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Seattle Mariners

Commentary: Jerry Dipoto tells Mariners fans what they don’t want to hear

By Larry Stone Seattle Times

SEATTLE – If there’s one thing Mariners fans don’t want to hear right now, with the searing disappointment of another playoff absence still burning in their baseball souls, it’s the need for patience.

Yet at the ballclub’s annual season postmortem Tuesday, that was the takeaway message from Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners’ president of baseball operations, and the rest of their brain trust. In fact, the disconnect between the roiling discontent lingering from the Mariners’ September stumble and the assurance from Dipoto, general manager Justin Hollander and manager Scott Servais that the team is perfectly poised for perennial contention was startling.

The pervasive theme of the 75-minute media session was that the Mariners are in better position than they have been in the eight years of this regime – another conclusion that I suspect won’t play well, even if Dipoto provided ample evidence to make that case.

If you were expecting some sort of mea culpa after the team flamed out over the final 10 games, or for Cal Raleigh’s plea for an investment in impact players to have unearthed a pledge of aggressive spending, well, I have bad news for you.

Here are some snippets from Dipoto from the session:

“This season, as much as it was disappointing in the end, was a step forward for us organizationally.”

“The one thing I will say that is different about this team than any other team … there are fewer holes to fill, and we have far more answers.”

“I don’t know that the solution to our problems is big-name players, and I’m not sure we have big problems.”

At one point – and this is the pull quote that will have a shelf life – Dipoto said the Mariners were “actually doing the fan base a favor” by preaching patience in winning the World Series.

His point was that a single-minded pursuit of a title can lead to reckless decisions that actually subvert those efforts. If I may speak for the fans, the counterpoint would be that the Mariners are the only team in MLB that has never reached the World Series, let alone won one; the time frame for patience expired long ago.

Dipoto, of course, is responsible only for the period that began in September 2015, when he was hired as GM and inherited a 76-86 team. His famed “step-back” commenced in 2019, which resulted in a 90-win season by 2021 and the long-awaited playoff berth in 2022.

Dipoto’s main point is that when you look at the big picture of sustaining success, the Mariners have built a roster core that positions them to do just that.

And when it comes to goals, Dipoto went a bit wonky and said that it’s proven throughout the divisional era (which began in 1969) that if you win 54% of your games over a 10-year stretch, odds are astronomical that you will make the World Series during that period.

Now, James Polk won the presidential election in 1844 with the slogan, “54-40 or fight.” (No, I didn’t cover the campaign.) Somehow, I don’t think Mariners’ fans will galvanize behind the motto, “54% or bust.” Yet Dipoto made the case that it’s a more viable way to proceed than selling out on your principles in blind pursuit of a World Series.

“If we make winning the World Series our goal, we will do insane things that will cut the sustainability part of the project short,” he said. “That’s not how we think. We think more broadly. We’re thinking over an extended period of time, and our goal would be that over that decade, you get to the postseason seven or eight times and are in a position to win it. In an ideal world you become one of the elite teams that go 10 in 10.

“The reality is, if what you’re doing is focusing year to year on what do we have to do to win the World Series this year, you might be one of the teams that’s laying in the mud and can’t get up for another decade. So we’re actually doing the fan base a favor in asking for their patience to win the World Series while we continue to build a sustainably good roster.”

I can practically see the wincing and hear the grumbling as people read those words. I would say that there’s a happy medium between a caution-to-the-wind philosophy of throwing everything at a short-term pennant run (just look at the Padres for the cautionary tale) and voicing a little more urgency toward that specific goal.

In other words, a little lip service that went beyond “sustainable rosters” might have played a little better to a base bearing the brunt of more than four decades of futility. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter what is said in an interview room on Oct. 3. What will resonate are the actions the Mariners take (or don’t take) to bolster a squad that regressed in the most important category: Wins and losses.

Hollander assured that the Mariners have the financial and player resources to build a championship-level club. And Dipoto bristled when alluding to the question of whether the Mariners are “all in.”

“We’re always all in,” he said. “We’re just trying to be all in in a thoughtful way that is going to allow this to be sustained over decades, not over a 162-game season.”

That might be a sound strategy in the big picture, an actuarial blueprint for success. But for a franchise that has a vast history of disappointment, including a bitterly fresh one just days earlier, it’s not exactly the call to action anyone wanted to hear.