An obvious question regarding the Seattle Mariners’ hiring of Jerry Dipoto as general manager Monday was answered in the first sentence of the team’s press release.
The last name is pronounced dih-POE-toe, a good thing to know because I’d also heard dih-POT-toe.
Now that the POE from POT in Dipoto has been clarified, more puzzling issues await, beginning with the future of Lloyd McClendon. A manager of the year candidate in 2014 when the Mariners contended until the final day, McClendon was unable to pull similarly effective strings this season.
A manager can’t be blamed for assembling a lineup filled with replacement-level journeymen, or for the transformation, virtually overnight, of a bullpen that had no fear last year into a bullpen plagued by self-doubt. McClendon could only play the cards he was dealt, which explains why there will be a press conference Tuesday introducing Jack Zduriencik’s successor.
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More important than McClendon’s sweet-and-sour record is his potential — or lack thereof — to work with Dipoto, an advanced-statistics advocate whose belief in analytics has yet to reach baseball’s old-school community.
And while McClendon might be amenable to putting total trust into complex stats, his mentors have included such old-school alums as Jim Leyland and the late Don Zimmer. Feel free to connect those dots.
Dipoto resigned in July as Angels general manager amid a not-so-secret feud with skipper Mike Scioscia, who is as old school as Oxford. I’ve read conflicting reports on how personal the feud got — it intensified when Dipoto fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, Scioscia’s close friend — but nobody doubts the irreconcilable difference between Dipoto and Scioscia was analytics.
Dipoto gave Scioscia detailed scouting reports, and Scioscia ignored them. Were this any other organization, the GM almost always prevails in this kind of power struggle with the manager. Not the Angels. Owner Arte Moreno regards Scioscia as royalty, and Dipoto was done after 3 1/2 years.
As long as Dipoto is in charge, in other words, his manager must be on board and in sync with performance-evaluation methods that were obscurities a decade ago. Little else matters.
Dipoto and McClendon could learn they share the same interests off the field and have loads of mutual friends — they were big-league peers in 1993 and 1994, when McClendon’s career as a utility player was winding down and Dipoto’s career as a relief pitcher was beginning — but if Dipoto senses any doubt whether the information channel from front office to the field will be clogged by a stubborn skipper, stay tuned for another introductory press conference at Safeco Field.
Once Dipoto determines McClendon’s fate in Seattle, he’ll need to put together a to-do list longer than a Russian author’s novel. The Mariners’ player-development system needs still another overhaul.
A succession of prime draft slots in the first round — the only benefit to consistently losing more than 85 times a season — has produced one All-Star position player since 1993: center fielder Adam Jones, who was traded to the Orioles seven years ago.
Complicating Dipoto’s challenge is the fact that time isn’t exactly on his side. Nelson Cruz, a slugger with power legitimate enough to keep Safeco Field fans in their seats when he steps to the plate, is 35. Robinson Cano, a borderline Hall of Famer two years into a 10-year contract, turns 33 in October, and ace pitcher Felix Hernandez turns 30 in April.
For the sake of these franchise-pillar veterans, a win-now approach is necessary. But how does a team consistently win without an established catcher, first baseman, left fielder and center fielder? How does a team consistently win without a reliable closer? How does a team consistently win when the five-man starting rotation — its purported strength — is reduced to the three-man rotation of Hernandez, Hishashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker?
How does a team win while taking on the task of reinvigorating its feeble farm crop in 2016? Making a brash, high-risk, high-reward trade is an option, and it involves, uh, whom?
When Jerry Dipoto is introduced Tuesday morning at Safeco Field, he’ll be asked dozens of questions no baseball executive can reasonably answer.
But, hey, at least I know how to pronounce his last name. It’s dih-POE-toe, not dih-POT-toe, and in any case, typing “Dipoto” is a whole lot easier than typing “Zduriencik.”
So there’s that.