The Mariners, who are on pace for a 74-88 season, should see what they can get for veteran players, particularly those at the end of their contracts.
The most frustrating part of the Mariners’ season actually might be games such as Thursday’s, when they give a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been.
Their 3-2, 12-inning victory over Detroit was well-pitched and tautly executed, with just enough clutch hitting to get the job done. If the Mariners were closer to something that mattered, such as a playoff berth, it was the sort of win that would have sent spirits soaring.
But you can’t assess a season on outliers and dreams. The win finished off a lackluster 3-4 road trip that kept them on their treadmill toward contention. They are now eight games under .500 and on pace for a 74-88 season, which is about the reverse of the record many of us predicted.
For the Mariners, it’s time for realism and hard truths, for dispassionate introspection. The answers won’t be pretty, but they are necessary.
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That’s an exercise going on all around baseball right now. The A’s, who began play on Thursday with an identical record to Seattle’s (43-52) in the very same division, came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t going to happen for them. On Thursday they traded standout left-hander Scott Kazmir, a pending free agent, to the Astros for two minor-leaguers.
“We had to be realistic with where we were as a club,” Oakland general manager Billy Beane told the San Francisco Chronicle. “How we came out after the All-Star break was pretty important. We’re 3-2, but unfortunately we still dropped a couple games with the way the Angels are playing. So with the deadline looming and the market probably soon to be ripe with a lot of opportunities, we thought this was the proper time.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, are widely reported to have also thrust themselves into a seller’s mode, dangling standout left-hander David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, among others, as trade bait. Note that the Tigers, even after Thursday’s loss to Seattle, are 3½ games ahead of the Mariners.
If the A’s and Tigers are sellers, where does that leave the Mariners, with the non-waiver trade deadline now just one week away? I think we all know the answer to that. It’s time to face the reality that a playoff berth is an unattainable goal — or, at best, a goal highly unlikely to be attained without a miracle — and act accordingly.
Certainly, the second wild card is designed to keep teams believing, even when the evidence says otherwise. But because the Mariners have been unable to sustain any sort of winning stretch — they haven’t won back-to-back games since June 30-July 1 — their playoff case is exceedingly dim.
For one thing, time is running out. The season is 60 percent finished, and the division is all but out of reach now that the Angels have built a 10½-game lead.
To even get to .500, the Mariners would have to go 37-29 (.561) the rest of the way. That’s dubious enough for a team that hasn’t put together a three-game win streak since May (and only one longer than that — four games — all season). But to get to 87 wins, which is the Twins’ current pace as the second wild card, they would have to go 43-23.
If you see the seeds of a .652 finishing surge, well, you’ve been watching a different Mariners team than me. Throw in the fact that the Mariners would have to surpass — please hold your applause until the end — the Twins, Rangers, Tigers, Indians, White Sox, Blue Jays, Rays and Orioles — to earn the second wild card, well, there’s only one script to follow. And it doesn’t have a Hollywood ending.
So what does that mean practically for the Mariners? First and foremost, that they should forgo any notion of being buyers, with two exceptions: One, to pick up a veteran catcher who will allow them to send Mike Zunino to Tacoma to work on his stroke away from the glare of the major-league spotlight.
I still believe Zunino is going to be a productive player for them, eventually, and it was great to see him get a taste of success with his game-winning double Thursday. But the Mariners have done Zunino a disservice this year by leaving him to flounder in the big leagues simply because they couldn’t procure anyone to fill the job with even a semblance of competence. The one player who satisfied that requirement, Welington Castillo, lasted 15 days in the organization before being traded to Arizona.
The other possible exception is to acquire a player who would be under club control beyond 2015 and potentially useful in the inevitable rebuild that looms ahead. In other words, a non-rental player, like a Carlos Gomez, to choose just one example. But those come at a much higher cost in prospects, so the risk is higher. And with the increasing possibility that a new general manager is in charge next year, it’s not necessarily a wise path.
Which brings us to the most feasible scenario, that the Mariners see what they can get for veteran players, particularly those at the end of their contracts. That list is topped by Hisashi Iwakuma, a pending free agent whose stock has risen with three consecutive strong starts. Mark Lowe, Fernando Rodney, Austin Jackson and J.A. Happ are other potential free agents who might be attractive to other teams.
I’ve written before that Jack Zduriencik’s previous trade-deadline moves don’t inspire confidence. But to let these players just walk away at the end of the year with no return is foolhardy. The A’s return for Kazmir — especially Jacob Nottingham, a catcher regarded as a future major-league starter — shows what Iwakuma, in particular, could yield in a trade.
At eight games under .500, the Mariners’ focus should be based on realism, not fantasy.