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The Elite Eight: Jerry Dipoto’s Offseason Targets

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Who are the apples of Jerry’s constantly roving eye?

Seattle Mariners Photo Day
I’ll never tell
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Yesterday an article came out on Fangraphs about the Mariners’ #AllCenterFielderOutfield, a clear ripoff of our own Isabelle Minasian’s #AllCubanOutfield, but this is not the time for bitter recriminations and accusations of copyright infringement. (Not...yet, anyway). What I do want to talk about is this Jerry nugget of insight quoted in the article:

“We had eight targets this offseason,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said this weekend at the SABR Analytics conference. “We got them.”

Now clearly, the clubhouse in Seattle has had to install a turnstile with all the ins and outs, so who might these mysterious eight gentlemen be? My guesses, from most-assured to least-assured:

  1. Drew Smyly - As I tweeted back when the details of this deal came out, find someone who wants you like Jerry wanted Drew Smyly. “We focused on him from the get-go,” said Dipoto at the time. Many of the other targets on this list don’t come into play without acquiring Smyly. The athletic outfield, the flyball pitching staff—it’s all anchored by Smyly. I shudder to think of what would have happened if Jerry hadn’t been able to get him.
  2. Jean Segura - ‘Tis better to have loved and lost Jean Segura than to have never loved Jean Segura at all, but ‘tis awesome to have lost him in a deal for Zack Greinke and, five years later, to get him back. SS was an offensive black hole for Seattle and Jerry made his signature deal—as he did last year with Tampa Bay—early-ish in the hot stove season. It’s clear Segura was high on his target list.
  3. Mitch Haniger - While Segura was target 1A, it’s become obvious that Haniger was target 1B. He is definitively one of Jerry’s Kids: young, athletic, high baseball IQ (and just plain IQ-IQ).
  4. Marc Rzepczynski - Jerry hates spending money in free agency. This fact alone puts Scrabble on the list, aside from the fact he was signed while there were still several lefty relievers available. Scrabble is the bathroom tile you put in that costs an extra dollar per square foot and maybe you could find it cheaper elsewhere but this one is here now and you know in six months you won’t even remember the extra cost, you’re just glad to finally not have carpet in there anymore. (Yes, in this analogy Vidal Nuño is the 1970s bathroom carpet.)
  5. Jarrod Dyson/Mallex Smith - I’m counting this as a twofer, because Jerry himself said the club had spent a ton of time trying to acquire Mallex Smith, who they held for all of forty-five minutes before flipping him in the Smyly deal, mostly because he’d been able to acquire Dyson and Haniger.
  6. Danny Valencia - Valencia was one of the earliest trades this off-season, and to get him, Jerry gave up the other half of the Dan Vogelbach trade in Paul Blackburn. Since we all know how much Jerry loves a Serviceable Pitcher, it’s clear that Valencia—who strikes me as a less-volatile Adam Lind—was desired for his ability to be “platoon-plus” in case Vogelbach proves not to be ready.
  7. Taylor Motter - I might not have put Motter on this list a month ago, but looking at the trade in hindsight, it starts to become more clear. Motter was acquired along with Richie Shaffer, who was promptly DFA’d all over MLB like Billy in a Family Circus cartoon, while the Mariners gave up okay-ish pitchers Andrew Kittredge and Dylan Thompson as well as Dalton Kelly, winner of the Edgar Martinez Productive Team Plate Appearances award in the minors this year. Kelly, in particular, surprised me because of the emphasis on PTPA, and in one of the earliest #EdgarHOFs I wrote about his ability to get on-base and how it closely followed the namesake of his award. So really, I think the way to consider this trade is Motter for Kelly: again, like with the Zack Littell trade, Jerry is showing he’s willing to trade talent from the lower levels of the minors to get talent he feels can help the team win now. Finally, when I heard Motter interviewed the other day it struck me how much of a Jerry’s Kid he is—like Haniger, Motter is intelligent, well-spoken, dedicated to his craft, and prides being a good teammate over any personal glory. We also know how familiar Jerry is with Tampa Bay’s system, so I feel entirely comfortable labeling him a target.
  8. ??????

I honestly have no idea who that eighth spot might belong to, except I’m almost certain it’s a pitcher.* Gallardo is the obvious choice, but my gut feeling is that he wasn’t a target, per se. Perhaps he was, but my suspicion is that Jerry had an idea he would be able to get more out of Seth Smith than Gallardo, which is why the deal took so long to develop. Divish said on one podcast he’s troubled by a scout who described Gallardo as “cooked,” and his early appearances haven’t done much to dispel that notion. I think Gallardo was a buy-low option who plugged a hole in the rotation and could be had for some money plus a player who was redundant in a crowded Seattle outfield, especially if Servais is trying to get Cruz reps in the outfield (note: this isn’t an endorsement of putting Cruz in the outfield so much as it is an acknowledgement that managers manage both players and people). But was he a target, at least in the same way the other players on this list were? This is all very wooly logic, I acknowledge, but my instinct says no.

A tiny part of me wonders if Dillon Overton or James Pazos (who Jerry gave up actual pitching talent for, in the form of Zack Littell) belongs in that spot, but I feel more compelled to believe it belongs to one of two people: Max Povse or Chris Heston. While I think both are viewed as valuable commodities in the organization, Dipoto gave up Alex Jackson for Povse, so I might give him the nod as the primary driver of that deal. Rob Whalen was also part of that trade, but the organizational attention seems to be more on Povse, who’s gotten a longer look so far at spring training. Heston is my sleeper pick for most surprisingly valuable member of the rotation in 2017, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s the Tall Wall who caught Jerry’s eye and made him go all must-have-the-precious.

Who do you think the Elite Eight might be? Are there even eight, or is this some kind of JeDi mind trick?

*Except it might be Carlos Ruíz. But that’s sort of a boring answer, so I skipped over that possibility. Plus, if it was Ruíz who was a target, why hang on to Sucre for so long?