Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto explains their offseason direction and expectations
On the weekly Jerry Dipoto Show, the Mariners president of baseball operations admitted Thursday that the MLB winter meetings were unlike any other he had attended.
Not because of the over $875 million in combined contracts handed out by franchises to six players, but rather what didn’t happen as all 30 teams gathered together in San Diego.
“Until we were mostly all already leaving the hotel, there wasn’t a single trade until the Mets acquired (reliever) Brooks Raley late yesterday,” Dipoto said to Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk. “We had no live visits this year at the winter meetings, which was the first time that has happened in my career.”
Dipoto pointed to the “focus on the top of the free agent market” and waiting for that bubble to burst as what was keeping the trade market from gaining traction. While there were expectations from some that the Mariners would participate in the top-tier free agent frenzy, over the past couple of weeks it became apparent that was not the direction they were headed.
“I know it’s not exciting to watch the free agents pass by, but we think we have improved nonetheless,” said Dipoto, pointing to the offseason additions of Teoscar Hernández and Kolten Wong, an in-season addition to the main core (Luis Castillo), and improvements made by individuals in the previous season (Cal Raleigh, George Kirby).
There’s little question any of the six big free agents signed this week could have helped the Mariners in 2023, and Dipoto admitted as much. When co-host Brock Huard presented a question from a fan asking if Mariners ownership was committed to increasing payroll, what he didn’t want missed was what they had done.
“We already have,” Dipoto said. “We went from the 23rd in payroll to 21st in payroll to 17th in payroll. We’ve been on a steady climb.”
A dramatic climb, however, is not to be expected.
“We are a middle market,” he said of Seattle. “That’s what we are in today’s Major League Baseball, and our payroll has always been a middle to top 10 payroll market. So we’ve always spent commensurate with our market or higher and we will continue to do that.”
By MLB’s definition, the Mariners are a mid-market team because they are receiving a competitive balance pick in the 2023 MLB Draft. The league has used a formula since 2017 combining revenue, winning percentage and market score to determine the bottom 10 teams in revenue or market size.
The Mariners’ payroll is growing, however, as Dipoto explained.
“Our payroll has risen each year of this rebuild; it’s on that trajectory again. We already are committed to a payroll that is 25-30% higher than it was a year ago if we do nothing else the rest of this year,” he said. “Raising payroll is not connected to signing the top of the market free agents. Raising payroll is doing smart things that evenly balance the team and we are spending more than we did last year. We are doing it a different way. We are doing it by acquiring players who we feel are ready for that next big step, like a Luis Castillo, and extending. We did go out last year and sign a top of market free agent in Robbie Ray. We went out and we extended Julio Rodríguez on what has the chance to be the biggest contract in the history of sports. We have not been tight with the dollar, we’ve spent over a half-billion dollars in future expenditures. We just didn’t sign this year’s top free agents, and I don’t think that’s reflective of a team that’s unwilling to spend. We’ve actually already done that.”
If there are limitations that come with being a middle market team, Dipoto preferred to look in a different direction.
“I don’t know that we will ever be on the same tier with teams like the Yankees and Dodgers just simply because of the media markets and populations,” he said. “We have an awesome fan base that do pour out, that do watch us, that do give us enough revenue stream to do the things that I just described, which is to go out to sign our best players to keep them long-term. This is the model that we created when we started this project at the end of 2018, which was to build a team through the draft, international (signings), trades, build our core, then go accent it at the right time.
“If there is one thing I am certain, I really don’t hold anything back. I’m not hiding the cards. We are telling you what we are doing and then we are going out and we are doing that thing. I hope we are doing it well enough that it results in a world’s championship but I am pretty sure it is not going to result in becoming the New York or Los Angeles of the Pacific Northwest. We are Seattle and we are happy with our market.”
As for what comes next, Dipoto has stated his desire to add at least one more bat, preferably right-handed. Mike Salk asked about the likelihood of acquiring an impact player before the start of the season.
“I don’t know,” answered Dipoto. “I know we won’t land Aaron Judge or Trea Turner, they have jobs, but we are always looking to get better. We feel like we have added a pair of impact players to our team. We may see impact in different ways. I find well-balanced players that do a lot of things well impactful. I find middle of the order hitters with 30-home run pop and the ability to do athletic things on the field to be impactful. That’s what we are trying to find. We’re not really going out and trying to wow with the big splash move to make people turn their heads, we just want to be a better baseball team. To me that’s impact.”
The Jerry Dipoto Show airs at 8:30 a.m. each Thursday during Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk. You can listen to this week’s full edition in the podcast at this link or in the player below.