John McGrath

McGrath: Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto on trail that Pete Carroll blazed

On the September morning he was presented as the general manager of the Mariners, Jerry Dipoto called it “a job I’m tickled to receive. I’m looking forward to what comes next.”

Dipoto’s enthusiasm was reminiscent of Pete Carroll’s first words to reporters after the Seahawks hired him to serve as head coach and executive vice president in 2010: “I am so fired up.”

What Dipoto and Carroll didn’t say is that they were looking forward to a massive roster makeover, purging players who didn’t fit their specific ideas about winning in Seattle.

During the 11 weeks since he was hired, Dipoto has added or deleted 43 players from the 40-man roster. The Mariners opening day lineup in 2016 will be different from its 2015 counterpart at first base, catcher and, depending on the pitching hand of the Texas Rangers starter, as many as three outfield positions thanks to a platoon system. The bullpen and bench, meanwhile, will be virtually unrecognizable from those of last season.

Dipoto’s willingness to show everybody the door but a handful of core veterans mirrored the immediate reconfiguration of a Seahawks team that had finished 5-11 in 2009.

In consultation with his handpicked general manager, John Schneider, Carroll wasted no time in trading starters (guard Rob Sims, defensive back Josh Wilson) and backups (reserve quarterback Seneca Wallace). Those incapable of returning anything in a trade were cut (fullback Owen Schmitt, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadah).

Carroll is accurately perceived as a player-friendly coach, but if he doesn’t believe the player can produce for him, he’s more George Patton than George Bailey.

I recall former USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson, the Seahawks first-round draft choice in 2008, showing up at Carroll’s introduction. Jackson had done little to prove why the Hawks once were so impressed with him, but under Carroll he was a four-year starter and first-team all-conference selection.

A few weeks into his job, Carroll was asked about Jackson during a radio interview. The questioner assumed Jackson’s collegiate roots boded well for him.

Answered Carroll: “Once in a while, players are taken in the first round and his coaches from college wonder, ‘What in the world was that team thinking?’ 

When I heard that response, I figured Jackson didn’t have much of a future in Seattle. He was traded to Detroit, midway through training camp, for a sixth-round draft pick.

The Seahawks acquired another ex-Trojans star, running back LenDale White, in April of 2010. When it was learned he’d failed a drug test and faced a four-game suspension, White was released in May of 2010.

Character issues, so essential to former Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell, were not at the forefront of Carroll’s rebuilding agenda. He was searching for athletes custom-built to thrive at CenturyLink Field.

“As a defensive background guy, knowing we can call on the 12th Man on third down, we need to take advantage,” he explained on Day One. “We need to make sure we can speed this thing up on the edge.”

Things soon were speeded up on the edge with the acquisition of defensive end Chris Clemons from Philadelphia in exchange for the not-as-speedy defensive end Daryl Tapp.

Dipoto has been on a similar quest for athletes whose skills are compatible with Safeco Field. Centerfielder Leonys Martin, for instance, is a threat to chase down anything hit in the gaps to his left and right. If he manages to improve on some of the dismal offensive numbers he put up last season with the Rangers, great, but Dipoto didn’t trade for Martin’s bat. He traded for the glove, among the best in the business.

Dipoto is a proponent of the “buy-on-the-low-and-hope-that-he’ll-rebound” school of roster acquisitions, something else he shares with Carroll. The 2010 midseason trade for running back Marshawn Lynch, an underachieving malcontent in Buffalo, cost only a fourth-round draft pick in 2011 and a fifth-rounder in 2012.

This is what’s known as a heist.

The rejuvenation of the Seahawks was not accomplished without hiccups and some head-scratching moves, such as the attempt to groom San Diego backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst as a replacement for Matt Hasselbeck.

It’s easy to forget that after Carroll coaxed the Hawks into the second round of 2010 playoffs with a 7-9 record, they went 7-9 the following season. The metamorphosis from losing team to winning team took about 2 1/2 years.

Something to think about if Dipoto’s new-look Mariners are out of contention in July.

jmcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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