In September of 2014 Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, following Green Bay’s 1-2 start to the season, implored Packers fans to, “R-E-L-A-X.”
With the 2017 Major League Baseball season now complete, I’d like to extend the same piece of advice to Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto.
In the two years that Dipoto has been in charge the one thing he’s established is that he likes nothing more than a trade. Since he was hired in September of 2015 Dipoto has, according to Baseball-Reference.com, executed 47 trades involving 120 players. FanGraphs.com ran a story in January analyzing which general manager had made the most trades since Dipoto joined the Mariners, and Dipoto was first by a landslide. The people who print up Seattle’s rosters must be making a fortune on the constant updates.
But with Seattle’s offseason having arrived, I think the time has come for Dipoto to chill.
Dipoto has enacted a scorched-earth policy when it comes to trading. He’s been indiscriminate, trading with 18 of baseball’s other 29 teams (topped by six with the Tampa Bay Rays). There are 12 players — Nate Karns, Boog Powell, C.J. Riefenhauser, Joaquin Benoit, Leonys Martin, Luis Sardinas, Wade Miley, Paul Blackburn, Pat Venditte, Wade LeBlanc, Joe Wieland and Mallex Smith — who Dipoto traded for, and has since traded away. There’s even one player, Patrick Kivlehan, who Dipoto traded away, then traded to get back.
But for all his machinations, Dipoto has taken a Mariners team that finished with a losing record and missed the playoffs in 2015 and turned it into a team that finished with a losing record and missed the playoffs in 2017.
Not that I blame the trades for that. In fact, I don’t even think Dipoto’s records on trades is bad. Many of the trades had little significance as they involved fringe players and minor leaguers. On the bigger trades Dipoto seems to have done all right, such as the deal that brought shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger to Seattle. Heck, when a general manager makes so many deals, it almost becomes impossible to second guess any particular one.
But one of the problems when the roster and system is constantly churning over is that it becomes impossible to know exactly what the organization has and exactly what it doesn’t. I think Dipoto may have allowed himself to lose track of one position in particular: starting pitching.
It’s no secret that a big reason for Seattle’s inability to end its 15-year playoff drought this season was the breakdown of the starting rotation. The original five of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Drew Smyly, James Paxton and Yovani Gallardo combined to start just 68 of the Mariners’ 162 games as injuries devastated the rotation.
Now heading into 2018 the Mariners have some major surgery to perform on the rotation. Hernandez is showing his age, Paxton can’t stay healthy, and Iwakuma and Smyly are all but gone. One thing that could serve to bandage those rotation wounds would be help from the minors. Unfortunately, the Mariners don’t appear to have any minor-league arms on the verge of being able to help the big club.
Did that have to be the case? Maybe not. A closer examination of the trades Dipoto made reveals that the Mariners had a bunch of starting pitching prospects who are just about ready for the majors, but they were all traded away. A sample of some of the starting pitchers traded away by Dipoto and what they did in 2017:
n Luiz Gohara raced through three levels of the Atlanta Braves organization and made his major-league debut.
n Ryan Yarbrough went 13-6 at triple-A in the Tampa Bay organization.
n Zack Littell was an incredible 19-1 between high single-A and two double-A teams for the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins organizations.
And there are others who reached Double-A in 2017 and are now considered legitimate prospects in their respective organizations. These players had the potential to be part of the solution for Seattle in 2018. Instead they now may be part of the solution elsewhere. The trades involving those pitching prospects weren’t necessarily bad trades individually, but collectively they’ve handcuffed the organization, limiting the Mariners’ options for fixing the rotation for next year.
So my suggestion to Dipoto during those slow moments of the offseason is to resist temptation, heed Rodgers’ words and relax. Sometimes the best trades are the ones a general manager doesn’t make.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.