It was over, finally. After a month and a half of turning over nearly 50% of the 40 man roster it seemed Jerry Dipoto was finally ready to rest. There were significant questions as to how improved his team was, but no doubts as to his commitment to his vision. The Mariners were more athletic, deeper, less dependent upon power, a monster less Frankensteinian than the latter age Zduriencik teams. But holes remained, and to wrench the organization to bear his will Dipoto had parted with some of the Mariners best young talent, and most beloved figures. This offseason has taken a lot out of us.
Players come and go, that's part of fandom. But seeing favorites like Brad Miller, Tom Wilhelmsen, Hisashi Iwakuma and Carson Smith leave or traded stings. In the absence of victory we're often left with just the individual storyline, or those players that promise a brighter future. Dipoto took what little we cherished and cast it aside, perhaps for a safer team, but also not a particularly better one.
No one questioned whether the Mariners were different, and few questioned they were smarter. But with the doomsday clock forever ticking on the prime of Cano/Seager/Hernandez even as their contracts march on into infinity this team could not afford to build an 82 win roster and hope for good health/fortune. Something else needed to be done.
We'll never really know exactly how the Hisashi Iwakuma/Dodger marriage fell apart so quickly. Plenty of conspiracy theories regarding what the Mariners knew, or what the Dodgers plans are with the money they were set to spend on Iwakuma abound. For now I'll accept the simple story: The Dodgers, despite having more money to play with than any organization in the game, saw something in Iwakuma's medicals that made guaranteeing him 3 years of pay unacceptable. This news, coupled with the compensatory pick any other team would have to pay the Mariners to sign him, practically gift wrapped him back to Seattle.
Now, that sounds easy, but it's not. Opportunities abound in life. We don't usually get to control what or when they are, but we can be prepared, vigilant, and ready to act. Yesterday morning I used whatever sliver of an authoritative voice this platform grants me to call for the Mariners to barge through the door the Dodgers had left unlocked. To Jerry Dipoto and his staff's immense credit that is exactly what they did. They did not hesitate, and if they needed approval from ownership on Iwakuma's contract they got it in exceedingly prompt time.
This trait, this readiness for action and malleability combined with firmness of vision is what has defined Dipoto's time with the team thus far. Stealing Iwakuma back from the beyond is just the latest and most impactful example. In addition keeping Iwakuma fills the absolute biggest need on this roster. Take a look at the rotation, along with Steamer WAR projections, before and after:
Felix (4.7), Walker (2.4), Miley (1.9), Karns (1.3), Paxton (0.8). Total - 11.1 WAR
Felix (4.7), Iwakuma (2.9), Walker (2.4), Miley (1.9), Karns (1.3). Total - 13.2 WAR
Beyond WAR the addition of Iwakuma allows for the possibility, albeit not the likelihood, that with good health and fortune the Mariners will have one of the American Leage's very best starting rotations. With high upside/low floor pitchers like Iwakuma, Paxton & Walker in the fold the addition of the 200 inning Wade Miley-shaped sponge is exceedingly logical, even if the timing smacks more of serendipity than good planning.
Now, a once paper thin rotation held together by the laughable notion of the Mariners winning three lottery tickets simultaneously now actually has depth. Remember Edgar Olmos? Here's a bunch of pitchers that are better than him:
Felix-Iwakuma-Miley-Walker-Karns-Paxton-Nuno-Montgomery-Sampson-Martin-Coleman-Diaz. Not too shabby.— Brendan Gawlowski (@GawlowskiB) December 18, 2015
Are the Mariners a playoff team now? Who knows. That's the offseason. There is no "is". There are only "may bes".The outfield could still use another legitimate major leaguer, and left-handed pitchers may very well 2010 this offense regularly. Obvious weaknesses remain.
But, and not to sound too trite, David kind of nailed it last night. For the Mariners to be a playoff team next year a lot will have to go right. That's true of almost every good baseball team ever. Jack Zduriencik wasn't incapable of identifying and acquiring talent, he was incapable of getting things to go right.
With every great season it's the narratives that we shape, grow, and revel in that make the experience so fun. If the 2016 Mariners are the team that finally puts a playoff game in Safeco Field for the first time in 15 years we'll look back at yesterday, when Jerry Dipoto saw a crack, wrenched it wide open, and yanked Hisashi Iwakuma through it as The Moment when it all truly started to finally turn our way. For now, we just wait, and dream a little more realistically of tomorrow's joys.