Jerry Dipoto signed on as GM of the Seattle Mariners last September after a lengthy run at the helm of Arte Moreno’s front office in Anaheim. Dipoto, a former pitcher, often clashed with manager Mike Scioscia on how to run the club. After another tense summer of underperforming in Southern California, he quit. The way reports of the front office discord went down you’d think Dipoto had his stapler stolen by a low-level staffer or found his office relegated to the claustrophobic confines of Storage Room B.
The irony is that the Mariners could threaten for a postseason spot this season, while the Angels might find themselves looking up at Dipoto’s new club in the standings. Seattle replaced Jack Zduriencik with Dipoto and manager Lloyd McClendon with first-time skipper Scott Servais, setting the stage for Dipoto to carve his roster over the winter like a holiday turkey. Over the past few seasons, Dipoto didn’t appear to have that kind of freedom under Moreno.
So empowered in Seattle, Dipoto bolstered his rotation, acquiring Nathan Karns from the Rays and Wade Miley from the Red Sox. Adding them to a starting staff that already features Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and the tantalizing Taijuan Walker could give the Mariners a solid rotation a la 2014, when they had a 3.48 cumulative ERA—the best in team history. Plus, if James Paxton can stay on the mound enough to contribute he’d potentially give them even more depth.
Dipoto also upgraded the bullpen, turning three decent arms (Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Carson Smith) into one excellent one (Joaquin Benoit). He made small gains elsewhere as well, replacing Brad Miller with Luis Sardinas, Logan Morrison with Adam Lind, and Mark Trumbo with Nori Aoki.
These aren’t huge moves, but they’re ones Dipoto presumably wanted to make, which is more than he got to do in Anaheim. There’s a lot to be said for being allowed to do your job.
Dipoto’s offseason transformation cost the M’s a handful of prospects, but that very concept— trading young talent for MLB-ready assets—wasn’t even possible in Anaheim.
After new Angels GM Billy Eppler sent top prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis to Atlanta for Andrelton Simmons, the Angels have no players in Baseball Prospectus’ Top 100 list heading into the 2016 season. Simmons will help shore up the Angels’ infield defense for years but won’t add much to an offense that finished 12th in the American League in runs last year.
Additionally, the Angels have shown a reluctance to shell out the big bucks for the Yoenis Cespedeses and Justin Uptons of the free agent world, but even the much cheaper Ian Desmond could have helped. Instead, they watched Desmond get snatched up by the Rangers for $8 million to play left field, one of the positions the Angels failed to fill adequately.
Rather than splurge on a left fielder (probably because they’re paying the Rangers to employ Josh Hamilton), the Angels appear to be content with a two-headed platoon of Craig Gentry (career .274/.354/.366 against lefties) and Daniel Nava (.281/.377/.409 against righties), which sounds decent on paper but doesn’t seem much different from last season’s “shrug emoji” trio of David DeJesus, Shane Victorino, and David Murphy. On the bright side, at least this time they’re only wasting two roster spots instead of three.
Albert Pujols is a question mark thanks to his age and injury history (but he sure can ground into double plays!), and the rotation is shaky at best. Jered Weaver has become Jamie Moyer, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago are consistently inconsistent, Tyler Skaggs is returning from Tommy John surgery, C.J. Wilson is returning from elbow surgery (and is C.J. Wilson, so you never really know what you’ll get) and Andrew Heaney is gifted but inexperienced.
While Eppler watches division rivals pony up $8 million for a piece the Angels could have used, Dipoto is building the Mariners the way he wants. Why couldn’t he do that in Anaheim? And why was the discontent so prevalent in Anaheim, earning headlines throughout the summer?
Who knows—maybe Dipoto consistently ignored suggestions to wear more “flair”—or walk around with a Rally Monkey tethered to him at all times, for “team morale” purposes.
Whatever really may have happened, the relationship between Dipoto and the Angels deteriorated as Dipoto clashed with Scioscia, a former big-league catcher, and Moreno, the man who signs all the checks.
Though Dipoto said that reports of constant turmoil were “the furthest thing from the truth,” there was still enough disconnect to at least play some part in his decision to leave Anaheim.
Now that he’s in a new situation with a new catcher-turned-manager, will things play out differently? It’s easy to be optimistic before any games have been played, but all signs point to Dipoto and Servais seeing eye-to-eye, at least so far.
Many of Dipoto’s moves were made with spacious Safeco Field in mind. Cutting loose sluggers Morrison and Trumbo in favor of Aoki, Iannetta, Lind, and Martin makes perfect sense in that ballpark. As Baseball Prospectus broke down, the new guys strike out less and are stronger defensively than the ones they’re replacing.
BP also drew up a comparison between the M’s new pitchers (Benoit, Cishek, Ryan Cook, Evan Scribner, etc.) and the departed ones (Farquhar, Roenis Elias, Wilhelmsen, Carson Smith, etc.), concluding that Dipoto’s makeover may favor pitchers who throw more strikes than the ones that were in the ‘pen a year ago. With improved defense, throwing pitches that could be put in play becomes less terrifying.
As for the Angels, BP’s 2016 preview suggests that the team may have enough to stay afloat until the midsummer trading season thanks to the pitchers’ ground ball rate (since, after all, many of those grounders will go right at Simmons).
But what would they trade for stretch-run help, given that they don’t have much of a farm system? Conversely, if the Angels find themselves out of contention at the trade deadline, what useful pieces can they offer contenders?
Fortunately such questions are no longer Dipoto’s problem. Now he must focus on his new role, which raises other questions:
Will Dipoto thrive in Seattle, or will the M’s somehow find a way to disappoint again despite a drastic roster change?
If he thrives, it will restore his halo while at the same time stabbing a trident through his former team’s heart. If he doesn’t, then perhaps Scioscia will be vindicated. Either way, someone will get to rub someone else’s nose in it. And isn’t that what baseball’s all about?
Adrian Garro is a baseball writer based in Southern California. You should follow him on Twitter.