Dipoto: 2020 Mariners are much different than 2019 ‘transition team’

Feb 25, 2020, 9:16 AM
The Mariners will feature a few veterans in 2020, but the season is all about the young guys. (Getty)

After missing the playoffs in 2018 by eight games after a torrid start in the first half, the Mariners had some soul searching to do.

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Yes, that was one of the more successful seasons the franchise has had since it last made the playoffs in 2001, but the Mariners had an absurd record in one-run games, one of the oldest position player cores in all of baseball and what was seen as the worst farm system in baseball.

It appeared general manager Jerry Dipoto’s group had seen its window of opportunity to compete with that group close, so he, his front office and Seattle’s ownership made the tough choice to rebuild from the ground up. With that, familiar faces such as Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton and Mike Zunino were traded for younger pieces to rebuild a depleted farm system and established players like Nelson Cruz walked in free agency.

With a completely rebuilt lineup that featured veterans that the team was hoping to flip in trades at some point during the season, the 2019 Mariners were hot out of the gate, going 13-2 to start the year, but quickly fell down to earth and finished the season at 68-94.

While it’s expected the Mariners will struggle again in 2020, it won’t be because they’re a seemingly makeshift team, but because there will be a focus on younger players getting their first extended looks at the big league level.

Dipoto joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant from spring training in Peoria and laid out why 2020 will be much different than 2019.

“Last year, we had a transition team and we knew that,” Dipoto said, We had a lot of veteran players that were building a bridge towards this young group and we’ve been really conscious of trying to grab as much talent as we could while not rushing them and giving them the opportunity to grow at their own pace. Last year, you saw guys like Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion and Domingo Santana and we really didn’t see those players as part of the core of our next competitive, championship team and we do see this group as that, as the foundation … and now that they’re here and they’re the centerpiece.”

Those players include first baseman Evan White, outfielders Kyle Lewis and Jake Fraley, second baseman Shed Long Jr. and shortstop J.P. Crawford. With the roster as is, it’s likely all five of those players are in the Mariners’ opening day lineup when they take on the Texas Rangers March 26.

“They’re not coming in to play in the fifth and sixth inning (off the bench during spring training). You’re seeing (the young guys) from the very start … It’s exciting to see them grow,” Dipoto said.

The 2019 Mariners featured more veterans, like the aforementioned Bruce, Encarnacion as well as pitchers Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc. While there are still veterans on the team, Dipoto feels that the limited amount of them that remain have bought in to the franchise’s “process first” mentality.

“The very few veteran players that we do have on our field, and some of them who’ve been here, I guess most notably guys like Kyle Seager and Taijuan Walker, they’ve heard this,” he said. “It isn’t new to them, it’s something they’re familiar with and the (veteran) guys who’ve come in (through trades or free agency) have adapted to it very quickly because it’s tough to walk into a room of 70 players where 65 of them have a pretty good grasp of what we’re trying to get across (so) the veteran players adapt pretty quickly.”

Dipoto also discussed young players like White, Yusei Kikuchi and Justus Sheffield in more detail during his interview with Danny and Gallant. Listen to the full conversation at this link or in the player below at the 13:42 mark.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil and Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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Dipoto: 2020 Mariners are much different than 2019 ‘transition team’