Maybe the Mariners Are Fine the Way They Are

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Pitcher Marco Gonzales
ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Pitcher Marco Gonzales /

While Mariners fans have wallowed in a pit of despair for 16 years of playoff-less baseball, they cannot deny that the last two-and-a-half years since Jerry Dipoto took on the mantle of general manager have not been, for better or worse, fun. Not this offseason, and that may be okay.

You’ve probably heard it many times by now: “Trader Jerry” has made the most acquisitions in baseball since entering the Mariners’ front office, and it’s not even close.

The amount of moves Dipoto has made to restructure the organization from top to bottom rivals that of the beginning of another regime very familiar to Seattle sports fans: Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s Seattle Seahawks. However, in Carroll and Schneider’s first two seasons, their team had made the playoffs and won a playoff game.

For Dipoto’s Mariners, fans have instead witnessed “more of the same,” watching the team come up just short of a Wild Card berth in 2016, and being plagued by a record-setting number of injuries to the tune of a mediocre 78 wins.

When the season ends, though, that’s when the fun begins for Mariners fans. “Jerry Season” has taught us this: never look away from Twitter. Constantly refresh, and remain on the edge of our seat for another trade or waiver pickup.

It appeared that Dipoto would continue travelling the same path he always has in his tenure this offseason when he initially sparked the Hot Stove by dealing reliever Emilio Pagan to the Athletics for power-threat first baseman Ryon Healy.

While the offseason remained quiet league-wide, Dipoto struck another deal and acquired speed-demon Dee Gordon. In the background, Dipoto had been nibbling away at other teams’ international slot money in hopes to sweeten the pot for Japanese phenom free agent Shohei Ohtani.

After the Gordon trade, which included another one million dollars in slot money, the Mariners had the most to offer Ohtani from a financial standpoint. Mix that with the organization’s successful history with Japanese players and it felt like Ohtani’s blood was already turning navy.

We all felt as if Dipoto had finally done it — he was about to acquire the missing piece that would put the Mariners organization over the top and send the major league club not only into playoff contention, but into the discussion for the World Series.

Then, well, you know.

Ever Mariners fan’s heart sunk into the pit of their stomach when Jon Heyman tweeted “Angels get Ohtani.”

Not only did the Mariners lose out on one of the most intriguing international prospects to make their way to MLB. But he was also going to a divisional foe on the cusp of becoming a playoff-caliber team. Not to mention, one whose front offices Jerry Dipoto once called home.

Heartbreak was eventually met with the hope of a plan B. The organization’s new ownership, led by John Stanton, had stated that an increase in payroll in 2017 would be coming.

This year, the free agent market, which Dipoto had rarely dipped into, was full of talent..

The already poorly regarded farm system for Seattle had been depleted even more after the Gordon trade, so Jerry’s favorite medium of acquisition felt less likely, making free agency appear to be a more obvious route for improvement in the starting rotation.

Jerry was going to do something… he had to… right?  

Since then, the only major addition has been reliever Juan Nicasio. Nicasio has greatly turned his career around over the last two years, accumulating 2.8 WAR with a 3.65 xFIP in that time. He joins a dangerous group that could rival the successes of the 2014 Mariners bullpen. Creating a scary lineup of David Phelps, Nick Vincent, Nicasio, and Edwin Diaz from the sixth-to-ninth innings.

That is something to be very excited about. However, if the starting rotation puts the team in three-to-four run holes by the sixth inning then the aforementioned quartet won’t factor in most games in the way they should.

At the surface, it feels obvious that a starting pitcher needs to be added, and not only for the growth of talent at the top, but for the preparation of eventual injuries, which has already occurred in the case of Erasmo Ramirez.

When you set the record for the most pitchers used in a season and begin to ride with replacement-level talent, you lose games. Therefore it feels like absolute insanity to enter the following season relying on the same replacement-level pitchers to become mainstays and carry you to a winning record.

That is exactly what Jerry Dipoto is doing, and, for most fans, it’s infuriating; but it might also make sense, as crazy as it sounds, and could be what’s actually best for the team going forward.

My hope for another starter should not be taken as a knock on Marco Gonzales. Contrary to most Mariners’ fans opinions, I’m rather excited to see what he can do with more time removed from his surgery and a return to his signature sinker ball.

It’s quite possible that we could see a James Paxton-esque turnaround for Gonzales. That appears to be what Dipoto, Scott Servais, and company are banking on. 

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After coming from St. Louis, Gonzales appeared to be dominant at times, but would fall apart once the fifth inning transpired. If he can get those durability issues under control, we could see him put up quality numbers from the five-spot. My issues don’t lie there.

My issue has lied in the trust put in Erasmo Ramirez as the fourth starter, prior to his injury.

Despite having an xFIP only .11 ticks higher than Jake Arrieta, Ramirez feels better suited doing damage control as a long-reliever in the bullpen as he suffers from the same in-game durability issues as Gonzales.

When looking at last year’s statistics, though, the trust begins to makes more sense. The three free agent pitchers Mariners fans have been clamoring for — Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, and the aforementioned Arrieta — had very similar seasons to Ramirez in 2017. Let’s do an anonymous comparison of the four pitchers:

  • Player A: 4.11 xFIP, 8.71 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, 2.4 WAR

  • B: 4.28 xFIP, 7.47 K/9, 2.12 BB/9, 1.1 WAR

  • C: 4.75 xFIP, 7.39 K/9, 3.77 BB/9, 1.4 WAR

  • D: 4.24 xFIP, 6.42 K/9, 2.21 BB/9, 2.4 WAR

Players A, C, and D will likely eventually earn multi-year contracts with decent dollar amounts at some point before the season begins. Meanwhile, Player B provided very similar production last year despite earning only $3.1 million. The latter, of course, is Erasmo Ramirez. Unfortunately, Ramirez is now hurt and could possibly start off poorly due to lack of action seen prior to his 2018 debut.

Fans have speculated that the reason for Dipoto’s absence in the market is due to a payroll issue. That can’t be true because he was willing to pay the $20 million posting fee set for Ohtani, in addition to the $3 million-plus in international slot money.

That said, money IS the issue here.

Dipoto is simply unwilling to fork over big dollars and cuff himself to a long-term commitment with an older pitcher who, in the most recent season, has only been slightly better than the younger, cheaper options he has in-house. Why lock up more payroll for potentially minor upgrades when that money could be saved for the all-star bonanza that is next year’s free agent pool? These are things that need to be considered.

While it’s easy to get overly excited about big names, especially in a market that has gone the way it has this year, it may be in the Mariners’ best interests to stand pat with what they have so they can compete on the field in 2018, and off it toward the end of the year and into 2019.

I exhibited how I’ve fallen victim to the frustration caused by the lack of action from Dipoto and the Mariners front office. But I’ve now come to the realization that it may be for the best when it’s all said and done.

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The Mariners will probably not make the playoffs this year, again, and that’s fine. At the very least, this front office hasn’t fully jeopardized the future potential for the organization or the vision they may have for the 2019 offseason, regular season, and beyond.