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Dipoto thrilled with return in wake of big trades

Mariners' rebuild hits high gear as Cano, Diaz, Segura get dealt
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- Shortly after being acquired from the Phillies to be the Mariners' shortstop of the future on Monday, 23-year-old J.P. Crawford contemplated life going forward and delivered a message that general manager Jerry Dipoto is also going to be pushing after launching one of the swiftest and most massive rebuilds imaginable.

"It's going to be fun," Crawford said from Irvine, Calif., where he learned that he'd been traded to the suddenly rebuilding Mariners. "We're all young. I know that we'll bring a lot of energy. Having that while playing will spark something special. I'm excited and can't wait to get going."

SEATTLE -- Shortly after being acquired from the Phillies to be the Mariners' shortstop of the future on Monday, 23-year-old J.P. Crawford contemplated life going forward and delivered a message that general manager Jerry Dipoto is also going to be pushing after launching one of the swiftest and most massive rebuilds imaginable.

"It's going to be fun," Crawford said from Irvine, Calif., where he learned that he'd been traded to the suddenly rebuilding Mariners. "We're all young. I know that we'll bring a lot of energy. Having that while playing will spark something special. I'm excited and can't wait to get going."

Dipoto's offseason makeover went full manic on Monday as he finalized both a seven-player swap that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets and a five-player deal that shipped Jean Segura, Juan Nicasio and James Pazos to the Phillies.

Cano, Diaz and Segura have racked up 11 All-Star berths between them and Diaz is coming off one of the best seasons for a closer in Major League history. Add in previous trades of No. 1 starter James Paxton, starting catcher Mike Zunino, setup man Alex Colome and the departure of five-time All-Star designated hitter Nelson Cruz in free agency and it's been a month of unparalleled transition for a team that went 89-73 last season.

Video: Bruce, Swarzak, Kelenic and Dunn on joining Mariners

But Dipoto looked at the writing on the wall -- an aging roster, too much money tied up in long-term contracts with reducing returns and an American League loaded with talented teams that were going to be tough to catch -- and decided on a new path.

"We had an 89-win team last year with a negative run differential," Dipoto said. "We had an aging core that, frankly, most of the heavy lifting for our team was being done by guys in their mid-20s, guys like Mitch Haniger, James Paxton, Marco Gonzales, Edwin Diaz. Getting back to a younger core became a focus for us."

Once Dipoto sets an agenda, he's as bold as any GM in baseball, as witnessed by his six trades already this offseason to bring in both younger Major League-ready players like Crawford, center fielder Mallex Smith and catcher Omar Narvaez as well as a group of prospects that includes the instant addition of a new top three in MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Mariners Prospects ratings in lefty Justus Sheffield, outfielder Jarred Kelenic and right-hander Justin Dunn.

Dipoto had to give up relatively young players like Segura, Paxton and Diaz as part of that process, but he believes the added roster and payroll flexibility will be a critical part of the plan.

Video: J.P. Crawford talks about joining the Mariners

Though Dipoto said the club will still be in the $140 million payroll range next year, the longer-term money coming off the books should open up the chance to spend wisely in 2021 and '22 to bolster the younger group instead of seeing that money still committed to Segura and Cano, who'd be past their peak production.

"We didn't really make the 2019 team considerably cheaper," he said. "We made the 2021-22 teams considerably more flexible with these deals, and that is part of the idea, to put ourselves in position for when our young players are out on the field and we have a team that includes Evan White and J.P. Crawford and Kyle Lewis and Jarred Kelenic and Mallex Smith and Mitch Haniger, etc., that team can be augmented by using the free-agent market for what we would view the free-agent market as, which is to finish a team rather than build one."

Dipoto said he didn't start out the offseason planning to trade Diaz, but found the package offered by the Mets to be both a chance to move out from under Cano's contract as well as get a better prospect return for Diaz than was being offered by other teams for the young closer on his own.

"We did our homework. We vetted it," Dipoto said. "About 10 days ago we came to the realization this deal was probably too good for us to walk away from and wrapped our heads around the idea Edwin needed to be involved in it in order to make it happen."

Video: Dipoto on the prospects acquired from Mets for Diaz

After the whirlwind month of activity peaked on Monday, Dipoto said most of the "heavy lifting" is likely done, at least until next week's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.

"We're likely to continue with conversations about the possibility of other things, but I suspect we'll be generally quiet until we get to the Winter Meetings," he said. "Then we'll focus on back-filling our own needs, especially in the bullpen."

That indeed figures to be an area of immediate concern given the club has dealt away Diaz, Colome, Pazos and Nicasio, while also letting Nick Vincent become a free agent.

But Dipoto isn't looking back now. He'll continue pushing forward and he'll do so now with a farm system that has improved dramatically in just a month's time.

"Whether we were No. 30 or somewhere in the final couple is up to interpretation," he said. "We feel we just went from somewhere in the bottom five to somewhere in the top 10, and that's a pretty swift move in about a month.

"We are very much looking forward to next year's Draft and the international market and even the ability to continue to look at the idea of turning veteran players into young players. This is the road we've opted for and we're excited to watch these guys play."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Jay Bruce, Robinson Cano, J.P. Crawford, Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio, James Pazos, Carlos Santana, Jean Segura, Anthony Swarzak