Winter meetings officially kicked off today, and the perception going in is that Jerry Dipoto has had, as the kids would say, no chill. Heck, a full day hasn't even passed and we've already shipped Carson Smith and Roenis Elias to Boston for Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro. We've had active General Managers, and we've had active off-seasons, but the sheer number of moves made by Dipoto prior to Winter Meetings has been pretty surprising and has left us pretty tired. Which got me thinking: is this volume actually unusual or does it just feel unusual? Put another way, where does Dipoto rank compared to other Mariners regimes? To find out, I used Baseball Reference's compiled RetroSheet transaction data to look at each year's pre-Winter Meetings transactions, going back to 2003, Bill Bavasi's first year with the club, through the "Trader Jack" Zduriencik period, to the present day.
A couple of things to note about methodology. First, this transaction data keys off the date the transaction is officially executed by the club and hits the MLB transaction log, not the date the move was first reported or rumored or tweeted. I used the first day of Winter Meetings in a given year as that year's end point, so depending on when the transaction actually hit the tape, there maybe a few fringy cases right around the start of Winter Meetings where a player is excluded. That's why you won't see Chone Figgins on this list, even though his signing was reported a few days prior to the start of the 2009 meetings. Second, I included all free agent signings, waiver claims, and trades before Winter Meetings. If a player was granted free agency and re-signed before the Meetings, like Franklin Gutierrez this year, that transaction is included. If he was granted free agency and re-signed after the Meetings began, he was not.
So, how does the dawn of the Dipoto era stack up? Here are the counts for the Mariners starting in 2003:
Well, look at that. Jerry has made a lot of moves. We're not just making it up! In fact, since 2003, this is the most moves prior to Winter Meetings the club has seen, narrowly edging out the peak Trader Jack years. Here are the pre-Winter Meetings moves, sorted from most to least.
Of course, the sheer number of moves does not in itself tell the whole story. Not all moves are created equal: re-signing bench depth and signing Nelson Cruz have dramatically different effects on an organization. And you can only make the moves available to you; obviously, the market has changed a great deal since Bavasi was at the helm. For those keen to feel good about the beginning of the Dipoto era there is a lot to like, but we should remember that the second and third busiest pre-Winter Meetings off-seasons came under the Jack Z administration in 2010 and 2009. Some of those moves were fine and some of those moves were bad. Doing a lot can demonstrate the clear eyed execution of a strategy, or amount to a lot of inept flailing.
We tend to judge moves in the moment when baseball tells us that we really don't know that much and are bad at predicting things. What we can say is that Dipoto has articulated a strategy for moving the team forward that makes a lot of sense, like acquiring athletic, defensively talented outfielder and high on-base percentage hitters, and seems to have used the pre-Winter Meetings period to make moves that complement that strategy, churning the bottom of the roster and addressing the most terrible of the black holes. Early moves are part of a larger offseason strategy that often takes years to properly judge, except we don't even have the benefit of knowing how the rest of this part of road map will unfold. All we know right now is that Jerry Dipoto has a vision for what he wants the 2016 Mariners to look like, and he won't let the calendar, sentiment, or our collective exhaustion stand in his way.