Seattle Mariners

Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto ‘doing better’ after being hospitalized in Las Vegas; talks trading Kyle Seager, Mitch Haniger

FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2018, file photo, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto speaks during the Mariners annual media briefing before the start of spring training baseball. As general manager Jerry Dipoto accurately explained, the Seattle Mariners are a team stuck in the middle. They’re not in the position of rebuilding. They have enough talent and enough veterans _ with big contracts _ to be competitive. But they’re not among the elite of the American League, including the Houston Astros in their own division.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2018, file photo, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto speaks during the Mariners annual media briefing before the start of spring training baseball. As general manager Jerry Dipoto accurately explained, the Seattle Mariners are a team stuck in the middle. They’re not in the position of rebuilding. They have enough talent and enough veterans _ with big contracts _ to be competitive. But they’re not among the elite of the American League, including the Houston Astros in their own division.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) AP

It’s easy to joke about Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto continuing to make trades even from a hospital bed at MLB’s winter meetings in Las Vegas. His assistant GM even claimed to have photographic proof of this.

But the blood clots Dipoto said that doctors discovered in his lungs are certainly no joke. A pulmonary embolism like that can be fatal and the softer, slower tone of his voice while talking over the phone on MLB Network’s “MLB Now” on Tuesday indicated that he understands the gravity of the situation.

“Doing better, doing better,” Dipoto said a few days after being released from the hospital and returning to Seattle. The former reliever and frequent jogger is probably in better shape than most 50-year-olds.

“Scary week for me, personally.”

He said it was probably overdramatized just how involved he was in orchestrating a trade of Carlos Santana to the Indians in a three-team deal that brought 35-year-old designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion to the Mariners while he was in the hospital on Thursday.

“I was sitting there smiling while somebody else was doing it,” said Dipoto, who is also under an MLB investigation after allegations of racism and gender discrimination from their former director of high performance and two former team trainers.

“I’m glad to be back in Seattle and I’m feeling a lot better and I’m going to move more slowly now, which has not been in my DNA.”

He told MLB.com that he started feeling chest pains the first day of the four-day winter meetings at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino before it worsened and his co-workers forced him to head to the hospital.

This was on the brink of Dipoto finalizing what was the seventh trade he’s made this offseason alone. The Mariners have made more trades since Dipoto took over following the 2015 season than any other team in MLB, earning him the moniker “Trader Jerry.”

He also took some time on MLB Network to address the Mariners roster “reimagining” as Dipoto coined it earlier this offseason.

But it’s looked much more drastic than reimagining. The Mariners have made six trades involving nine players leaving from their 25-man roster, including ace pitcher James Paxton, superstar closer Edwin Diaz, All-Star shortstop Jean Segura and second baseman Robinson Cano. They’ve also lost slugger Nelson Cruz among their free-agent departures.

In all, the Mariners have 20 players remaining from what their 40-man roster looked like the final game of the season. Yes, at least half of their roster will be new when the 2019 season begins.

Why?

“I guess the easy answer is we won 89 games and we did so with a team that probably wasn’t an 89-win team,” Dipoto said.

Pretty harsh coming from the GM, even if the Mariners did outperform every preseason expectation for them. They won 89 games despite a minus-34 run differential — and still finished eight games behind the 97-win Athletics for the final wild card.

“Much like what we have set up since the day we got here back in the fall of 2015, we were built to get in that mid-80s win range and see where the season takes us,” Dipoto said. “And last year took us in a very fortunate direction for the most part and we still weren’t able to get over that hump.

“We feel like we rode the roster we had for as long as we could ride it, and if we waited one more year it was likely going to be too late to get out from under some of what we were working with in terms of long-term contracts and an aging roster that needed to be reset.”

That’s why Dipoto said they signaled 2019 would be a step back for them as they try to compete for the playoffs by 2020 or 2021. That’s why you shouldn’t expect them to get superstars Bryce Harper or Manny Machado among the top free agents available.

Instead they’ve added seven players who are 26 or younger so far, including outfielder Mallex Smith from the Rays, Yankees’ top prospect Justus Sheffield and 19-year-old outfielder Jarred Kelenic from the Mets. They’ve gone from the worst-ranked farm system in baseball to what most pundits consider one that’s on the fringe of a top-10 system.

The question is, what becomes of some of the veteran players still remaining such as 32-year-old Felix Hernandez (who is a free agent after 2019), 31-year-old Mike Leake, 30-year-old Dee Gordon and 31-year-old Kyle Seager? They also took on the contracts of Encarnacion, who will be 36 in January, 33-year-old reliever Anthony Swarzak and 31-year-old Jay Bruce.

“Listen, we’ve not made any secret about what we’re attempting to do. We still have some veteran players on our roster who we think will be appealing either now to clubs or as we get to midseason,” Dipoto said. “We think we’re starting to gather enough young talent to make a go of it by midseason 2020.”

So, there you go. If the Mariners can get something in return they’re certainly looking to offload more of their veteran players.

Dipoto was asked specifically about Seager. He is owed $57.5 million through 2021, but he’s got a poison pill in his contract because his $15 million club option for 2022 becomes a player option if he’s traded. So the team that acquires Seager essentially owes him $72.5 million through 2022.

And he’s coming off the worst season of his career.

“We feel Kyle Seager will rebound. To sell Kyle Seager now would be to sell low,” Dipoto said. “He’s truly been one of the most stable players in the big leagues over the past 6-7 years. He’s coming off the worst year of his career, no question. But we feel there are a lot of high signs. He still hits the ball hard and there’s a lot of good things to what he does. We’re going to see where that takes us. We are not going to sell Kyle at the bottom of his market.

“We’d rather see where he takes this rebound and hopefully he can be a stabilizer for us as we go forward. He’s still 31 years old and he can be part of that group in 2020 and 2021.”

Dipoto was also asked, again, about the potential of trading outfielder Mitch Haniger.

“He represents everything we want to build around and be about as a team,” Dipoto said. “Not to put any more pressure on him, but if Mitch Haniger is no better than he was in 2018, we think that’s a terrific player who fits us perfectly. And we would just as soon hold on to him and build around him.

“We’re not really listening to offers. They would have to blow us away and they haven’t even come close.”

But he’s certainly listening to other offers in this step back – whether that’s from a hospital bed or not.

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TJ Cotterill is the Seattle Mariners and MLB writer for The News Tribune. He started covering MLB full-time in 2018, but before that covered Ken Griffey Jr.’s Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and spent seven years writing about high schools, including four as TNT’s prep sports coordinator. Born and raised in Washington.


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