Assessing 2023 MLB front offices: Jerry Dipoto, Justin Hollander and the Seattle Mariners disappointed

Jerry Dipoto and Justin Hollander put together an unusually so-so year running the Seattle Mariners front office.

Seattle Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto and GM Justin Hollander.
Seattle Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto and GM Justin Hollander. / Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Dipoto/Justin Hollander front office WAA impact for Seattle Mariners: +0.5 games. Rank in MLB: 14. Rank in division: 2.

The Mariners front office had been the sole fiefdom of Jerry Dipoto since the end of the 2015 season. So when Justin Hollander was elevated to GM from his former gig as assistant general manager, it represented Dipoto’s first share-the-wealth approach to duties he had previously held – solely — in Arizona and Anaheim as well.

Perhaps Hollander added a leavening effect. The results of their shared responsibility were pretty tame by the previous gamble-first standards Dipoto had set, especially in Seattle.

Four times since 2016, the short-term impact of Dipoto’s moves on the Mariners actually maneuvered them out of postseason contention. That’s a pretty disastrous thing to say about a front office boss, but Dipoto’s deals did it in 2016, 2017, 2020 and 2021.

He rolls big ... and that means he sometimes loses big.

With Hollander added to the mix, the M’s front office impact moderated to a modestly positive +0.5 games as measured by the net Wins Above Average of the front office’s moves. For a team that missed reaching a second straight postseason by the margin of just one game, that +0.5 impact creates a whole series of "what might have been" opportunities.

WAA is used in this series of front office evaluations because it is a zero-based version of WAR, therefore enabling valid approximations of impact against wins and losses.

The Dipoto-Hollander front office made 50 such personnel moves since the end of the 2022 postseason, of which 21 helped the Mariners. Another 27, however, were harmful; the final two were neutral in value.

Two might-have-beens, neither of them involving huge names, stand out.

In December, the Mariners front office opted to fill a gap at second base with Brewers veteran Kolten Wong. He cost Seattle two players, Abraham Toro and Jesse Winker.

Entrusted with the position, Wong batted .165 before being released in early April. By then, his play had set Seattle back by -1.9 games.

To offset the loss of Winker, the Mariners in January signed free agent outfielder A.J. Pollock, late of the Chicago White Sox. By mid-July, Pollock had worn out his welcome, carrying a .173 average and -1.0 WAA. He was released.

Here’s the full short-term statistical profile on the 2023 performance of the Dipoto/Hollander front office. Since the appointment of Hollander makes this a new leadership team, there is no long-term impact to be measured. Again, all figures reflect group Wins Above Average.

  • Acquired by trade, waiver claim or purchase: 14 players, -0.1 net impact
  • Signed as a free agent or extended for multiple seasons: 11 players, -2.5 net impact
  • System products: 8 players, +2.1 net impact.
  • Traded away, waived, sold, released or lost to free agency:  17 players, +1.0 net impact

Try as they might, Dipoto and Hollander found only one player in 2023 capable of moving the value needle by as much as one game. In mid-April, with Wong already floundering, they reached into the Mariners’ farm system and pulled up middle infielder Jose Caballero.

Mostly splitting time at second and short, Caballero only hit .221. But his defense combined with an ability to reach base (his walk rate was 10 percent) elevated his WAA to +1.5, suggesting a useful if light-hitting player.

Even with a returning nucleus that included Julio Rodriguez (+3.2), J.P. Crawford (+3.0), George Kirby (+2.3) Luis Castillo (+1.7), Logan Gilbert (+1.4) and Cal Raleigh (+1.4), it turned out to be not quite enough.

Dipoto has a deserved reputation as a gambler in his personnel decisions. Four times in recent seasons (2016, 2017, 2020 and 2021), that gambler’s instinct backfired on him, taking his team out of contention. The data suggests Hollander may have been a moderating force in 2023.

But if so, that moderation came at a time when the Mariners front office needed one more daring move (one that worked) to elevate them that final game to a second straight postseason berth. They never got it and, in the end, came up average.

And "average" is not a term often attached to Jerry Dipoto, with or without a new right-hand man helping to guide his moves.