The massive gloom, the enervating buzzkill of Tuesday, seemed to have lifted ever so slightly by game time Wednesday, before the Mariners ended the homestand that was supposed to determine the fate of their season.
And might indeed have done just that.
Manager Scott Servais said before the game, “One thing about players, and certainly our group, they have the ability to compartmentalize. They have a job to do — go out and do it. It takes time, like anything does.”
Time will determine whether the gut punch of the Kendall Graveman trade derails the joy ride that peaked with Dylan Moore’s grand slam Monday, and cratered with news that clubhouse favorite and bullpen anchor Graveman had been dealt. To division rival Houston, no less. Or if the Mariners can put aside the disappointment that had players railing about “betrayal” by the front office and continue pursuit of a playoff berth that suddenly doesn’t seem nearly as close as it did in the euphoria of Monday.
Time — a much shorter margin of it — will also determine if general manager Jerry Dipoto will deliver on a series of subsequent moves that he promised would make the Graveman deal much more palatable. The first one — acquisition later Tuesday of veteran Tyler Anderson from Pittsburgh to fill the gaping hole at fifth starter — was a nice start.
The real question is if there is a magnitude of “win-now” additions in the next two days that will make the players and fans re-evaluate their bitterness over the shockingly mistimed Graveman trade. You can say the players need to let it go; as Servais said, they will move past it. But you simply can’t underestimate the human element. Mariners players not only watched a beloved teammate leave, to augment an opponent they were starting to believe they could catch for the division title; they also had to absorb what they perceived (correctly) as a trade designed more to help them in future years, at the precise moment they were looking for, and deserved, a boost now.
From a pure baseball standpoint, analyzed in a vacuum, it was a justifiable deal. Graveman walks in two (or three) months and pursues free agency. Infielder Abraham Toro, who was acquired with reliever Joe Smith for Graveman and reliever Rafael Montero, could be in Seattle four years and maybe blossom into the player that made him the No. 3 prospect in Houston’s system two years ago.
But this isn’t a vacuum. It’s real life, with real feelings. For general managers these days, it’s all about club control. That’s the industry buzzword and coin of the realm — acquiring players the team can watch grow and develop with cost certainty for years to come. Toro has that all-important club control that Graveman didn’t, to go with his substantial potential.
Here’s the thing, though. In his zealous pursuit of club control, did Dipoto lose control of the club?
Optics matter, and these were the worst optics imaginable. The afterglow of what easily was the most rousing, galvanizing win of the season — maybe of the past 10 years — was still shining bright Tuesday. The town was pumped about the Mariners in a way that hasn’t happened much over the past decade. Those good vibes should be lovingly nurtured.
But into that positively charged atmosphere, less than 24 hours later, came news of the sort of trade that a rebuilding team makes, not one focused on ending a 19-year playoff drought. Maybe that sort of dispassionate viewpoint is the right one; a good general manager doesn’t worry about what people think. They should follow their heart and have the courage of their convictions.
Yet one could still feel the life sucked out of the Mariners in the final two games of the Houston series, post-Graveman deal. Where there once were ebullient, happy players, all one could see Tuesday and Wednesday were grave men. The Mariners lost both games to Houston after the trade, 8-6 Tuesday and 11-4 Wednesday. The momentum of Monday’s storybook win had grinded to a halt.
Times reporter Ryan Divish’s story on the trade keenly details the anger in the Mariners clubhouse, a mood that Servais on Wednesday deemed “dramatized” and “blown out of proportion.” But quotes such as “It never changes. They don’t care about winning” and “this team deserves an explanation” (and many others from players) were very real, and very revealing.
So now we wait for the other shoe to drop. Will Dipoto land another starter? A reliever to augment the bullpen and compensate for Graveman’s loss? A potent bat to boost an offense that ranks near the bottom of MLB? Some or all of the above?
Some impact acquisitions by Friday’s deadline could flip the mood. A series against Texas could flip the momentum. And Dipoto might well be vindicated for this trade, ultimately. Toro has shown enticing pop in his two games with Seattle, launching a homer in both of them to give him four homers in his past four games.
Yet it’s undeniable that a cloud hangs over this team that wasn’t there two days ago, when it was all sunshine and rainbows. It won’t be permanent. I was around in 1998 when there was a near mutiny in the Mariners clubhouse over the perceived meager return in the trade of pending free agent Randy Johnson to Houston. But minor-leaguers Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama became key members of two playoff teams.
In other words, history might be kinder to the Graveman-Toro trade than current hot takes. And a few deft moves in the next 48 hours could alter the conversation dramatically. It shouldn’t be lost in the trade aftermath that even with these two losses to Houston, the Mariners just went 4-3 on this homestand against their two biggest division rivals. They are still in very legitimate playoff position. At seven games over .500, the Mariners are far beyond expectations for this team.
But in the process of infuriating two vital constituencies — the fan base and the clubhouse — Tuesday, you have to wonder if the disruption to Good Vibe City will have been worth it.