Jerry Dipoto was hired as the GM of the Mariners near the end of the 2015 season, and following a litany of trades the team jumped by 10 wins last year. Now, he joins Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann to dish on how his organization works and what they’re looking for as they remake the Seattle roster.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
What Goes on Behind the Scenes?
Jerry Dipoto: One of my standards, and I think it’s not uncommon around the league, is to just make people aware [that] there’s no [trade] you can suggest that is not [worth] some consideration. It may be a very quick “No,” or it may be we get a deal done in five minutes. You stick with it — everything we do in the front office is collaborative. We’ve got a big group in baseball operations, we work on everything together. Some trade discussion, or research, is delegated. We choose our targets. Sometimes, I will just cast out an idea. “Guys, look at so-and-so,” and just cast out a name.
I will actually cite an instance from my time with the Angels. Matt Shoemaker had burst on the scene in 2014 as an older rookie, had a fantastic year for us and placed in the Rookie of the Year voting, was a really positive addition for us, kinda out of nowhere. I said to our baseball ops group, “Guys, take a deep dive, find the next Matt Shoemaker. Go find guys in the minor leagues that are the next Matt Shoemaker.” They did a fantastic job. Out of that deep dive was born a trade that brought us Nick Tropeano, who, prior to his surgery with the Angels, showed every bit of being similar in ilk to Shoe.
[We were looking at] guys who had been through Triple-A, who had performed … if you took a deep dive, and looked deeper into the metrics, and how they’re doing it and the variables that we’ll look at now — spin rate and extension on a fastball, different elements that really didn’t come into play 15 years ago.
I feel like it’s an interesting place to work, it’s always active. Nobody comes to work, here at Safeco Field, thinking, “Ah, here comes another boring day.” The guys are always engaged, involved. We’re finding a way to make ourselves better.
What’s the Key to Making Good Trades?
Dipoto: I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, What magical trade can I make today? I don’t think we outsmart anybody in any deal we make. We’re just trying to resituate our roster to better reflect the type of team that we want to put on the field. So we may in fact do nothing more than make a marginal bump or nothing more than an even swap where we’re sending them a player of a certain style that may not fit as well for us but fits better for them. And we’re then able to create space or fill it with a player who better suits our needs.
If I go back to September of 2015, I inherited a 40-man roster which I guess now, famously, I’ve been made aware has eight players left as of yesterday. But they’re eight very good players, you know? It’s a good group and we decided to build around that group. But more importantly, if I dial back to that 40-man roster as it sat on September 28 [of 2015] as the season ended, we had 36 players on the 40-man roster. Of the 36, nine were out of options and 15 were coming off a negative-WAR season. It boggles the mind. Fifteen negative WAR-value players on a 36-man roster. We had a team that finished 13th in the [American League] in runs scored, 11th in on-base percentage, we struck out a bunch, we hit homers and we didn’t walk a lot. So we wanted to transition that roster.
It only stands to reason that it was going to take a makeover [like] what you [have] seen. I didn’t expect that it would be  trades and 100-some-odd players, but we tried to navigate ourselves to the position we’re in today, which is, at season’s end this year, we had a 36-man group [where] only two of whom placed a negative WAR value. We have more control over the players and as we head into spring training, we’ve only got three players out of options and all three are established Major Leaguers now who are on our club with guaranteed salaries. So I feel like we’ve transformed the roster into something more manageable and sustainable.
I don’t want to say we’ve eradicated strikeouts, but we’ve reduced our swing and miss, we’ve increased our ability to get on base, and as a result I think we scored more runs. This year we finished third in the league in runs scored, third in the [American League] in ERA, and we feel like the reason we were short in our playoff pursuit was that we just weren’t very good defensively and we weren’t good on the bases. We didn’t have range and some of that is attributed to the fact that we were a little bit of an older team and we needed to get younger. Enter Mitch Haniger. Enter Dan Vogelbach. Enter Jean Segura and put guys in a place. Enter Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, etc. We feel like we got a little more versatile along the way and hopefully this is the right mix, because there’s still an awful lot of good baseball left in guys like [Nelson] Cruz and [Robinson] Canó and [Kyle] Seager and Félix [Hernández] and [Hisashi Iwakuma] and we want to give those guys a chance to be a driving force behind what we think is now a deep 40-man roster.