TACOMA, WA. — General manager Jerry Dipoto offered two interesting — and telling! — comments last week regarding the Mariners’ plans for the upcoming offseason.
Dipoto made it clear in an interview with Corey Brock of The Athletic that the Mariners strongly want to retain pending free-agent designated hitter Nelson Cruz.
That’s not particularly surprising, given Cruz’s still-potent production and the likely impact of his departure on what has been (at least to me) a surprisingly anemic attack.
Dipoto reiterated the club’s interest in Cruz in a subsequent interview on KIRO (710 AM) by declaring: “Everybody wants Nelson here. There’s no question about that.”
Those comments, not surprisingly, generated a buzz throughout the Mariner Nation as it comes to grips with (barring a miracle) a 17th straight year without postseason ball.
We’ll examine the Mariners’ chance of retaining Cruz — and the fallout in succeeding or failing to do so — in a future column. For now, though, let’s look at another Dipoto comment that surfaced in his KIRO interview.
Dipoto hinted at major trouble within the organization as in his assessment of the Mariners’ disappointing performance over the last two months.
“In times of struggle,” he said, “you find out a lot about character — how people will answer in times of adversity.
“Frankly, that was one of the highlights of this team in the first half of the season, and it’s been one of the lowlights in the second half of the season. We have not responded to adversity in the same way.”
My first thought in listening to this was: Am I hearing this right?
In sports, when you talk about a lack of character in the face of adversity, you’re effectively saying that club, at least in the collective sense, quits when things get tough and that a losing culture is accepted with a shrug.
There might be no more damning accusation that can be leveled at an athlete.
Dipoto’s words seemed so harsh, so unusual in coming from a club official — let alone its general manager — that, again, I told myself that I must be overreacting and placing a greater weight on his words than he intended.
But there was more.
“When teams pull apart,” Dipoto said, “when they no longer bind together, and they don’t fight through the adversity. I’m not telling you anything you’re not watching. You’re seeing it every day, and we’re accountable for that.
“We have to figure out how to get that back on track.”
Well, now…maybe I’m still overreacting. I don’t know. I readily acknowledge my direct interaction with club personnel has been greatly reduced since I retired as a beat reporter after last season.
From a distance, for what it’s worth, I see the Mariners as a club that remains on pace to exceed expectations. They played well above their head through three-plus months before experiencing a painful regression to the mean.
Even so, winning 87-to-90 games would, in each of the previous four seasons, position an American League club as a viable wild-card contender. (The Mariners are 82-67 with 13 games remaining.)
That would suggest the Mariners were, at least to some degree, merely unlucky this season in falling short. (Thanks, Oakland!) Hearing Dipoto’s comments, however, potentially casts everything in a different light.
Remember, too, that Dipoto is a former player who has spent his lifetime in the game. He knows what his words imply.
If he and other top club officials believe they have anyone on their roster who quits in the face of adversity, they need to dump that player as soon as possible for the best possible return even if that means no return.
And if the Mariners believe their roster is riddled with such players, then this is a real mess that might require a complete overhaul. If so, this organization might be light years away from ending its postseason drought.