Dipoto: Mariners’ path to climbing out, when to expect Justin Upton

Mariners Jerry Dipoto...

The Mariners are in a hole they need to climb out of, sitting in last place in the American League West after dropping two of three to the Oakland Athletics. General manager and president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto remains hopeful his team can do that, though he knows the M’s need to get some things in order.

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“We’re simply going to have to play better,” he said Thursday morning during the weekly Jerry Dipoto Show on Seattle Sports Station. “… You’re always looking to add and reevaluate. We reassess roughly every day. You’re trying to find the best combination of players to lead you to the promised land or to championship baseball, and right now, we don’t feel like we’re particularly close.”

Dipoto still has a belief that the Mariners can get back on track, whether it’s through players returning from injury or veterans simply playing more like the backs of their baseball cards.

“Some of that (improvement) is going to come from within,” he said. “The recent return of Kyle Lewis, what we hope are the returns of guys like Mitch Haniger and Tom Murphy, Abraham Toro. And I guess on the pitching side, closer are guys like Ken Giles and Erik Swanson, who was so good for us, and that’ll help down in our bullpen.”

While acquisitions may be in order, Dipoto explained that this is a hard time in the MLB schedule to make trades, though he did mention that Seattle did make a successful one on May 25, 2018 with the Tampa Bay Rays to acquire outfielder Denard Span and reliever Alex Colomé.

“You usually don’t see trades until June, July, and I don’t sense that the market is really cooking yet,” he said. “… It’s a young season yet but I don’t think that we’re going to be able to address any of those needs via trade anytime soon, which is part of the reason we went and signed Justin Upton.”

The M’s added Upton, a 34-year-old slugger, in free agency last weekend, though he could still be weeks out from debuting for the team (he reported to extended spring training in Arizona after the signing).

“He’s a guy who’s been through it before,” Dipoto said. “He’s a four-time All-Star and he was available as a free agent. It’s gonna take a little time to get him up to speed and ready to play full time, which hopefully we’re there somewhere during this next road trip and Justin can come help us out and really start to augment what’s happening in our lineup and our outfield.”

While the Mariners went into their day off Thursday at 18-27, which is 11 games behind division-leading Houston, they’re still only about a quarter of the way into the season, and Dipoto knows things can turn around quickly because he saw it with the team a year ago. The Mariners sat at 21-26 after a loss on May 23, 2021 and were still under .500 in mid-June, but went on to finish the season with a 90-72 record.

“We did find ourselves in almost an identical situation last year, at almost identically this time. We had a good start to the last season, I think the first 20, 21 games we were remarkable – 13-8 – and then we fell off hard, lost I think 18 of our next 26. We found ourselves near the bottom of the division and had to claw out, and that’s what we did. And this year, we have to do the same. … We still see ourselves as a young, growing team, and we watched it a year ago – we watched ourselves claw out of this hole.”

So how can that happen now? A couple of things Dipoto pointed to: more hitters throughout the lineup helping out the more consistent producers, and Seattle coming up with more results in big spots.

“Right now we have five players that are on pace for a 3 1/2 or four-win season by WAR, which is a big number – both in that there’s five of them and (because) 3 1/2, four wins, that’s pretty rare air. Not too many guys in a given year do that. We’ve got guys like Adam Frazier, Julio Rodríguez, Ty France, JP Crawford and Eugenio Suárez who are all on that pace. Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone else who is contributing to that.

“We’re getting to points in our lineup where we do create traffic. If you look at our team – and this is why the national experts are I guess a little bit more bullish on what will happen moving forward – we do control the strike zone, we do get on base. Our offense by weighted runs created-plus came into the game yesterday ranked eighth in Major League Baseball (note: Seattle is currently tied for eighth in MLB with a 110 WRC+), which I know it’s hard to believe when you’re watching what’s happening, but we have actually been pretty good under the hood. We’re just not turning it into runs. … Our ‘clutchiness’ is not what it was a year ago.”

You can listen to the entire Jerry Dipoto Show from Thursday in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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