Jerry Dipoto's offseason has been amazing. The new general manager of the Mariners took over a dire situation: a club that went 76-86, had big money tied up into Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz, and maybe the worst farm system in the majors. To make matters worse, the team finished with the 11th-worst record in the majors, when the top 10 picks are protected when signing a free agent who was given a qualifying offer. And your marching orders: Given the ages of Cano, Hernandez, Seager and Cruz, build a team that can win now. That's all. Welcome to the Pacific Northwest, Jerry.
Dipoto has remade the team, wheeling and dealing like that annoying fantasy owner who makes a million trades every season. I don't know whether the team is better, but he identified the team's problems and has worked to improve those areas: more athleticism in the outfield and better OBP in the lineup. He has been clear in his plan and executed that plan with few resources at his disposal. It's been a dizzying series of maneuvers.
He traded for Leonys Martin to play center field, buying low after Martin's poor 2015; he dumped Mark Trumbo's contract to free up money to sign Nori Aoki; he traded for starter Nate Karns and center-field prospect Boog Powell; after losing Hisashi Iwakuma in free agency, he quickly traded for Wade Miley; he picked up catchers Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger, who maybe aren't Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, but Mariners catchers were all-time bad at the plate in 2015. Now he has picked up a first baseman who hit .277/.360/.460 with the Brewers.
The reason: The Mariners needed a first baseman. They traded away Trumbo and Logan Morrison, but no big loss there: Mariners first basemen hit .235/.301/.401. Jesus Montero wasn't going to be the answer.
Lind has had a perplexing career. He broke out with a monster 2009 season with the Blue Jays when he hit .305 with 35 home runs. He then spent the next three seasons as a below-average hitter. Then he figured things out again, and in the past three seasons -- two with Toronto, one with Milwaukee -- he hit .291/.364/.478. He draws some walks and doesn't strike out excessively. He can't hit lefties (.193/.245/.279), so he probably needs a platoon partner, maybe Montero, or maybe a free agent like Mike Napoli.
He's just a one-year solution, but the Mariners should see their best production from first base in a long time. Look at where they've ranked in the majors in wOBA at first base:
Russell Branyan hit 31 home runs in 2009. That was the last time the Mariners received league-average first-base production.
The impact: The Mariners now can roll out a lineup like this:
SS Ketel Marte
The bench looks a little better as well. Besides the left-field platoon, you have Chris Taylor and Luis Sardinas as backup infielders and Shawn O'Malley as an infielder/outfielder, plus maybe the platoon partner for Lind. If Iannetta bounces back, the Mariners could receive league-average-or-better OBP from the first eight spots in the lineup.
The rotation now lines up as Hernandez, Miley, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Karns. It's very thin, with only Vidal Nuno and Mike Montgomery in reserve. The bullpen has Joaquin Benoit and Charlie Furbush and a bunch of question marks after trading away Carson Smith and Tom Wilhelmsen. Of course, the bullpen was a train wreck in 2015, so it's unlikely to be worse. Dipoto will probably look to add another free agent or two there.
Is this a team that can contend? On paper, you still put them behind the Rangers and Astros, but there's not a powerhouse team in the division, at least not at this point in the offseason. They'll need Walker to take a big leap forward and Paxton to actually stay healthy. The bullpen will have to sort itself out and Aoki and Marte will have to get on base. But the outfield defense will be better and the team should score more runs, even given some regression from Cruz after his monster season.
Maybe the best part of all this: At least the Mariners have a plan. It's been a long time since a Mariners front office had one.