SEATTLE — The attraction of fantasy baseball can be overpowering for the true seamhead. A simulation where you get to assemble a roster, including the ability to make trades, by relying on your own knowledge and expertise?
Estimates vary, but it’s believed roughly 20 million people play fantasy baseball.
Pull up a chair and meet someone who gets to do it for real.
Jerry Dipoto is a lifelong seamhead and, as the Mariners’ general manager, every fantasy player’s dream is his reality. It’s everything you might imagine.
"Oh, yeah," Dipoto agreed through a grin. "It’s very good."
Serious question: There are millions of people who run a club vicariously. What’s it like to be a fan and actually have the wheel?
"I pinch myself every day," Dipoto said, "and I try not to be abusive with that power. I love the game, I am a fan of the game, I love the players. I try to find the good in every player.
"One of my stock statements that I talk about it all the time is: "We’re looking at the best 800 or a thousand players in the world. This is who they are. There is nothing better than what we’re seeing right now.’
"When you break them down— and that’s our job, to break them down — don’t forget to put them back together again. Once you put them back together again, realize the unique qualities that they have, that help you win."
Make no mistake. The Mariners who return Friday for their home opener, after winning two of three games earlier this week in a remarkable series at Texas…this is Dipoto’s team.
He became the club’s general manager last September with one week remaining in a depressingly disappointing season that, consequently, provided him with the job he always envisioned. And Dipoto went to work.
Between Oct. 19 and April 3, the Mariners moved 58 players on or off of their 40-man roster. Several more than once.
Sound like anyone in your roto league?
What often got lost last winter in the sheer volume of the relentless personnel turnover is Dipoto never touched the club’s core. He used finishing tools to shape, trim and mold the Mariners’ roster.
"One of the benefits of inheriting the job," he said, "is the roster that I inherited already had Robby Cano and Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz and Felix (Hernandez).
"You didn’t have to go out and shop in the Merlot aisle. We could go to the frozen food section and pick out the berries that are going to taste good with the wine."
(Aside: Jerry, this is the Pacific Northwest. Merlot and frozen berries? That’s Jersey talking. Expect people to be lining up to help you acclimate. Until then, just grab a Safeco Field amenities map.)
Where were we?
Dipoto and his staff sorted through lots of berries with four primary goals:
***Extend the lineup at the top and bottom by adding players with better on-base skills. The goal: Provide the Cano-Cruz-Seager core with a greater number of RBI opportunities.
***Ramp up the roster’s athleticism by adding speed, particularly in the outfield. The goal: Rein in Safeco Field’s spacious dimensions.
***Extend the rotation by adding one or two more starting pitchers. Goal: Avoid the lack of depth that tormented last year’s club when injuries sidelined Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton for extended periods.
***Overhaul the bullpen, which collapsed last season after a franchise-record collective performance in 2014. Goal: Put together a unit with a better mix of strengths.
Check, check, check and check.
Nori Aoki, Adam Lind, Chris Iannetta and Leonys Martin have better career on-base numbers than the players they replaced. Martin and Aoki provide improved speed and significantly bolster the outfield’s defense.
Trades netted Wade Miley and Nathan Karns for the rotation. And when circumstances turned Iwakuma into a free-agent prodigal, the Mariners were so stocked they could dispatch Paxton to Triple-A Tacoma for remedial work.
Only two members of this year’s bullpen were in the organization a year ago. None opened last season on the Mariners’ big-league roster.
Whether all of this works or not will take six months to determine, but the earliest returns are encouraging.
The lengthened lineup churned for 19 runs over the last two games in Texas, much of it against a supposedly stout bullpen. Increased speed and better defense are already evident. Their own rebuilt bullpen hasn’t yielded a run in nine innings.
"I think this team is built in a way where you can do a lot of things offensively," Seager said, "and I thought we did (against Texas). The home runs were there this series, but there were a lot of walks as well."
Added Cano: "We’ve got defense in the outfield. That’s something we didn’t have last year. When you have speed in the outfield, you’re going to have better defense."
This much is clear: Dipoto did what he said he planned to do and in the manner he said he planned to do it; by working the margins through trades and low-risk signings in the free-agent market.
"The credibility or accountability is important," Dipoto said. "I had a chance to sit down with Robby for a couple of hours, and I sat down with Felix for an hour. I sat down with Nelson Cruz when we were down (in the Dominican). I met with Kyle Seager in Seattle.
"Those guys knew they were going to be part of a program moving forward. I think it really helps them feel like they’re part of it. So that’s what you do. I’m not looking to zag when I say I’m going to zig. We’ll tell you what we’re going to do."
What’s also made clear is a uniform philosophy is beginning to permeate the entire system.
The "Control the Zone" mantra is a prime example. It basically means pitchers need to throw strikes, and hitters need to make opposing pitchers throw strikes. Not revolutionary. But those who don’t buy in, don’t stick around.
"It’s time to win," said manager Scott Servais, a long-time Dipoto lieutenant. "Jerry knows that we’re going to have to do something a little bit different with our roster and how we play to get a different result. That’s why he’s doing it."
Having this type of control was important to Dipoto after the way things ended last July following a 3 1/2-year tour as general manager of the Los Angeles Angels.
There he struggled to implement his vision because of a strong-willed veteran manager in Mike Scioscia and a hands-on owner in Arte Moreno. What went wrong? At this point, apportioning the shared blame is irrelevant.
All that matters is Dipoto thought it best for everyone that he depart. But he did so knowing he wanted greater control in his next opportunity…if one came along.
Enter the Mariners, who chose Jack Zduriencik over Dipoto after the 2008 season when hiring a replacement for Bill Bavasi. Seven years later, they wanted someone a clear vision for rescuing an organization.
This time, they saw Dipoto as the perfect fit.
"I’m going to hold him accountable," club president Kevin Mather said, "but I’m also going to give him resources…Don’t surprise me, don’t surprise our owners, but all things baseball come through Jerry’s department…He’s in charge."
Dipoto had the final say in determining whether to fire manager Lloyd McClendon and in choosing Servais, who has never managed or coached at any level, as a replacement. The coaching staff underwent a near-complete overhaul.
Next, Dipoto gutted a floundering player-development staff but, after a hard look, determined the scouting staff only required a few tweaks. Only then did he seriously begin reshaping the roster.
"When Kevin initially called me," Dipoto recalled, "he said, `the job we are interviewing for is executive vice president and general manager of the baseball club.
"`What that means here is you have the keys to the baseball operation; everything from the batboy to (operations in) the Dominican Republic to Robinson Cano…those decisions are yours to make.’"
It amounted to fantasy baseball in real time.
"That’s the way it’s played out for the last six-plus months," Dipoto said, "and I couldn’t be happier."
Check back in another six-plus months. See if the fantasy comes true.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners