Jerry Dipoto has been true to his word and making no bones about it.
Dipoto hopped on 710 Seattle Sports and made somewhat surprising claims, namely that the Seattle Mariners might already be under some sort of cash restriction. His parting words were that the team would build primarily through the draft and trades.
"Right now, with some of what we’ve done, with extensions…we are very aware of what our future payrolls are like. The decisions you make today don’t just affect your 2023 payroll."
Well, he certainly has. Jerry Dipoto made his first big move of the offseason by trading for Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Teoscar Hernandez. That was followed over the weekend by acquiring Kolten Wong from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Where Do Jerry Dipoto and The Mariners Go From Here?
While plenty of fans hope this isn’t the end of offseason deals, Dipoto has made it apparent once again that he knows what he’s doing. In fact, he just shored up the two biggest weaknesses on the team and has left himself plenty of options to improve the lineup for 2023.
The Jesse Winker experiment failed so badly that left field ended as one of the two worst positions for the Seattle Mariners.
The other? Second base.
By Wins Above Replacement, Seattle landed in the bottom seven of the league at 2B and LF. They were elite at center, outfield in general, catcher, and their bullpen while posting fairly average WAR numbers everywhere else.
Regardless of losing Mitch Haniger to free agency, Dipoto has set the Mariners up well for success with the Hernandez trade. First, the outfield was the riskier of the two position groups on which to bet. Completely ignoring either corner spot would have left the team in a similar position to the start of last season.
Haniger is injury-riddled, and Jared Kelenic has yet to make a sustainable jump. However, the combination of Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty can and have filled in extremely well, have better speed, and posted the 5th and 6th best OPS among Mariners starters last year.
Meanwhile, former All-Star Adam Frazier played his way to 2B being one the worst groups in the MLB in 2022. A replacement here became the unquestionable next target for the roster. But how?
Initially, conversations turned towards the big four shortstop free agents available this season. Move J.P. Crawford to second, spend $100 million on somebody, and call it a day.
It’s hard to say what Dipoto meant with his claims about having spent so much future money. Perhaps he’s simply not giving anything away about their plans. But if he has been given any kind of limitation on what they can spend, there are other ways to improve the middle of the infield, and they believe it was at true second base instead of one of the biggest names on the market.
Thus, Kolton Wong. No, it’s not 11 years (good gracious) of Trea Turner or Xander Bogaerts. But it’s a smart move by Jerry Dipoto.
Two things made this likely. One, it wouldn’t be hard to improve over Frazier’s numbers last year, unfortunately. The other is that 2022 was a definitive down year for Crawford, one of the long-time (and well-paid) cultural leaders in the clubhouse. Crawford’s Batting Average on Balls In Play last year was .275, the lowest of his career. Walks were up, strikeouts were down, and out of everyone mentioned thus far, he’s the safest bet by far to regain his former numbers and improve over last season.
Back to Wong, he posted a career-high wRC+ of 116 last year, after posting an initial career-high wRC+ of 110 in 2021. In other words, sustained growth. Frazier, meanwhile, hasn’t been very consistent since 2017 and was coming off a significant dip after the Pittsburgh Pirates traded him to the San Diego Padres in the second half of 2021. The trajectories of the two second basemen are polar opposites upon entry to Seattle.
Would it be nice to acquire one more game-changer without trading any pieces away? Absolutely. Conversations continue to flow, rumors continue to buzz. But the roster’s currently full of guys more likely to improve than regress, and Dipoto has already plugged the two biggest holes early in the offseason.
But if we’ve learned nothing else over the past five years, it’s that Jerry Dipoto is definitely not done yet.