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.”
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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.