DIPOTO’S VOW TO BUILD ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH PAYS A BENEFIT

 Bob Dutton

Bob Dutton

   SEATTLE — We’re about to get a look at the club that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and his staff envisioned before a series of injuries scrambled their plans in spring training and through the season’s early weeks.

   First baseman Ryon Healy, out since April 7 because of a sprained ankle, was activated early Thursday from the disabled list and expected to be in the lineup for the start of a four-game series at Cleveland.

   That pretty much clears out an injury ward that that previously included designated hitter Nelson Cruz, catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Ben Gamel and right-handed pitcher Erasmo Ramirez.

   The lone remaining absentee is reliever David Phelps, who is out for the season after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery — Tommy John surgery — in late March.

   Even so, the Mariners are now as healthy as they can hope to be, which begs the question: Are they good enough to position themselves over the next five months as a postseason contender? 

   There are loads of skeptics even among true-blue believers.

   That’s fine. And deserved. A club that owns the longest postseason drought among the four major North American professional leagues doesn’t really deserve any benefit of doubt. 

   But no matter what happens now, Dipoto deserves credit for having sufficient replacement parts in place to weather this early storm. He placed a high priority on building such organizational depth when he arrived in September 2015.

   What followed was a blizzard of trades, signings and roster claims over the last 2 1/2 years. Much of it generated far more yawns than buzz, but the moves that supplement organizational depth are rarely flashy.

   Organizational depth is what keeps you from cratering when injuries hit. It gets you through. Much is made in these analytic days of a player’s WAR (wins above replacement) rating. Well…organizational depth is replacement-level talent.

   Regarding that, I once had a general manager, whose club was battling injuries, point out: “Everybody says a replacement-level player is better than the guy we called up because of injuries.

   “That’s great if you have a replacement-level player in your organization as an alternative. They’re not as easy to find as you people seem to think.”

   (By “you people,” I like to think he meant talk-radio folks, but he was looking at me. So I’m not sure.)

   The Mariners made due through the first four weeks with a combination of David Freitas and Mike Marjama while Zunino recovered from a strained oblique. They had Ariel Miranda in place while Ramirez nursed a strained back muscle.

   Gamel’s extended absence because of a strained oblique prompted the signing of free-agent Ichiro Suzuki as a replacement left-handed bat. Daniel Vogelbach, after a strong spring, showed some promising flashes while replacing Cruz and Healy.

   That’s organizational depth, and it helped bring the Mariners to Cleveland at 13-10, which matches their best record through 23 games in 10 years.

   The Mariners are also 5-1-2 in their eight series and, notably, responded to a spanking by the Astros, when they lost three straight at home after winning the opener, by winning road series at Texas and Chicago.

   Unless they get swept this weekend in Cleveland, the Mariners will enter May with a winning record for only the second time in the last nine years.

   That’s not to paint what amounts to modest success as a cause for celebration but rather to observe the Mariners didn’t bury themselves when forced to apply several patches to their roster. That’s no small thing.

   Remember last season? They lost 10 of their first 15 games, and five of their first eight series. They never really recovered.

   The Mariners might yet fall apart and flounder through another disappointing summer, but, through Wednesday, they trailed first-place Houston by just 2 1/2 games in the American League West Division.

   Further, they were only one game back in the AL wild-card standings.

   Yes-yes-yes, it’s too early (about four months too early) to be mentioning the wild-card standings but — cliche alert — while you can’t win a race in April, you can lose one.

   The Mariners did that last year. Too many times over the last 15 years, actually.

   That didn’t happen this year, and organizational depth is a big reason. The Mariners have the sort of organizational depth now that they didn’t possess when Dipoto arrived.

   That’s worth noting.