Even though I’m just getting to know Jerry Dipoto, he’s already rising to the top on my list of favorite Seattle Mariners general managers.
Not that the standards are high, but you get the idea.
Dipoto is that rare sports executive who says what fans want to hear, and then, almost before he’s finished with his thoughts, actually does what he says. The trade with the Rangers for centerfielder Leonys Martin, announced Tuesday, was Dipoto’s third deal in two weeks.
None qualifies as a blockbuster, but each poses a low risk with a high payoff. My kind of trade.
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But here’s what I like most about Dipoto: When he speaks with the media on a trade-related conference call, I learn something about baseball.
Take, for instance, the acquisition of Martin. By any measure — traditional stats or advanced metrics — he slogged through a disappointing 2015 season, when his batting average/on-base/slugging percentage slash line fell from .274/.325/.364 to .219/.264/.313.
Martin went from a 4.6 Wins Above Replacement player who appeared in 155 games the previous season to a 1.1 WAR player who appeared in 95. Complicating the profile was an August demotion to Triple-A that didn’t go well: He broke the hamate bone in his right hand, and when the contending Rangers asked Martin to report to Arizona for a postoperation stint, with the idea of possibly adding him to their playoff roster in October, he refused.
So how does any of this enhance my knowledge of baseball?
Until Tuesday, I figured a player on the heels of such a miserable season — lousy offensive production, questionable attitude — would be about the last guy a general manager identifies as a key component in a trade.
Turns out I figured wrong, very wrong, 180-degrees opposite-of-right wrong.
“Coming off a down year, frankly, is when you acquire guys,” Dipoto explained on the conference call Tuesday. “There was a soft spot in the ability to acquire Leonys, and we took advantage of that.”
Taking advantage of a down year. Wow. That kind of deal-making philosophy is beyond refreshing for the Mariners, whose acquisitions long have been steeped in the belief that it’s best to go after players familiar with recently sustained success.
Third baseman Jeff Cirillo, a high-average doubles machine for the Rockies who couldn’t hit his weight during the second of his two seasons in Seattle, comes to mind. So does Scott Spiezio. A prominent piece of the Angels’ 2002 world championship team who produced solid numbers in 2003, Spiezio was a world-class bust after the Mariners signed him as a free agent.
And then there’s lefty starter Erik Bedard. His 13-5 record and career-best 3.19 ERA with the 2007 Orioles made him an obvious candidate for the Mariners to acquire in an offseason trade that cost them, among others, future All-Star centerfielder Adam Jones.
Which brings us back to the trade for Martin. If former Seattle GM Bill Bavasi had resisted the temptation to put a mortgage on the future for Bedard, Dipoto isn’t in search for the kind of speedy, strong-armed centerfielder required at Safeco Field.
But, hey, what’s done is done. Expect Leonys Martin to prowl an outfield with pedestrian defensive talent at the corners. If Martin is able to replicate those solid batting numbers from 2014, great. That’s a gravy-on-the-dressing bonus.
His main task will be to track down all the fly balls that don’t clear the fence — to intercept some of those that are about to — and to give aggressive base runners some pause about advancing from first to third on a line drive in the gap.
Martin’s 2016 baseball card will show stats that insist his 2015 season was a train wreck, but the Mariners’ new general manager has a way of evaluating potential from a different perspective.
Now I do, too.