The Seattle Mariners announced Sunday morning that they have promoted Justin Hollander to the position of Executive Vice President and General Manager of Baseball Operations. Hollander had previously occupied the title of Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Baseball Operations.
While it’s easy to bounce off these terms, which are at least in part a bit of title inflation, the gist is that this is a reward for Hollander who has long been Jerry Dipoto’s right-hand man, and also a way of fending off potential hiring efforts from other clubs. Jerry Dipoto remains the President of Baseball Operations, and Hollander will continue reporting to Dipoto as such, however the press release makes it clear that Hollander will be in primarily charge of day-to-day operations and decision-making for the Mariners going forward.
The organization has demonstrated significant trust in Hollander’s decision-making for years, allowing the longtime Dipoto confidant to make trades while Dipoto has been out of commission, as well as negotiating major moves like the recent Luis Castillo extension. From the press conference announcing the move, Dipoto and Hollander already have split the work of preparing trade discussions 50/50, and given the lengthy relationship between Dipoto, Hollander, and manager Scott Servais, it is unsurprising trust. “When you trust someone, you can go really fast, and in this business, you have to go fast,” said Servais.
Hollander says he was inspired to get into baseball operations by watching Sandy Alderson—another former lawyer—build the Oakland Athletics’ dynasty of the 80s and early 90s. In today’s press conference, the M’s new GM - their 10th in club history - discussed his journey to this point at length. Hollander was a lawyer for four years and in 2008, decided he desperately wanted to get into baseball, so he took a job with the Angels titled “assistant of player development and scouting” that paid, he figures, sub-minimum wage by the time his 100+ hours of work a week were accounted for. That plus the expense of living in Orange County quickly drained his savings and caused him to go into debt, but Hollander stuck with it and in 2011, was promoted to work under then-Angels GM Jerry Dipoto and Assistant GM Scott Servais—the beginning of a relationship that would change the trajectory of his career, and of baseball in Seattle.
Servais was emphatic in his advocacy for Hollander, recounting the effort to lure Hollander up to Seattle initially. “We need you. We need you here, we’re going to build something awesome, and you have to come,” Servais recalled telling Hollander, and that connection has proved fruitful, “we argue, we disagree, we find common ground and work together. To stay and work with those two guys is a huge part of this.” While Dipoto has always maintained a vital and overarching influence, Hollander’s day-to-day influence has already been pronounced in the eyes of Servais, noting “I probably talk to Justin more than Jerry,” complimenting Hollander as an excellent communicator and listener.
For Hollander, it’s been a process of growing into comfort and appreciation for his opportunity and the city he’s chosen.
“I think this city has been begging for us to win. And the last couple of years, last year down the stretch and this year, coming into the stadium every day and feeling that electricity after we win big games, walking back to my office or down on the concourse and just hearing the stadium shaking—let’s go Mariners—it’s been a playoff environment here for the entirety of the last two Septembers. And seeing how much it means to people, I can’t help myself but get on Mariners Twitter and see the stories from fans they’ve posted about where they were in 2001 and what it means to them. It’s absolutely incredible to see the laughs and tears they’re sharing. I think being part of that moment is really cool.”
The move follows a trend in MLB to have multiple top executives, spreading the load and decision-making effort somewhat more broadly. The move is somewhat more of a paper one given the dynamic already in place, with Dipoto noting “it’s probably more of a codification of our present roles,” however it likely has additional value (in addition to a probable pay bump). It is common (though not necessarily a mandate) that if a front office member is to be interviewed for a role of equal or lesser status (e.g. going from GM in Seattle to GM in Detroit), part of their contract includes that they must receive their current organization’s permission to do so. As an assistant GM, the Mariners would not have had the standing to retain Hollander if he interviewed with other organizations for a GM role. Hollander was a finalist two years ago for the Angels job ultimately awarded to Perry Minasian, and the Mariners were extremely loathe to lose him. Now, hopefully, Hollander will be compensated and recognized in such a way as he’ll be well-incentivized to stay.