Gallant: Jerry Dipoto has proven he’s more than worthy of an extension from Mariners
They won’t be playing in the World Series this year. I doubt they’ll even seriously contend for a Wild Card spot. But I’ve really enjoyed the progress I’ve seen from the Mariners since I started covering the team at the end of 2019.
And I believe many of those steps forward are a result general manager Jerry Dipoto’s process.
“Be more of a shill, PAWL.”
“Congrats on your two years of sunshine. We’ve been waiting for the playoffs for 20 years!”
“THAT’S NEARLY TWO-THIRDS OF YOUR LIFE MONDO BROWS.”
Believe me, I know I’m talking about baby steps given their struggles at the plate. But come on! Give credit where credit is due.
Seattle’s starting rotation – with Yusei Kikuchi, Chris Flexen, Marco Gonzales rounding back into form and rookie Logan Gilbert – is an excellent foundation for this rebuild effort. In one year, their bullpen has transformed from a liability into a reliable unit. And all that pitching is backed up by one of the more fundamentally sound fielding teams in the league. The Mariners’ defense has come a long way since 2019.
Here’s where the future gets murky: Dipoto’s contract expires at the end of the season, and I’m not sure if he’ll be here to keep the rebuild going. But I do know one thing – he should be.
So after telling him I think he deserves a contract extension, I asked him about his future with the Mariners Thursday morning on the Jerry Dipoto Show. Are contract negotiations ongoing?
“(Talks) are always ongoing, but I agree with you – I am pulling for an extension,” chuckled Dipoto. “I try not to worry about it too much. Just like we preach to the players, just focus on what you can control … We are making progress (as a team) and I believe that our ownership and (Mariners chairman) John Stanton see that, and that will be reflected in the way that me and our baseball operations are handled moving forward. I can’t say it keeps me up at night because I do believe that what we’re doing here is a long-term effort and it’s headed in the right direction, and our group knows that and I know our owners believe that.”
Jerry sounded very much like a man who wants to complete HIS process. A process that’s navigated through a world-changing pandemic, idiotic statements by a former team president, and an actual plague of injuries. Why shouldn’t he get to?
I’ll play devil’s advocate, at least for a moment. Evan White may be a Gold Glover, but when he was healthy, he looked lost at the plate. Jarred Kelenic did too, except he also seemed like he wanted to murder his bat by throwing it in a wood chipper after every strikeout. For all his power, Taylor Trammell is also struggling to make contact. And for some reason Justus Sheffield has regressed after looking like a fringe Rookie of the Year candidate late last season.
There’s a logical excuse for some of those struggles: the pandemic. Jarred Kelenic should have had AT LEAST half a season’s worth of AAA ball under his belt by now. You could say the same for Evan White, who even with his contract looked as if he needed an extended stint in Tacoma to work on his swing last year.
And of course, there’s that elusive place that’s always seemed out of reach in Seattle. “Playoffs!? You kidding me?” It’s been six years, and Dipoto’s Mariners haven’t made it.
Even with those hopefully temporary setbacks, the Mariners should extend Jerry Dipoto. Why? Because he’s been extremely transparent with his rebuild strategy. Sure, that transparency is coming with an expectation of patience. But just about everything is proceeding as he has foreseen:
Oct. 1, 2020: “We do think we have the ability to go out there and play .500 plus ball with the players we have provided we go out and answer some questions about our bullpen.”
Now: There’s over half a season of baseball left to be played. But on June 24th, the Mariners are 39-37. We’ll talk about that bullpen a little later.
Oct. 1, 2020: “We know (Ty France) can hit . . . He is versatile enough to move around the field. And we’re comfortable enough to do that with him because the bat really plays. It’s a major league bat, as we saw. He’s a run producer who can reside in the middle of the lineup. And he does a lot of really interesting things. He’s a low anxiety good hitter.”
Now: France – who’s played 26 games at first base, 17 at second base, and 3 at third base along with 23 games as designated hitter – has the second best batting average on the team (.263) and second best OPS (.771, trailing Mitch Haniger by .001) among qualifying players.
Jan. 7, 2021: “We do think that we have a chance to be on the back end of contention for a postseason spot – one of those wild card spots – if things break in the right way for us. But we want this season to be about the continued development of young players.”
Now: Jerry was being realistic. Seattle’s playing better than most expected, but they’re hanging just out of reach of the Wild Card spot. They currently trail Cleveland – the last team out – by 3.5 games.
Jan. 19, 2021: “We focused on beefing up [the bullpen] heading into the offseason. And we feel like we’ve done that.”
Now: The Mariners bullpen ranks fifth in baseball with a 2.9 WAR.
Jan. 21, 2021: “Chris Flexen will start for us . . . He’s still just 26 years old, and that lines up with what we’re doing . . . He has about 100 days of major league service and lines up with the Justus Sheffields and Justin Dunns.”
Now: Flexen – who played baseball in Korea in 2020 – had thrown 15 consecutive scoreless innings until allowing a home run Tuesday night. He’s pitched at least 6 innings in 8 of his 13 starts, including his last 5. Who’d have thought he’d lead the team in wins (6-3) and have the second best ERA (3.87) among M’s starters?
March 11, 2021: “(Mitch Haniger) looks like Mitch . . . A healthy Mitch is our best player. He’s one of the better players in the league if he gets back to where he was . . . prior to his injury. ”
Now: J.P. Crawford is seriously challenging that middle statement. But after missing nearly two years of baseball, Haniger leads the Mariners in home runs (16), slugging percentage (.479), and OPS (.772)
Don’t you want to keep a guy who keeps nailing his predictions?
The Mariners decided to tear things down after a relatively competitive 2018 season. Since then? Jerry Dipoto has cleared the majority of Seattle’s bad contracts from its payroll, terraformed their farm system from a barren wasteland into one of baseball’s best, and McGyvered together an actually competitive roster for 2021. And all the while he’s been holding our hand, explaining every little step his team takes.
So what happens if Dipoto isn’t back next year? A new M’s general manager with a completely different vision? After nearly 20 years on the outside looking in at the playoffs, could Mariners management seriously be considering pressing the self-destruct button AGAIN after pressing it just three years ago?
I sure hope not. Because it’s clear to me that Jerry Dipoto is slowly driving the Mariners on the road back to relevance. And it’s critical to make sure he’s still behind the wheel.