Over the next week, Lookout Landing will provide a comprehensive preview of the 2016 season. The bullpen, the best case scenario, and the status of the farm system. All of it. To kick things off we look at how this team came to be.
The 2016 offseason was one of great change in Seattle. President Kevin Maher relieved former GM Jack Zduriencik of his duties before the 2015 season had come to a close, and former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto was hired to take his place. Dipoto wasted no time getting started, meeting with incumbent manager Lloyd McClendon after the season was over and ultimately deciding to part ways with his old-school style of management. Replacing McClendon is Scott Servais, who has never worked on the bench, but served as Dipoto's right-hand man in the Angels front office and played over parts of 10 big league seasons.
Dipoto's first move was to trade often-frustrating shortstop Brad Miller to the Rays along with Danny Farquhar and Logan Morrison for starter Nate Karns, reliever C.J. Riefenhauser and outfielder BOOG! Powell. A week later, the Mariners replaced Farquhar in the back of the bullpen by trading for Joaquin Benoit, a 38-year-old reliever with a wicked changeup. It took just a couple days for another reliever to be moved, as Tom Wilhelmsen was dealt to the rival Texas Rangers for center fielder Leonys Martin, a defensive wizard who has had some success with the bat in the past. In perhaps the least surprising move of the offseason, Dipoto and Servais brought in an old friend in catcher Chris Iannetta, who spent the last four seasons with the Angels and will take over for Mike Zunino as the starting backstop.
Dipoto and Servais have set a new organizational philosophy they call "Controlling the Zone" (aka C the Z), and it has shown in a couple of moves. First, the team dealt free-swinging Mark Trumbo to the Orioles for a backup catcher -- Steve Clevenger -- and salary relief, and then signed Norichika Aoki and his contact skills to take Trumbo's former place in the outfield. Adam Lind -- one of the league's best hitters against right-handed pitching and the owner of above-average strikeout and walk rates -- was acquired for low-level prospects to take over for LoMo at first base.
On the pitching side, Dipoto acquired his old friend Wade Miley from the Red Sox for young bullpen ace Carson Smith and back-end starter Roenis Elias, upgrading the rotation while cutting down on free passes. The team also lucked out in bringing back Hisashi Iwakuma after he failed a physical with the Dodgers, but Dipoto and the rest of the team should at least be complimented for seizing the opportunity when it presented itself.
While the lineup was upgraded, the defense improved, and the rotation deepened, it came at the expense of the bullpen. With Fernando Rodney being let go last year and Smith, Farquhar, and Wilhelmsen traded, not much remains of a ‘pen unit that looked excellent just 12 months ago. After bringing in Benoit, Steve Cishek was signed to a two-year pact and immediately named the closer despite struggling through last season for two different teams. Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook both arrived from Oakland, though both are on the shelf right now due to similar injuries, likely caused by the poop water they had to wade through with the A's. Blake Parker signed a minor league deal, as did likely roster candidate Joel Peralta. If these names don't inspire hope, you're not alone. The bullpen will be a nightly heart attack, but the process was sound: acquire undervalued arms, throw them all together, and see what happens. Hopefully a shaky season won't deter Dipoto and Co. from their mission.
It was an active offseason in Seattle, and one that inspires hope for the future under the current regime. The front office entered with a plan and a vision, and were able to execute to the fullest. The window is closing and the system is barren, but Dipoto may have managed to hold it ajar while not mortgaging the future. We still need to see how the new regime handles player development and the draft, but when it comes to constructing a big league roster, they've proven their worth.