Jerry Dipoto Charts New Course For Rebuilding Seattle Mariners

Image credit: Jerry Dipoto (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Last year proved to the Mariners that a new approach was needed

In 2017 and 2018, Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto had gone all in to try to push the big league team to the playoffs. Any and every prospect was available. Many were traded. And in the end, it resulted in two playoff near misses.

One near miss could be excused. But last year, almost everything went right for the Mariners and they still found themselves sitting home in October.

“We had a talented core at the big league level and a limited support group around them,” Dipoto said. “We opted to be as competitive as we could be, and make a push. We did talk about the idea, even when I interviewed, we discussed a two- to three-year window to make a run at this.

“When we were caught by Oakland and passed by, we needed things to go right for us to be a playoff team. They did go right, we needed every break you could get . . . we got to 89 wins. We knew if we took another run at it, the situation might leave us in a five- to eight-year rebuild.”

This offseason has been unlike any of Dipoto’s previous three as Mariners GM. A farm system that ranked dead last in 2018 and has ranked in the bottom third each of the past five seasons has become the highest riser in our 2019 organization talent rankings. Seattle climbed to No. 14.

The biggest boost to the farm system has come via trades. Dipoto turned big leaguers like James Paxton, Jean Segura and Edwin Diaz into key prospects, all while shedding Robinson Cano’s contract. Dipoto had a particular type of acquisition in mind.

“We wanted to create a versatile, athletic long-term team, ” he said. “We looked for guys who had energy, guys who could play a faster game. Guys who are impactful, and have explosive athleticism. These guys have real tools. We haven’t had an abundance of this in the past few years, so we are excited about the packages we got back. We focused on well-rounded players, it widens the possibility of the outcomes.”

The trades to bring in lefthander Justus Sheffield (No. 27 on the Top 100 Prospects) and outfielder Jarred Kelenic (No. 68) gave the Mariners two marquee pieces at the top of their system. Seattle ended last year without a single Top 100 Prospect.

Not all the improvement has come from trades. The Mariners began adopting a new draft model for the 2016 draft, but it wasn’t fully ready until 2018.

“Really, since I got here, the one thing we talked about was balancing scouting with analytics,” Dipoto said. “We have been slowly developing a draft model that, late 2015 and through 2016, we built it out . . . we launched it (in 2018) for the first time. It was a tremendous tool to assist us. We have been aggressive about bringing athletes into the system. The theme has been impact and athleticism.”

Seattle added righthander Logan Gilbert in the first round in 2018. Second-round pick Josh Stowers has already been traded away, but in a deal that acquired close-to-the-majors second baseman Shed Long.

The Mariners have also held onto their last three first-round picks, which is notable because they are the only M’s first-round picks still playing for the organization.

While the Mariners’ farm system is clearly improved, the hope for the club is to fuse its current young big league talent with an improved farm system. Dipoto is aiming for a quick rebuild rather than a lengthy tear-down.

“We signed (Yusei) Kikuchi, he is 27, and we have a fun group of big leaguers who are 25 to 28,” Dipoto said. “We will have something to look forward to within the next two years, rather than having to go through a five- to eight-year rebuild. We are hoping it gives us time to let them grow either at the minor or major league level. At that time, they should be able to grow together.”

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