Considering the amount of moves Jerry Dipoto has made since his hiring as Seattle’s general manager last September, it’s not unreasonable to think the Mariners were perhaps hitting the reset button in hopes of being competitive a few seasons down the line.
That’s not what Dipoto has in mind.
Dipoto, who along with manager Scott Servais joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Justin and Gee” for interviews from the Mariners’ pre-spring training luncheon at Safeco Field on Thursday, said he expects the team to be in the running this season for its first American League West title since 2001.
“I don’t see why we can’t compete for this division championship,” he said. “I think we’re a team that should win somewhere in the mid-80s and let the rest fall where it may. And if we’ve done what we were supposed to do culturally, if we’ve done what we were supposed to do strategically and the players stay healthy, we’re gonna wind up in a pretty good position.”
There’s plenty of reasons Dipoto has that much faith in the team, but one jumps out above them all – he built the roster with Safeco Field in mind, something he feels is an opportunity unique to the Mariners to turn into an edge.
“It was probably the predominant factor in our offseason, really,” Dipoto said of building around Safeco’s spacious dimensions. “If you understand what the ballpark allows you to do, and you build a team accordingly, you have a chance to create an advantage … Here we have a great advantage in that we can build to a ballpark that allows us a model of success.”
That model includes focusing on speed and defense in the outfield, which the Mariners have done with the additions of Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin, and relying on pitchers who give them opportunities to chase down fly balls.
“It’s understanding that there’s a lot of ground to cover out there so the outfielders needed to be a little rangier than they’ve been in the past. It’s also understanding that the ballpark is particularly friendly to the pitcher,” Dipoto said. “We don’t have to be as discerning in the ground-ball vs. fly-ball pitcher. A fly-ball pitcher here at Safeco works perfectly well.”
Pitchers with fly-ball tendencies can help the Mariners in a few other ballparks they frequent, as well.
“Frankly I’ve spent the last four years in the American League West, and whether it be here or in Anaheim or in Oakland, we have a division that treats fly-ball pitchers better than most,” said Dipoto, who was the Angels GM from the 2011 offseason until he stepped down last July. “We were able to go out and access another element of pitcher, the strikeout-fly ball guy, who generally flies under the radar a little bit and they’re a little easier to attain.”
Adding those cheaper types of pitchers has given Seattle quite the depth at starting pitcher, with acquisitions Wade Miley and Nate Karns expected to join ace Felix Hernandez, No. 2 man Hisashi Iwakuma and the up-and-coming Taijuan Walker in the rotation, while James Paxton, Mike Montgomery and Vidal Nuno are still in the mix in case of emergency.
“I think our starting rotation is as deep as any in the division,” Dipoto said.
Where the Mariners aren’t as stable, though, is the bullpen. Dipoto wasn’t afraid to mention that fact, either.
“We need to get a little bit lucky with a couple of the guys in the bullpen and see a turnaround in the middle roles,” he said, “but we do feel like that with Steve Cishek and Joaquin Benoit and Charlie Furbush, particularly those three guys give us legit back-end guys who’ve done this in this league, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t continue to do it.”