Dipoto: Mariners’ trade deadline approach, balancing depth and playing young guys
After dropping the series opener in Boston, the Mariners find themselves at 17-22 and in fourth place in the AL West.
Being five games under .500 at this point in the season wasn’t expected for the Mariners, who won 90 games a year ago and were considered to be a top playoff contender entering the 2022 season.
But the Mariners have dealt with some key injuries as well as struggles by young players considered to be franchise cornerstones.
So how are the Mariners handling addressing depth without “burying” those younger players? And what does the team’s plan look like for the trade deadline?
Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto joined Mike Salk on Seattle Sports 710 AM for the weekly Jerry Dipoto Show Thursday morning and broke it down.
First, here’s what Salk asked Dipoto in regards to young players and depth.
“How do you add depth without burying guys that you want to give playing time to while also having some serviceable players around who can go in and help out in case all of the positive suppositions don’t work out the way you want them to?” Salk asked.
That question is especially important for the Mariners of late because outfielder Mitch Haniger is likely out until July, fellow outfielder Kyle Lewis is working his way back from an injury and another outfielder, Jarred Kelenic, has really struggled and was sent down to the minors last week. Because of all that, the Mariners have had to play utility players in right field as well as journeyman outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who started the year as a depth piece in Triple-A.
“What I’ve learned in doing the job that I do is that you’re always going to wind up exposed somewhere down the line,” Dipoto said. “There is no risk-free roster. It doesn’t exist. We have a group of young players, guys like Jarred Kelenic, like Cal Raleigh, like the young group that has graduated (such as) Abraham Toro, who during the final half of last season was a key contributor for us, and they’ve struggled.”
Despite those struggles, the young Mariners players need to play.
“We have to provide the opportunity for them to continue to grow and get better,” Dipoto said.
Dipoto has regularly discussed flexibility with the roster in the past and he said that having a player like All-Star left fielder Jesse Winker helps greatly in that regard, both when the team is healthy and clicking as well as a time like now, when neither statement is true.
“Jesse could come in and allow us to create opportunities for Kyle Lewis when Kyle Lewis is healthy enough. Jesse could allow us to rotate Mitch Haniger into DH when Mitch needed a DH day. He would allow us to potentially introduce some combination of Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez in the outfield,” Dipoto said.
Many Mariners fans feel that the team should have added another premier bat this past offseason either via trade or through free agency. Dipoto discussed what adding another top-end bat may have looked like.
“If you go out and you sign a big right-handed banger who needs to play every day, effectively you’ve just blocked a spot. So it’s a very small twist or nuance, but it does affect the way you build your team,” Dipoto said. “The one thing that you can’t plan on is that two of those players (Lewis and Haniger) are injured and don’t play in most of your games and one of them (Kelenic) really struggles and winds up back in AAA – which is the more predictable of those outcomes – and then the depth that you had in AAA, they’re all hurt, too. So you go out and do the best that you can to put players in place, and then ultimately on May 19 you wind up waking up and you have Steven Souza playing right field who has a three-win (WAR) season in the major leagues.”
So what about the 2022 trade deadline, which is set for Aug. 2?
Typically, teams at or below .500 are often seen as “sellers” who are going to trade off more established pieces for younger players and/or depth.
Are the Mariners trending towards that path?
“Where we reside is that to go into the trade deadline as a seller would mean that we no longer truly believe that the core of this team can go win a championship, and we’re not there,” Dipoto said. “This is what we intended to create. We have to get healthy players back on the field. Hopefully starting with Kyle (and getting) Mitch back and we start seeing some of our bullpen guys rotate back into the mix, and I feel like we’re looking at a different team.”
Listen to the full interview at this link or in the player below.