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You might remember the Mariners from last offseason, which was when they signed Nelson Cruz to a four-year, $57 million deal and (at least partially thereby) induced 10 of 15 ESPN analysts to pick them to finish the 2015 season as American League Champions.

The 2015 Mariners finished 76-86 and missed the playoffs.

Every season has an equal and opposite reaction, and so the Mariners now have a new General Manager. His name is Jerry Dipoto, and you’ve heard of him because he’s worked just about everywhere: Arizona, Boston, Colorado, and Los Angeles of Anaheim™. You’re about to have heard of him because he’s currently doing a pretty bang-up job of running the Mariners.

Last year, the Mariners had three very good hitters (Robinson Cano, Cruz, and Kyle Seager), two very good pitchers (Felix Hernandez and Carson Smith), and two pitchers who, while not always brilliant, were perfectly solid contributors to the club (Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma). Together, those seven players produced 22.5 WARP in 2015, which is a neat 77 percent (!) of the Mariners’ full-season total of 29.1. It’s also, not incidentally, more than six major-league teams produced last year. The Mariners’ core was not the problem.

Which raises the question: What exactly were the other 18 Mariners contributing last year? Unfortunately, the answer is “not much” (though I’m sure they’re all lovely people, once you get to know them). As a team, the 2015 Mariners were below average defensively (by both FRAA and PADE), walked too many hitters, didn’t strike out enough other hitters to make up for the walk rate, and also couldn’t really get on base as a club. That doesn’t lead to good results for baseball teams in general and, in particular, it didn’t for last year’s Mariners.

And so Dipoto did a rather smart thing this offseason: Instead of scapegoating the players who actually produced (cc: 2000’s Mets; Carlos Beltran), he fixed the problem created by those 18 other Mariners, and left the core (with the exception of Carson Smith) well alone. It’s cheap, as strategies go, and it has the added benefit of being quite probably effective. Here, for discussion’s sake, are the Seattle hurlers who’ve left the organization since the end of 2015, alongside their 2016 projections:

1.0 — The Ancient Mariners, Pitchers

Name

2016 DRA

2016 K/9

2016 BB/9

2016 HR/9

Joe Beimel

5.32

5.2

3.1

1.3

Roenis Elias

4.51

7.5

3.5

1.0

Danny Farquhar

4.21

9.2

3.2

1.1

Rob Rasmussen

4.31

8.0

3.9

0.8

C.J. Riefenhauser

4.44

7.3

3.1

1.0

Carson Smith

3.51

10.6

3.2

0.8

Tom Wilhelmsen

4.58

7.5

4.2

0.9

MEAN

4.41

7.90

3.46

0.99

Before we continue, a caveat: Running the mean of all that data without adjusting for playing time is, in general, a Very Bad Idea. The weighted mean performance of those seven players in 2016 is likely to be quite different from the mean you see recorded in the final row. This is, therefore, not a projection of collective performance, or anything close to it. But, for our purposes, that’s okay, because we’re not trying to project performance here. We’re interested in the type of pitcher Dipoto traded or let walk this offseason, relative to the type of pitcher he acquired.

In that spirit, here’s the new Seattle pitchers for 2016:

2.0 — The New Mariners, Pitchers

Name

2016 DRA

2016 K/9

2016 BB/9

2016 HR/9

Joaquin Benoit

4.19

9.1

3.2

1.1

Steve Cishek

4.43

9.1

3.7

1.1

Ryan Cook

4.65

7.0

3.9

1.3

Justin De Fratus

4.77

7.5

3.4

1.1

Nate Karns

4.45

8.6

3.5

1.1

Wade Miley

4.43

7.4

3.0

1.0

Evan Scribner

3.97

9.4

2.2

1.1

MEAN

4.41

8.30

3.27

1.11

What have we learned? Well, in very rough outline, we’ve learned that Dipoto might have attempted to trade in home run rate (which is higher, in general, among the new pitchers than among the old) for an increased ability to strike batters out, and simultaneously to not walk quite as many. Is this a good idea? Quite possibly. Safeco Field is the fourth-most pitcher-friendly park in the majors, so the thinking in Seattle’s front office might run something like this: “Let’s get pitchers who can pound the zone, and if opposing hitters make contact anyway, let’s let our park help us out.” That could work, especially when it’s paired (as it is) with a general increase in flyball pitchers, and a much stronger defensive outfield.

And what of those outfielders, and the rest of the position players? Here’s the old crowd, presented with the same caveat about means being a Very Bad Idea for projection, but helpful in capturing a profile:

3.0 — The Ancient Mariners, Position Players

Name

2016 TAv

2016 K%

2016 BB%

2016 FRAA

James Jones

0.236

20.0

7.2

-3.0

Brad Miller

0.269

19.9

8.8

0.0

Logan Morrison

0.268

17.5

9.3

0.0

Mark Trumbo

0.271

24.5

6.7

-10.0

MEAN

0.261

20.5

8.0

-3.3

And here are the new folks:

4.0 — The New Mariners, Position Players

Name

2016 TAv

2016 K%

2016 BB%

2016 FRAA

Nori Aoki

0.259

10.0

7.3

2.0

Steve Clevenger

0.249

16.9

6.8

-1.0

Chris Iannetta

0.261

25.8

14.2

-4.0

Adam Lind

0.276

20.1

8.5

-5.0

Leonys Martin

0.247

20.8

6.1

10.0

Boog Powell

0.252

20.8

10.0

2.0

Luis Sardinas

0.216

19.0

3.0

-1.0

MEAN

0.251

19.1

8.0

0.4

Here’s a similar story: the new position players strike out less than those they replaced, they walk about the same amount, and they’re better defenders. Yes, they’re poorer power hitters, in general, than those that came before (that’s why their TAvs are lower, once you dive into it), but perhaps Dipoto is once again building to the park he plays in, and has decided to sacrifice power, which is sapped by Safeco, for other productive offensive and defensive abilities. Or perhaps he expects Cano to bounce back from his hernia-filled 2015 to post enough power to make up for the gap (Cano’s ISOs over the past two years are his lowest since 2008).

Either way, he’s acquired for himself a group of position players who do the things the 2015 Mariners did poorly better, and he’s sacrificed none of his position-player core in order to do so. Meanwhile, the top performer he did sacrifice (Smith) is a relief pitcher, and thus most likely of the bunch to regress in 2016. And, more to the point, the 2016 improvements do nothing to harm Seattle’s future in 2017 and beyond. The most expensive new addition of the offseason (Lind) will be paid just $8 million in 2016, and is a free agent after the season. Not a whole lot of downside risk there. If things go poorly in 2016, Dipoto can begin to think about breaking up his core via trades and building for some far-flung season. But for now, he (and Seattle fans) can watch his team play, and dream on 2016. That’s a fun feeling.

In a division without a clear favorite (despite what Carlos Correa will tell you), this was as good an offseason as any to build around a strong core with inexpensive, effective players who cancel out obvious weaknesses from last season. And that’s exactly what Dipoto and his team did. Last year, the Mariners had a splashy offseason. This year, they had a good one.

Thank you for reading

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bgawlowski14
3/09
Excellent summary. Well done Rian!
rianwatt
3/09
Thanks, Brendan! Much appreciated.
hyprvypr
3/09
Excellent summary! As a lifetime Mariner's fan I found the additions/subtractions to be a 'sum of the parts' gain for the off-season though there is still the very serious and potential dark future with aged players signed to gigantic deals and(much more importantly) the incredibly bad farm system. To me, as a Mariner's fan, it feels like they have a two, maybe three year window to be successful unless they have some Buxton or Machado appear out of thin air.