This season might be the most disappointing yet for the Mariners in the Safeco era; but the fact that there are so many other contenders for that distinction is an indictment in itself. The first half of 2015 was notable mainly for under-achievement.

Share story

While the Mariners were away for the All-Star break, Safeco Field celebrated its Sweet 16 birthday. Boy, time flies. I remember back at the delivery, when everyone fawned over the cute little fella and gushed about how bright the future would be.

Hasn’t worked out that way. Oh, the ballpark is still a gem, and the profits have rolled in. But as the edifice nears adulthood, the product contained within has hit hard times. Those halcyon early days of record wins (116 in 2001), sellout crowds (a major-league-leading 3.5 million fans in both 2001 and 2002) and playoff appearances (two of them, anyway — none in the last 14 years) are but a distant memory.

This season might be the most disappointing yet for the Mariners in the Safeco era; but the fact that there are so many other contenders for that distinction is an indictment in itself. The first half of 2015, launched with a tidal wave of optimism, was notable mainly for underachievement and a maddening inability to sustain momentum.

Sunday

Mariners @ N.Y. Yankees, 10:05 a.m., ROOT Sports

The ballclub has two weeks to force its way back into relevancy before the magic day arrives. No, I’m not talking about the trade deadline on July 31, because it’s unlikely the Mariners will concede hopelessness, even if it’s staring them in the face.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

I’m talking about July 30, when the Seahawks report to training camp, and the collective local focus shifts abruptly to Renton. If the Mariners are to intrude even minimally into that single-minded obsession, they will have to start bunching victories in a manner that has totally eluded them thus far. Otherwise, welcome to life as an afterthought, at best, and a punch-line at worst — again.

Here’s what else is hanging over the Mariners as the second half gets underway: nothing less than the future of general manager Jack Zduriencik and, thus by extension, manager Lloyd McClendon.

This season was to have been Zduriencik’s valedictory, his vindication for the growing pains of a slow build. But the youth movement he was to have masterminded has been mostly a mirage. One after another, the would-be offensive building blocks have tumbled, from Jesus Montero to Justin Smoak to Dustin Ackley to Mike Zunino.

The prime success story — and it’s a good one — is Kyle Seager, with Brad Miller showing signs of being an above-average shortstop with the bat. But it’s not nearly enough to prop up an offense that is almost odds-defying in its annual tumble to the bottom in virtually all relevant stats. The signing of two would-be studs — Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz — has done absolutely nothing to change that.

Meanwhile, little immediate help awaits in the minors. Keith Law of ESPN this week revealed his updated list of top 50 minor-league prospects with nary a Mariner listed — not even among the honorable mentions. Two recent top picks, D.J. Peterson and Alex Jackson, have both had their struggles this year, and their ascension is on hold.

Zunino is flailing mightily, his .160-ish average and 180-pace strikeouts screaming out that he needs a minor-league tutorial, and a breather from the nightly failures. But the organization has no suitable replacement, so Zunino is left to fend for himself, at the potential cost of completely severing his confidence.

The Mariners are not completely buried, by virtue of league-wide parity and a second playoff wild card. But each week without an extended winning stretch makes the math that much more problematic. Sure, it’s theoretically possible, but the credibility of that miracle scenario is dwindling daily. It’s gone from daydream to pipe dream — with “so you’re saying there’s a chance” warming up in the bullpen.

It’s hard to see how Zduriencik survives without a revival — and even harder to make a case for him to do so. Through seven years of backfiring player acquisitions and drafts that haven’t been productive enough — not to mention three managers and counting – the eventual payoff has always been promised, but remains undelivered.

McClendon was a manager of the year candidate last year, but he has been unable to push the right buttons in 2015. His fortunes are tied to Zduriencik, who almost certainly won’t be allowed to tinker with the manager’s seat yet again — nor should he. The Mariners can’t keep changing skippers every couple of years. The issue is the talent on hand, far more than the deployment of that talent.

By Zduriencik’s own admission, the Mariners aren’t likely to do much at the trade deadline. They already played their one bullet three weeks ago by trading for Mark Trumbo, the kind of low on-base, high-power slugger that has always been Zduriencik’s weakness. So far, Trumbo has fulfilled the first part of that equation, without the benefit of much of the latter.

But the GM’s history doesn’t inspire much confidence in an impactful deadline deal, anyway. The players acquired by Zduriencik in previous years in June and July are notable mostly for how inconsequential they’ve been, right down to Chris Denorfia and Austin Jackson last year and Trumbo this year. His most useful deadline pickup has been Charlie Furbush, but that was at the high, and unnecessary, cost of Doug Fister.

Bottom line, it’s hard to have confidence in Zduriencik’s maneuverings at the deadline, whether the Mariners are in buy or a sell mode. If it’s stand-pat mode, as appears most likely, that means the Mariners will be relying, with slight alterations, on the same blueprint with which they entered the season.

That blueprint once induced mass optimism. Now it seems like a roadmap to oblivion for the Mariners, and its architects, who may need a miracle to witness Safeco’s 17th birthday from the inner sanctum.