I recently took a vacation, which meant I recently missed some Mariners trades. The trades weren’t conditional upon me being somewhere else; they were conditional upon the passage of some amount of time. The Mariners subtracted from the pitching staff to add to the outfield. They then subtracted from the outfield to add to the pitching staff. Later, they subtracted from the minors to add Mallex Smith, then they subtracted from Mallex Smith to add Drew Smyly. I was asked last Friday why the latest pair of moves didn’t go down as a three-team maneuver. I don’t know, but, this way, Jerry Dipoto gets to double-add to his tally.
In general, baseball fans are mostly preoccupied with the goings-on surrounding their own favorite teams. Plain and simple, it can be hard to know much about everything else that’s taking place. Dipoto, though, is transcending that, developing an active trader reputation that fewer and fewer can ignore. It’s become a punchline, Dipoto sometimes resembling a caricature of himself. It’s tempting to compare Dipoto to a hummingbird, but as luck would have it, a hummingbird has recently taken up temporary residence outside our bedroom window. A picture:
Even a hummingbird can sometimes be seen sitting still.
It’s easy to say, “okay, Jerry Dipoto seems to trade a lot.” It’s one of those feel things, and it’s definitely accurate. You don’t need to know much to know that Dipoto’s level of activity is unusual. Infrequently, however, are people given context. How often are there trades? Any kinds of trades. What’s normal for a team? What’s the spread?
Good news! As with so many other things, Baseball-Reference makes this easy. Wikipedia tells me that the Mariners hired Dipoto on September 28, 2015. This Baseball-Reference Mariners transaction log goes back to October 1, 2015. Conveniently, that’s almost perfect overlap, and it’s not like Dipoto made any moves in his first day or two in office. Within that log, then, we see 35 trades. Not all big, not all small, but all trades, requiring discussions with other teams. This will be our Mariners data point.
From there, it’s a matter of gathering the other data points. Then we can have the whole landscape. So I examined every single team’s Baseball-Reference transaction log, going back to 10/1/15. Here is a plot of observed trade activity, with no effort made to distinguish between various types of trades. This is only as complete as the information available at Baseball-Reference, but, if that’s not complete enough for you, I don’t know how to help. Spoiler alert: Dipoto wins!
As mentioned, the Mariners lead the pack, responsible for 35 talent swaps. The Braves are in a fairly distant second place, with 23 trades to their name. The gap there of 12 trades — there’s a three-way tie for ninth place, at 12 trades. The difference between first and second place would itself rank in the top 10 in terms of greatest activity. Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners have, indeed, been behaving like crazy people.
The overall average is about 11 trades per team, with a median of 9.5. Where you’d expect an average team to be involved in roughly 7% of all trades, the Mariners have been involved in nearly a quarter. To put this in context in one more way: Mariners, 35 trades alone. The Twins, Mets, Giants, Cardinals, Indians, Reds, and Rockies: 33 trades, combined. Over the past 15 or 16 months, the Mariners have made more trades than all the bottom seven teams put together.
The biggest gap has been about two and a half months. On January 12, 2016, the Mariners dealt for Joe Wieland. On March 30, they dealt for Nick Vincent. I told you they’re not all big. In fact, they’re mostly all small, with the Jean Segura/Taijuan Walker trade standing out as a particular exception. Dipoto’s moves have mostly been more like tweaks, and every front office makes tweaks, but Dipoto has most strongly preferred to go the trade route. That’s the route that might be most tricky, given competing priorities and negotiating strategies, but, maybe Dipoto’s a charmer. Maybe he makes it feel like any and every conversation could be fruitful. Clearly, there’s something about him.
It’s a tremendous contrast between first and last. I mean, it’s a tremendous contrast here between first and anybody, but bringing up the rear, we have the Reds and Rockies, who’ve made just three trades in the window examined. The Reds didn’t do anything between selling Aroldis Chapman and selling Jay Bruce. And the Rockies have been quiet, at least in this way, for quite a while. In November 2015, they traded Tommy Kahnle. The next day, they traded Rex Brothers. Last January 28, they traded Corey Dickerson and a prospect for Jake McGee and change. And that’s it. No trades since, despite any number of rumors. The Rockies are less than two weeks shy of going an entire year without making any kind of recorded trade. Maybe they should call Jerry Dipoto. Or maybe they just hate talking on the phone.
I don’t know how much there is to really read into. So much of this depends on the situation, and Dipoto was just taking over an organization with a mediocre big-league product, and an empty farm. He’s tried to repeatedly trade up, borrowing often from the lower minors for safer or closer pieces. I would imagine he’ll calm down now for a while. The present roster is good enough. So I don’t know to what extent this reflects Dipoto loving trades, or the Rockies avoiding them. A certain percentage of this is all about circumstances. But there’s no denying what’s already taken place — Dipoto has, indeed, been swinging trades like a relative madman. And when you talk to him, it’s probably helpful to know he loves to just reach an agreement. His predecessor made such conversations a lot more unpleasant. At some point, then, the trades will resume. Dipoto’s too smooth, and maybe too addicted, to stop.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.