural for the Mariners.

  • Alan Harrison

    I think it’s Domingo Santana in LF with Bruce as a 4th OF/DH/1B, but the point is well taken. For what it’s worth, I think we need a Segui on the squad, too. Don’t care which one.

    • art thiel

      Santana certainly is the future in LF, and may well be the now guy after spring.

      You’re unaware that MLB has a two-Segui limit for each franchise.

    • Mavis Jarvis

      I’m guardedly excited about Santana, who had a really nice season in 2017, but was the odd man out when the Brewers acquired Yellich and Cain.

  • Paul Sherman

    So completely not interested in this team.

    • art thiel

      You and many other should cast your vote with your wallet. But understand it will be hard to satisfy your craving for friend grasshoppers.

      • mtblaze

        The grasshopper is our friend.

    • Husky73

      “This team” will be different at the start of spring training, at the end of spring training, and at the trading deadline. You will have at least three teams to become interested.

  • wabubba67

    What young player with potential will be purged from the 40 man roster in order to make room for Ichiro?

    Circus organization hires clown to work the big top one last time….just pathetic.

  • DonMac

    My God, please tell me that Felix is not going to be in the starng rotation this season. The poor guy has nothing left in the tank and it’s an embarrassment to see this once great pitcher trotted out to the mound only to witness the shadow of the player he once was. If Felix had any pride he would retire, now, but he would rather look hapless than walk away from $25 mil. By the same token, if the Mariners had any respect for Felix than they would take pity on the man and release him. I would much rather see the Mariners release Felix and pay him the money he’s owed than to try and milk whatever last cent he may have left in him. The Mariners are more than willing to make Felix look the fool which shows what an incredibly classless organization this is, one that is headed up by a billionaire owner who could easily afford to pay Felix and let him go. Moreover, Felix is a reminder of what might have been and let me emphasize “might” because we are talking about the Mariners after all, but had the Mariners traded Felix four or five years ago then they would have at least gotten back the talent they got from Dipoto’s frenzy of trades this offseason. And if we give Dipoto’s tear down logic any credence, they would already be a championship caliber team after this many years. However, that’s just not the Mariners way of doing things and that’s why they are the worst organization by far of any other organization in a major sports league in North America. My oh my!

    • Husky73

      Just a guess….the M’s will watch Felix in Peoria, give him some starts and some innings and not take him to Japan. That will give him some extra time, and then maybe he gets a couple of starts in April. By late May, he’ll be on the DL or DFA’d and that will be it. All of this assumes that Felix WANTS to give it a go. It would not be a shock if he packed it in himself. It WOULD be a shock if he returned to some semblance of previous form. Jamie Moyer was left for dead, and then won 100 more games with an 83mph fast ball.

      • DonMac

        Don’t get me wrong Huey 73, I’d love nothing more than to see Felix resurrect his career. It’s a testament to him that he wanted to stay with the Mariners. Unfortunately, in so doing, he might have lost out on the hall of fame which is such a shame. I believe he deserved better.

        • Husky73

          Well, his better fate was making over $200 million, and escaping Venezuela with his family.

      • mtblaze

        And Cy Young had 749 complete games out of 815 starts. Things change and people aren’t really the same.

        • Husky73

          That’s a record unlikely to be broken…..

          • mtblaze

            They did name it after him, after all.