3 Things: Mariners GM Dipoto’s insight on Winker, Kelenic, Santana

Sep 23, 2022, 1:00 PM

Mariners Carlos Santana Jesse Winker...

Carlos Santana and Jesse Winker meet at home plate after Santana's homer on Sept. 9, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners took a step toward coming out of their offensive slump with their 9-5 win Thursday over the Oakland Athletics, and a few hours before that game, Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk talked to Mariners general manager and president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto about a number of key figures for the offense right now.

Dipoto shares his thoughts on Mariners’ skid, slumping offense

On Thursday’s edition of The Jerry Dipoto Show, he discussed one hitter whose struggles have been a microcosm of what the Mariners are going through in Jesse Winker, another who the M’s called up Wednesday with the hope that he can provide a jolt to the lineup in Jarred Kelenic, and finally a veteran whose bat has provided a life raft of sorts recently for Seattle in Carlos Santana.

Let’s go through what Dipoto had to say about each of them.

Mariners LF Jesse Winker

Dipoto made a blockbuster trade with the Cincinnati Reds shortly after the MLB lockout ended in March, landing All-Stars Winker and Eugenio Suárez. Winker was seen as the prize of the deal coming off an All-Star 2021 season after which he was deemed the best left fielder in baseball by The MLB Network’s “Shredder,” but it’s Suárez who has been the bigger contributor for Seattle. Winker, meanwhile, has a slash line of .216/.338/.339 for a .677 OPS, hitting just 13 home runs in 130 games a year after he hit 24 homers in only 110 for the Reds.

“It’s just not been a great year for Wink, and I wish I could tell you why,” Dipoto said. “He’s got an outstanding skill set that’s been proven over time. He hits, he has some power, he gets on base at an incredibly high clip, he’s one of the more discerning hitters in the league, and for whatever reason it just hasn’t clicked for him.”

Winker has had his moments with the Mariners, most notably in June when he slashed .277/.424/.468 for an .892 OPS, but that has proven to be the outlier and not the rule for his season.

“He’s had flashes. We’ve seen it in a week or a month, and right around midsummer I really felt like he was doing the things that Jesse does and (was) pulling out of it, but he looks like a player who’s really had a year where he’s pushed himself to figure it out,” Dipoto said. “And so when you do that, when you’re thinking too much, you tend to run yourself into slumps.”

Winker, who is under contract through the 2023 season, is known for his bat as he is a subpar defensive outfielder and lacks great speed, and Dipoto remains hopeful that bat will come around while he’s still in a Mariners uniform.

“He’s 28 years old, he still has that same skill set, and just as easily as this year happened for him, next year he could show up and be the same guy that was spit out as the top left fielder in baseball last year by The Shredder or the All-Star that started in left field in the 2021 All-Star Game. He still has those skills, we just have to figure out how to help him find them because they’re in there.”

OF Jarred Kelenic

The Mariners got exactly what they were looking for when Kelenic played Thursday in his first game since being recalled. He hit a home run and an RBI double – a patented Kelenic hustle double where he was thinking two bases out of the batter’s box – and slid over to center field after Julio Rodríguez had to come out of the game with low back tightness in the bottom of the first inning.

“With a team that was really running low on that energy that you get from scoring runs in bunches, (like) what we saw last homestand, this road trip has been a real grind with some of the injuries and the lower-scoring offensive days that we’ve incurred along the way, and we thought JK’s energy could really give us a boost because he always brings it,” Dipoto said.

Kelenic rejoined the Mariners after posting an impressive .922 OPS with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers in 86 games this season, and Dipoto made sure to point out that while Kelenic debuted in the big leagues at 21 years old last season, he was still a very young player at age 23 in the minor league’s highest classification.

“JK has incredible baseball skills – you know, under the radar because he struggled the way he did in the big leagues,” Dipoto said. “He finished third in the PCL (Pacific Coast League) in OPS as one of the two youngest players in that league. And, you know, we still lose sight of just how young he is and how talented he is.”

The Mariners were seeing the improvements they were looking for while Kelenic was with the Rainiers, something that was evident as he drew a walk in the first inning against the A’s on Thursday and later found pitches to drive for extra bases.

“In the time that he was back in Tacoma, what we saw was a major shift in his swing decisions. And when I say swing decisions, the pitches he was choosing to swing at and what he was choosing to walk by, how much more discerning he was. And that was the biggest challenge from a baseball skill development perspective that was in front of Jarred, and this was the most meaningful improvement that we’ve seen him make.”

1B/DH Carlos Santana

Lastly, there’s Santana, who has proven to be a valuable in-season trade addition for Seattle. The veteran switch-hitter lately has tapped into the power that helped him make the American League All-Star team and win a Silver Slugger in 2019, with seven of his 19 homers this season coming in the last 12 games. He also has three multi-homer games in that span.

But as has been a common refrain about Santana this year, he’s just as valuable for the wisdom he can impart upon the young Mariners roster as a player who has appeared in the postseason four times. Also, he seems to have a knack for the big home run in the later innings.

Blowers: Why Santana, Mariners’ veteran presence has been so important

“No one has the depth of experience (as much) as Carlos Santana,” Dipoto said. “And while Carlos is not the guy that’s going to spray five singles around from line to line, he is going to hit the ball out of the ballpark, he is going to take his walk, he is going to swing at the right pitch. And what we’re finding out is in those big moments, the guy that you want walking to the plate is frequently Carlos Santana. He is by far the most experienced in those situations, and he has become even more frequently tapped into by the players around him because of it.”

The Jerry Dipoto Show airs live at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday during Brock and Salk on Seattle Sports 710 AM. You can listen to this week’s edition in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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