John McGrath

Dipoto swung for the fences on Ohtani, but whiffed. What else was he supposed to do?

Shohei Ohtani puts on his hat after a news conference, outside Angel Stadium on Dec. 9, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif. The Mariners went all-in on Ohtani, with GM Jerry Dipoto arranging trades to deepen the team’s pool of signing money for international players in exchange for prospects from what’s considered a barren farm system. The effort didn’t translate into a positive result, but it was an inspired effort.
Shohei Ohtani puts on his hat after a news conference, outside Angel Stadium on Dec. 9, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif. The Mariners went all-in on Ohtani, with GM Jerry Dipoto arranging trades to deepen the team’s pool of signing money for international players in exchange for prospects from what’s considered a barren farm system. The effort didn’t translate into a positive result, but it was an inspired effort. The Associated Press

Was general manager Jerry Dipoto too enthusiastic in leading the Mariners unsuccessful pursuit of Shohei Ohtani?

It’s appearing that an understated, Less Is More strategy might have been a more effective method of wooing the two-way Japanese star to Seattle than Dipoto’s determination to strike up the band.

“We want to sell the Seattle experience,” Dipoto said a few weeks ago. “What it means to the Japanese-American, our culture and how this organization has trended — and trended positively — when we have a star Japanese player. He’s talented. He’s gifted. He’s going to make some team a lot better.

“We’re not going to leave a stone unturned.”

Ohtani identified the Los Angeles Angels, unable to boast a similar history with Japanese stars, to be a better fit. Cynics are free to criticize Dipoto’s aggressiveness, but I won’t. In trying to acquire an internationally renowned difference-maker, the Mariners point man used many nice words to describe the internationally renowned difference maker.

Just because flattery got Dipoto nowhere doesn’t mean flattery is a flawed approach. If I’m a coveted job seeker weighing Potential Employer A vs. Potential Employer B, and the boss at Potential Employer A reminds me how perfectly wonderful I am while the boss at Potential Employer B spends the interview glancing at his smart phone, I’m thinking Potential Employer A is probably the way to go.

For Dipoto, it was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t.

He went all-in on Ohtani, arranging trades to deepen the team’s pool of signing money for international players in exchange for prospects from what’s considered a barren farm system. The effort didn’t translate into a positive result, but it was an inspired effort.

Had Dipoto participated in the Ohtani sweepstakes with a yawn and a shrug, he’s seen by Seattle fans as a milquetoast executive who failed to grasp the enormity of the situation.

Dipoto did what was right. Doing the right thing generally is a virtue, but then, we’re talking about Mariners, a franchise with a history as haunted as the Bates Motel.

Interim manager Jim Riggleman did the right thing in 2008. His team entered the season’s final weekend with a 58-101 record, slightly worse than the 59-99 mark of the Washington Nationals. The consequences of finishing with the most losses were profound, as San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg loomed as the No. 1 overall draft choice.

As the Nationals were taking care of business on the East Coast, where they were swept by a Phillies team that started a lineup of bench players in the finale after clinching the N.L. East, the Mariners polished off Oakland.

Over the course of six desultory months — general manager Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren were fired midway through the season — the 2008 Mariners had yet to put together a three-game sweep at Safeco Field. But with the opportunity to draft a once-in-a-generation pitching prospect hanging in the balance, the Mariners swept the A’s at Safeco Field.

A message could have been delivered from the front office to the clubhouse: Losing not only is permissible, losing is preferred. It’s not a novelty. Giving a less-than-stellar effort late in the season, for the chance to land a top draft pick, became such a problem in the NBA that the league implemented a draft lottery in 1985.

The Mariners had lost 14-of-15 going into the final weekend. Had they lost a couple of more times, there would have been no suspicions, no inquiries from the commissioner’s office.

But a hopeless team honored the sport and played to win, which meant losing Strasburg to the Nationals. Touted as a future Hall-of-Famer out of college, Strasburg, 29, will need some big post-prime years to end up in the Hall of Fame.

Still, he’s Stephen Strasburg. Think the Mariners injury-depleted rotation couldn’t have used the 28 starts the right-hander gave Washington last season? He went 15-4, with a 2.52 ERA. He was selected to the N.L. All-Star team and finished third for the Cy Young Award.

Were Strasburg entrenched as Seattle’s No. 1 starter, Dipoto wouldn’t have been desperate for Ohtani. But Dipoto was desperate, largely because the 2008 Mariners stumbled into a lost weekend and exuded professionalism. They played to win.

Once upon a time, I believed in the notion of karma payback. I believed that while doing the right thing might not produce immediate dividends, somebody up there is keeping score.

In a world where where playing to win is a mistake, where praising a person’s abilities is a mistake, I’m not sure what to believe anymore.

Oh, well, baseball’s winter meetings begin Monday in Orlando, and Dipoto will be in the middle of the mix. I hope he swings a deal that turns out to be a steal. This will revive my faith in karma payback, and ease my suspicions that somebody up there has been too busy to keep score.

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