The official decision is made, the press conference is about to happen, and this is real; Jerry Dipoto is officially the handsomest son of a bitch the Mariners have ever employed as a General Manager. There is a mountain of stuff to discuss, and we are certainly going to try and get to a lot of it this week. Jerry Dipotos walks into an interesting position; The Mariners best talents are at the southern-pointed portion of their age curves, and those talents are also locked into contracts that look poised to outlast the talent. Nonetheless, there is reason to believe this team is some better fortune and a retooled bullpen away from contention in the next couple of years. So, what does Dipoto need to do?
Get stronger up the middle
In the past decade the Mariners have spent high draft picks (Jeff Clement, Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller), trades (Austin Jackson), and FA money (Robinson Cano) in an attempt to fill the most demanding positions on the roster, catcher: SS, 2B, and CF. Through it all only Cano, by far the most expensive of the bunch, has managed to stick at a position and provide real, major league production.
With Ketel Marte having the possibility of actually being able to stick at shortstop for 2016 the holes remain at CF and C. With Mike Zunino very probably a full on bust at this point and the catcher position never teeming with available talent Dipoto will need to get creative in order to find even league average production, although almost anything resembling competence will be a drastic improvement over the position in 2015.
As for CF Dipoto's regime will need to quickly evaluate Brad Miller, and whether an offseason dedicated to learning the position will bear fruit. If not, then more hard decisions will need to be made. Brad Miller's athleticism and power are a rare and intriguing blend. While the superstar ceiling appears no longer reachable he is still an asset under club control for years. Here's hoping the Mariners can find a functional spot for him.
Get production from the lower half
Jack Zduriencik was ok to quite good at finding, and retaining top-level major league talent. However he failed time and again at finding ways to build complete rosters. From multi-year deals for Willie Bloomquist to wasting opening day roster spots on the idea of Rickie Weeks learning left field the Jack Z era was a series of poor choices with regards to the seemingly fungible portions of the 25 man.
All of us, well, all of us who remember Y2K can recall when the Mariners fielded perhaps baseball's greatest testament to 1-25 quality in 2001. We know the power of unceasing, never ending competence. There is value in a 1 WAR player sitting on your bench, and there is joy to be found in a roster of players that exist above the Zunino-zone. Find quality major leaguers, Jerry. Don't act like the last 2 spots on the roster serve as cheerleaders/lifetime achievement awards. All the other teams know better.
Rebuild the farm
This one is no deep cut. Jack Zduriencik was hired fresh off winning 2007's Executive of the Year award. As the first non-GM to win the award Zduriencik was being lauded for helping Milwaukee build small town success off draft picks like Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
It hasn't worked. Despite three times having a top 3 overall draft pick, and ostensibly being hire to build the kind of talent pipeline enjoyed by division rivals Texas and Houston the Mariners find themselves with a farm full of busts, underwhelming prospects and blown rotator cuffs. There is talent, there's always talent, but the majority of it is in the low minors, years away from being able to help the big league team in any meaningful way.
Dipoto's track record is A) limited and B) not encouraging as far as draft and development. However, as with almost everything to do with Dipoto's time in LA there is no way we can know how much is Dipoto and how much is Moreno/Bulbous Voldemort. Either way, the Mariners are in desperate need of an influx of cheap, young, positional talent. Even the beautiful, precious Seagers of the world eventually get expensive, and most Martes turn to pumpkins during the offseason.
Get Mark Trumbo and Nelson Cruz out of the outfield
One of the interesting things about Jack Zduriencik's time as Mariner general manager was the various ways he managed to build underwhelming teams. From 2010's historic offensive failure to this year's team comprised solely out of right-handed sluggers with fantasy baseball outfield eligibility, Jack evolved, while the results on the field largely did not.
The idea of a building a team playing half its games in Safeco Field with Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo playing regularly in the outfield is laughable. In an ideal world "How do you feel about Mark Trumbo playing left field?" was a question of every candidate as part of the interview process.
There is no reason Mark Trumbo and Nelson Cruz can't both be Mariners in 2016. I've already stated that Mark Trumbo as a first baseman is something the team should at least consider, and I shouldn't have to make it clear to you, enlightened and cherished reader, that Nelson Cruz needs to be a full time DH.
The greatest teams that ever called Safeco Field home were filled with brilliant defensive players. From Mike Cameron and Ichiro, Bret Boone and John Olerud; it's unlikely that another great Mariner team is assembled without defense being a true priority.
These recommendations are admittedly not exhaustive. Building a great baseball franchise is a fickle alchemy, and there is no definitive Way to do it. Almost every permutation, style, and strategy towards roster assembly and franchise building has worked at some point, just as they've all failed. What makes the difference is knowledge, hard work, organization, and probably a whole hell of a lot more luck than we'd really rather admit. It's time to get to work Jerry, there's much to be done.