The Mariners looked well on their way to ending their 17-year playoff drought. But a recent slump, and the surging A's, has fans clamoring for the team to make some big moves Tuesday.
Two outs away from his perfect game in 1965, Sandy Koufax threw the 1-2 pitch outside for ball.
Wanting a strike call, the crowd booed heavily in response, prompting the great Vin Scully to say “a lot of people in the ballpark now are starting to see the pitches with their hearts.”
You couldn’t blame the fans. They were gripped by the moment. But as we all know, emotional investment can lead to irrational thinking.
Which brings me to Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto.
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With the A’s closing in on Seattle in the wild-card standings, the spotlight on the trade deadline just quadrupled its wattage. A postseason berth has gone from highly likely to highly uncertain, which is causing panic among long suffering fans of the M’s.
The frayed nerves are understandable. It has been 17 years since this team reached the playoffs, which is the longest in major professional sports in America.
I just ask one thing of Dipoto — look at this situation with your mind, not your heart.
It isn’t a stretch to say the Mariners’ record suggests they are better than they really are. Run differential isn’t a tell-all stat, but when you’re 19 games above .500, and have scored as many runs as you’ve allowed, you owe Lady Luck a thank-you card.
With that in mind, a GM might be tempted to mortgage the future for a rental, figuring another chance to end this playoff drought might not present itself again. One has to be careful about that, though.
The Mariners may be winning more often than their talent suggests, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of talent there. Three of their four All-Stars are under club control through the end of the decade, as is pitcher James Paxton, who’s likely their most prized player of all.
Pitchers Mike Leake, Marco Gonzales and Wade LeBlanc, all of whom have made major contributions to the team’s success? Locked up for at least three years. Same is true of most of the Mariners everyday player core save Nelson Cruz.
I’m not saying this team is going to be 20 games above .500 at the All-Star break every season through 2021, but it’s not unreasonable to think they could be in a similar position for years to come.
That doesn’t mean Dipoto shouldn’t give up prospects for established talent he thinks can help the team. It doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be looking at every possible option to make the M’s better. I would just be hesitant to let the 17-year drought, a surge by the A’s and a slump by the M’s sucker him into making a detrimental, emotion-based decision.
For the most part, Jerry has been good about that. He hasn’t had a history of chasing rentals at the expense of quality players. And he resisted the temptation to overpay any free-agent starting pitchers last offseason, which appears to have been the right call. His brain is what earned him that contract extension earlier in the month, and it’s what will keep the M’s in contention moving forward.
There is one other area where emotion could interfere with logic. If the Mariners went out and got another starting pitcher, that might bump Felix Hernandez from the rotation. He has clearly been the No. 5 guy in the rotation this year, and signs that he will find anything close his old form are sparse.
Could the potential drama affect what Dipoto does? Maybe. Should it? No.
To Dipoto’s credit, he has already made “win now” moves this season. Picking up Denard Span and Alex Colome in exchange for the young arms of Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero in May is a prime example.
He has also been on record several times that he doesn’t have “a five-year plan” but wants to win every season. While he has certainly missed on some trades and prospects (Chris Taylor, anyone?), the logic behind his moves have been sound.
There is no doubt the M’s have flaws. They have the 15th best OPS and 15th best ERA, and if Dipoto can find a way to boost either of those, or add speed, or improve the defense, great. I just want him to be smart — even if fans don’t.
In the end, they’ll be glad he was.