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Seattle Mariners

Jerry Dipoto plans to stay with process, says big-name players not only way to build winner

By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

As the first of the four MLB wild card games scheduled for Tuesday had reached the fifth inning, with the Texas Rangers, the team that squelched their postseason hopes a few days earlier, leading 2-0 in Tampa, the Mariners were instead starting their end-of-season news conference at T-Mobile Park.

Given the failures of a team that had postseason expectations and, right or wrong, held divisional title goals, the news conference was like so many in years past. The usual offerings to explain all that went wrong, extol the things that did go right, justify the decisions made throughout the season and an assurance of better days ahead.

But the distinct difference for this gathering that featured Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners’ president of baseball operations, general manager Justin Hollander and manager Scott Servais was that none of it mattered due to the level of disappointment and disgust emanating from the fan base.

That the news conference couldn’t be live streamed because MLB postseason games were playing was fortuitous for the Mariners and another layer to the conspiracy theories of angry fans.

To most, the season was a failure with much of the blame directed at the three men on the dais and an ownership group that didn’t have a representative in the gathering, specifically, chairman John Stanton.

For fans expecting heartfelt apology or aching regret about mistakes made from the organization’s ultimate decision-maker in baseball matters, or an emphatic promise of doing whatever it takes to make it right from any of the Mariners leadership, well, that didn’t happen.

And realistically, it wasn’t going to happen. That’s not how they are wired. They believe in their plans, process and philosophy, regardless of the results or fan interpretation/criticism.

“We didn’t reach the heights we anticipated reaching and hate that we’re sitting here as wrapping the season without being in October playing baseball,” Dipoto said in an opening statement. “But here we are after an 88-win season, I’ll first start by saying, I think in many ways, this season, as much as it was disappointing in the end, it was a step forward for us organizationally.”

Yep, that’s not what fans want to hear, as much as Dipoto believes it.

He talked of building a sustainable roster that can compete for championships for years ahead, and the progress made by young players and the introduction of prospects to the big leagues and the process of finding a way to take another step forward in the 2024.

Asked what went wrong in the season, the finger of blame was largely pointed at the vagaries of baseball.

“I could point toward any number of things, but the easiest thing to point toward is that it’s a baseball season, and it’s all those things in every baseball season that you ever encounter that are going to go wrong,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how quickly you can solve them and move forward. I feel like we did show that was happening. We were in first place 3 1/2 weeks ago. We didn’t have a disaster of a season. We had a season that we were unable to finish.”

Though Dipoto did admit those additions of Tommy La Stella, Kolten Wong and AJ Pollock were “a fail.”

“Sure, I wish I could go back and do it over,” he said. “All you can do is just fix things as you move forward. I don’t know if the last eight years has you know resonated with anybody in the room. I don’t spend a lot of my time looking back because it’s not productive. You’ll make too many mistakes, trying to make up for too many mistakes.”

The comments made by Cal Raleigh after being eliminated on Saturday, demanding the organization be more committed to winning and adding more big-time players, were asked about early.

“I talked to Cal on Sunday after he had spoken with you guys and I had his comments,” Servais said. “And as I said to him, and as I’ve said to any player I’ve ever been around, his opinions are his own and I don’t begrudge anybody the ability to share their opinions. You should. I don’t know that the solution to our problems is big-name players, and I’m not sure we have big problems. Would I like to have big-name players? Sure. I think we all would.”

When Dipoto talked with Raleigh that next morning, Raleigh kept telling, “I just want to win.” And that he refused to take that part back.

“We all do,” Dipoto said of the desire to win. “Whether that is by way of a big-name player, there are a number teams that are evidenced today that might not be the only way to build a roster.”

It was a mild shot at the Mets, Padres and Yankees, without naming them, all three teams spent heavily on free agents in the offseason and all three teams were considered underachievers and missed the postseason.

“We’ll do the best that we can in trying to achieve the best outcomes,” Dipoto said. “And if that means it’s big-name players via free agency or trade, we’ll do that. If it means we get better in other incremental ways, we’ll try to do that, too. In a perfect world, we’d be able to do both. And yes, we do have the freedom to do that.”

Raleigh also lamented the trade of closer Paul Sewald. Dipoto did not.

“Nope, would have done it exactly the same,” he said. “Players view the world through a different lens than we have to view it. We have to think big picture and broad. We have to assess where we are in the moment. At the trade deadline, made decisions that were based on both the 2023 and 2024 seasons. The reality is at that point, second base was a tremendous concern of ours and has been for a couple of years, and we identified Josh Rojas as a player that we felt like could be part of that solution moving forward, as well as a couple of young players who we felt like really made sense for us in Dom Canzone and Ryan Bliss.”

As has been the case in the pre-spring training and postseason news conferences, Dipoto was asked about the Mariners’ payroll budget for next season. It’s a question that he can’t answer publicly or is willing to discuss privately. It’s a number that is set by the ownership group which he has to accept, work within while not lamenting it or offering up as an excuse.

“This is more of a narrative thing and I know the expectation is that bigger payrolls win trophies,” he said. “I don’t believe that that’s true. It’s not to say we aren’t going to grow payroll, we will have a higher payroll next year than we have this year. We will go out with the intent of adding as much impact to our team as we possibly can. The idea that you’re going to buy trophies, I think there were six divisional champions this year and not one of those six had the highest payroll in their division. It’s not a slam dunk that payroll solves your problems or fills your holes. It’s just one avenue to take. We’ll consider that avenue as well as others.”