SEATTLE (AP) – Jerry Dipoto keeps proving the “Trader Jerry” nickname is a valid one.
The Seattle Mariners general manager is constantly tinkering, trying to create a club that can once again be a contender instead of an afterthought. That means during the 17 months that Dipoto has served as Seattle’s GM, the Mariners front office has been kept on its toes, constantly waiting for the next move.
“There was a question about Jerry that a media member posed and they described him as ‘uncomfortably energetic.’ … You stay busy, but in a good way,” said director of baseball operations Justin Hollander, who had previously worked with Dipoto with the Los Angeles Angels. “It’s our job in the front office to constantly try and make the roster better.”
When the Mariners report for spring training in Arizona, they will have just eight players who were on the 40-man roster when Dipoto took over in September 2015. He has made 39 trades in those 17 months, including 12 this offseason in an attempt to overhaul the roster without dipping much into free agency and increasing an already healthy payroll.
What Dipoto views as Seattle’s core – Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager – is clear. It’s the tweaks around those foundational players that have kept the Mariners in a regular state of activity since Dipoto arrived.
“You don’t get those players to rebuild. You get those players to go win and our job is to build a roster around that quartet of players that will allow them to perform to the best of their abilities,” Dipoto said. “We did that last year. … We intended last year to raise the floor. I think we raised the floor. We were less reliant on that quartet of players doing what they do and the result was they did more. They did more. They elevated their game and the team around them got better.”
The constant churn with Dipoto in charge takes place at all hours. Seattle’s biggest move of the offseason – a five-player trade with Arizona that landed the Mariners two starters in shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger – took place the night before Thanksgiving.
The day of the Mariners’ annual pre-spring training event in late January, Dipoto made a signing in the late morning and a trade later in the day, both after speaking to a room full of media about his busy offseason.
Whether they are major moves or just tweaks, the evaluation of what Dipoto has created never stops. But it’s always with the overarching goal of trying to end the longest playoff drought in baseball.
“It wasn’t necessarily by design, but again, we have not done this with pandemonium in mind,” Dipoto said. “We did it to build a team that can better support a winning core and we feel like we’ve built that. We won 86 games a year ago. I feel like this team has the chance to be every bit that good and better.”
Perhaps this kind of activity from the 48-year-old former pitcher should have been expected. In his two previous stops as a general manager, Dipoto didn’t shy from making deals. As an interim GM in Arizona and later in charge of the Angels, Dipoto made a number of key trades. Some that worked. Some that didn’t.
The roster he inherited in Seattle needed alterations. Before the Mariners reported to spring training last year, Dipoto made 11 trades.
This offseason, Dipoto’s mission was to make Seattle more versatile and athletic in the outfield and to add to the starting rotation, without depleting the minor league system. While the November trade was Seattle’s biggest deal, there was a five-day span in January that showed just how much Dipoto loves the art of a deal.
On Jan. 6, Dipoto sent outfielder Seth Smith to Baltimore in exchange for starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo. The loss of Smith left a void in the outfield, but the acquisition of Gallardo gave Seattle a tradeable piece in pitcher Nathan Karns. So by late afternoon, Karns was on his way to Kansas City with Jarrod Dyson headed back to Seattle to fill the gap in the outfield.
Five days later, the Mariners were deep in discussions with Tampa Bay to acquire left-handed starter Drew Smyly. But there was another piece needed to sweeten the deal with the Rays. So in the morning, Dipoto acquired reliever Shae Simmons and outfielder Mallox Smith from Atlanta. Smith was then flipped to Tampa Bay along with two minor leaguers to bring Smyly to Seattle.
They were a set of deals that landed Seattle what it wanted, but done in a unique, almost artistic way.
“We made a lot of trades and as a result I think it made us look chaotic,” Dipoto said. “But it was all designed that way.”
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.