Mariners make changes, strides in 2016

New GM Dipoto, manager Servais lead Seattle's 10-win improvement

Mariners make changes, strides in 2016

SEATTLE -- The operative word for the Mariners in 2016 was "change." From the team's ownership group to the general manager, field manager, coaches and a large chunk of the roster, new faces were in new places.

And as the calendar closes, it's fair to say the general direction seems extremely positive, even while the primary goal loomed just out of reach as Seattle came up just shy of landing a postseason berth despite a 10-win improvement in the American League West standings.

GM Jerry Dipoto isn't one to preach patience, as evidenced by his 32 trades in the first 14 months of his tenure, but he does recognize the big picture at play as the new regime made its mark with fresh approaches across the board.

"We built a foundation this year," Dipoto said. "Organization-wide, we built a foundation that I think will breed winning."

That included a farm system that saw all seven of the Mariners' Minor League teams reach the postseason, as well as a Major League club that showed its resilience time and again -- from its eight walk-off wins to its late-season push in the AL West to its ability to overcome a club-record 19 players going on the disabled list, including four members of the Opening Day rotation.

"We didn't do it with great performances from one or two stars," Dipoto said. "We did it with contributions from everyone."

And that played perfectly into Dipoto's initial goal after taking over the Mariners, which was to build up the floor around the team's core of standouts -- Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager -- to create better balance and a more competitive roster from top to bottom.

Seager's two-run home run

There remains work to be done on that front, but large steps were made. Here are the five top storylines from the past year:

5. Where'd this guy come from?
Among the multitude of roster moves made by Dipoto, one of the biggest proved to be a simple role change for top pitching prospect Edwin Diaz as he was moved to the bullpen in Double-A Jackson in mid-May. At the time, no one imagined the hard-throwing 22-year-old would adapt so quickly that by June, he was promoted to the Mariners and by August he'd taken over as the team's closer. Featuring a 100-mph heater and a filthy slider, Diaz racked up 18 saves in 21 opportunities and an impressive 88 strikeouts -- with just 15 walks -- in 51 2/3 innings in his rookie season as he solidified the bullpen, and he was a big reason why the club made a late surge at an AL Wild Card spot by going 34-24 after he inherited the ninth-inning role.

4. The King needed some time off
As Hernandez turned 30, the former AL Cy Young Award winner dealt with a lingering injury for the first time in his 12-year career, and his absence proved costly. The Mariners were 17-26 during his seven-week absence with a strained right calf, and he wound up falling short of the 200-inning mark for the first time in eight years with 153 1/3 frames in his 25 starts. Even when healthy, the longtime ace struggled to live up to his considerable reputation as he went 11-8 with a 3.82 ERA, walked a career-high 3.8 per nine innings and struck out a career-low 7.2 per nine. The ERA was his highest since 2007, and Hernandez vowed to work this offseason to regain his place among the Majors' elite.

3. The new guys in town
Dipoto's arrival at the end of the 2015 season signaled the start of a complete Mariners makeover. The new GM hired Scott Servais to be his skipper, and while Servais had never managed at any level, that move proved seamless as the former big league catcher and longtime personnel director never missed a beat in leading a team with more than 50 percent turnover to an 86-76 record. If all the on-field change wasn't enough, longtime CEO Howard Lincoln announced his retirement in late April as Nintendo of America sold its controlling interest in the club to a group of minority owners led by Seattle businessman John Stanton, who was approved as the new CEO in August.

On the Right Track

2. Cano gets back to being Cano
Even with all the change, it was one of the returners -- second baseman Cano -- who was the most influential in the team's turnaround as he bounced back from a tough 2015 with one of his best seasons in an outstanding career. After undergoing double hernia surgery in the offseason, Cano arrived at Spring Training with a renewed bounce in his step and he proceeded to unleash a terrific season, in which he hit .298/.350/.533 with 39 home runs and 103 RBIs in 161 games. Cano earned his seventh All-Star bid, and his 39 homers set a career high and tied Rogers Hornsby (1929) for the most ever by a second baseman at age 33 or older.

Must C: Cano's two-homer night

1. The Kid goes to Cooperstown
In the franchise's 40th year, the Mariners achieved a significant milestone with Ken Griffey Jr.'s election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Who better than Junior to be the first to wear a Mariners cap in Cooperstown? After being elected with the highest voting percentage in history, Griffey was inducted into the Hall on July 24 in front of an estimated crowd of 50,000. And at the end of an emotional speech, Griffey turned his hat backward, flashed his trademark grin and thanked everyone for "making this kid's dream come true." Two weeks later he was in Seattle, where he became the first Mariner to have his number retired as the familiar "24" was hung above the center-field wall at Safeco Field.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.