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Not just pinching pennies: Dipoto explains how shedding payroll now is key to Mariners’ rebuild

Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto broke down how cutting salary is key to the team's rebuild. (AP)

With the Seattle Mariners in last place in the AL West and trading off veterans with big salaries like Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnación, it’s understandable for disillusioned fans to write off the team’s recent moves as shedding payroll just for the sake of pinching pennies.

Understandable, but missing the point.

What’s going on with Yusei Kikuchi? Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto explains

During the weekly Jerry Dipoto Show on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny, Dave and Moore, the Mariners general manager broke down some key points about his latest deals that explain why the trades of Bruce and Encarnación were always in Seattle’s rebuild strategy and how shedding payroll now will benefit the team when it’s ready to be competitive in a few years.

Here’s a breakdown of what Dipoto had to say.

‘Paying it forward’

The biggest point Dipoto made was how the savings made by the Mariners isn’t an effort to pocket money and shrink their payroll going forward, but to have more money in the bank available to augment their roster when their young core is ready to compete for a playoff spot, which they hope will happen in two to three years.

“Clearly we are building a roster that is geared toward the future, and we’ve made no secret of it,” Dipoto said. “We see this as, this group starts to really arrive midway through 2020 and we feel like we become a fun and interesting team by ‘21, and then we have a young core on the field. And by that time, with some of the moves we’ve made that have brought all of this young talent into the system, we’ve also been able to cut off a lot of future salary commitment that then becomes capital to reinvest in player acquisition.”

And there’s multiple ways that extra money to spend could come in handy early next decade.

“Whether it be the free-agent market, whether it be trading for players who join that group by 2021, you can’t spend it if you don’t have it. What we’re doing now is we’re… re-arranging the furniture, so to speak, so that by the time this group starts to arrive in 2020 and then is on the field together for what we think will be a full season in ‘21, we have created payroll space. Rather than in 2021 paying Jean Segura, paying Robinson Canó, we’re paying it forward.”

(Editor’s note: For an example of how this model can be a path to success, I highly recommend reading this story by Luke Arkins of that compares what the Mariners have done thus far in their rebuild compared to the Chicago Cubs on their way to winning the 2016 World Series.)

How the Encarnación trade fits into the grand picture

Dipoto broke down how Encarnación’s trade to the Yankees was really just the last piece of the puzzle that was the Jean Segura trade to Philadelphia, a move that cleared up some payroll space and brought back J.P. Crawford, who is starting at shortstop for the Mariners and figures to be the team’s future at the position.

The Mariners took back first baseman Carlos Santana from the Phillies in the Segura trade to offset Segura’s salary, and less than two weeks later Seattle sent Santana to Cleveland for Encarnación and a competitive balance draft pick. But just as important, as Dipoto explained: “In that deal we wound up recovering about $12 million in payroll flexibility in 2020.”

When Seattle traded Encarnación to the Yankees for teenage pitching prospect Juan Then, the Mariners “saved another $8 million in payroll that we feel like we can apply to 2021,” Dipoto said.

Related: There’s more to Encarnación trade than meets the eye

Why trade Encarnación so far ahead of the trade deadline?

“There was a 100 percent likelihood we were going to trade Edwin the day we acquired him. I think everyone in the public domain knew that, and so did Edwin,” Dipoto said. “The timing of it, frankly there was no market in the offseason, there was no market that developed in the spring, and we felt like once Edwin got as hot as he’s been over the course of the early part of this season, we finally had two teams that were interested enough to offer prospects we like and we went for it.”

Listen to the full episode of The Jerry Dipoto Show in the player embedded in this post or in podcast form at this link.

Mariners seeing results in rebuild as prospects rise up rankings