Dipoto: 'We're better than we were'

July 31st, 2021

SEATTLE -- The Trade Deadline came and went on Friday afternoon and the Mariners stood pat with their three deals from earlier this week. It’s not that general manager Jerry Dipoto wasn’t actively scouring the market ahead of the 1 p.m. PT cutoff, but rather, that the right deal for an additional bat never quite manifested.

So, Seattle, which sits two games back of a postseason spot, will roll on with what it believes to be an upgraded roster compared to the one it opened the week with.

Mariners’ Trade Deadline week

OUT: RHP Kendall Graveman, RHP JT Chargois, RHP Rafael Montero, 3B Austin Shenton (No. 17 prospect), C Carter Bins (prospect), RHP Joaquin Tejada (prospect)

“We took away from our bullpen, and then we added back. We added stability to our starting rotation,” Dipoto said. “And I know Tyler gets lost in the wash a little bit because of the anxiety throughout the week that was being paid attention elsewhere, but a really solid season.

“[Toro] has been an above-average hitter at the Major League level this year, to this point, in a small sample. We feel like that's not accidental. We do feel like that's the start of what should be a really strong career ... [Smith], you have a guy who has a lot of underlying detail suggesting that his year it should be better than it actually has been.

“But I do think we're better than we were when this when this Trade Deadline began.”

Taking Dipoto at his word at every turn, nothing about his moves this week should be shocking. He’s repeatedly said that upgrades to the 2021 roster would only be made with ’22 just as much in mind. A between-the-lines reading: The Mariners were never going to make a blockbuster splash involving their top-end prospects, and their top five specifically -- Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodríguez, Emerson Hancock, George Kirby and Noelvi Marte -- were, and remain, untouchable.

Looking at what some of the other contending clubs netted, it’s clear that all of those players were on the table for high-end adds. José Berríos, who is a free agent after 2022, cost the Blue Jays their Nos. 2 and 4 prospects. Kris Bryant, a rental, cost the Giants their Nos. 9 and 30 prospects. Starling Marte, also a rental, cost the A’s Jesús Luzardo, who has as much upside as any young lefty starter in the Majors. And Whit Merrifield, who the Mariners were high on, wasn’t moved because no team met the Royals’ lofty asking price.

“We were just unwilling to meet the prices for the targets we did have,” Dipoto said. “And most of them did end up moving and some didn't. But it's something we felt pretty committed to, as I said yesterday, we have to remain disciplined to the plan we set. … We were resistant to trading our top prospects for short-term gains.”

The Yankees, A’s and Blue Jays -- the three other clubs vying for the second AL Wild Card with Seattle -- all made borderline blockbuster moves. But each of those deals came at a high cost, especially Berríos, and those three clubs, especially the Yankees, entered the season pushing more toward an all-in, World Series-or-bust approach -- a spot the Mariners aren’t at quite yet.

“The sensitive position of that is, I guess juxtaposed to pouring it all in for a run as a Wild Card threat in a division where we trail the leader by a considerable amount,” Dipoto said. “But we couldn't be irresponsible in what we were doing here. That just would have been the wrong thing to do, and we had opportunities to do that. But we have to stay disciplined to the plan that we laid out.”

That plan, by all accounts, will include spending in free agency this offseason, and there will be a bevy of talent available, specifically addressing the Mariners’ needs: infield, right-handed power bats. Bryant, Trevor Story, Carlos Correa and Javier Báez (who was traded to the Mets on Friday for their No. 5 prospect and more) among many more will be on the open market.

“I'm pleased with the things that we've done,” Dipoto said of the Deadline. “And I wish we could have done a little bit more, but it didn't work out for us. And we were committed to not blocking the young players from getting experience. So, we knew we were walking a fine line, but we tried to walk it, and I think we did it as effectively as we could.”

When ownership green-lit Seattle’s step back three years ago, it did so recognizing that the Mariners had one of the oldest and most expensive rosters, and one of the Majors’ bleakest farm systems. That’s a combination that, more often than not, is not conducive for sustained success. The Angels are a prime example, with arguably the game’s two best players, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, a drought of starting pitching, a limited farm system and no postseason appearance since 2014.

Seattle has come this far, assembling what MLB Pipeline ranks as the No. 3 farm system and a big league roster that has exceeded expectations and is set up for 2022 and beyond. If it includes a run at October this year, great. But the front office’s thinking is for sustained runs for years to come, and their Deadline Day results sum that up succinctly.