The jaw-slackening moments that have pickled the Mariners’ play recently have led to something equally remarkable: A mid-season calm that may forestall any moves at or before the July trade deadline.
“Jack and I have already talked about this,” manager Eric Wedge told reporters before Sunday’s game in Houston. “Unless it’s something that raises the bar, I don’t think we’re going to do anything. We’re not going to move somebody just to move somebody.”
After a 12-5 triumph Sunday over the hapless Astros made for six wins in a row, and 11 in the past 16, Wedge’s remark signaled a sign of progress — a diminished perversion for self-inflicted wounds.
One of the most crippling aspects of an absentee ownership that doesn’t know how to win is the unease that settles across the franchise. As attendance and ratings dwindle, the baseball people don’t know whether to act in the short term to save their jobs or in the long term to do what is best.
The dilemma is hardly unique to the Mariners, but with 11 winning seasons and four playoff appearances in 36 years, they seem to have earned a seventh-degree black belt in dithering.
The trade deadline often seems to bring out the worst in decision-making because the buy-or-sell question can never be answered easily when the scrutiny is most intense and results immediate. As frequent sellers in mid-July, the Mariners are usually in a position of weakness as they attempt to swap veterans for prospects while trying to fool a steadily diminishing fan base that the club hasn’t quit on the season — again.
In the off-season, Wedge and GM Jack Zduriencik tried and failed to get contract extensions from ownership. That meant the classic dither was on.
Off-season acquisitions were limited to a spate of one-year contracts for veterans who could help win games in 2013 while top prospects Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino were being seasoned, instead of served too quickly, such as was the case with Dustin Ackley.
But Zduriencik, after an 8-15 start that followed some big spring-training results, had to bust a move. With jobs on the line, Zduriencik said what the hell and brought up the kids.
So far, so good. But it’s way too early to say Franklin, Miller and Zunino are beyond the inconsistencies that have plagued Ackley, Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders.
In fact, the rookieness of all three has been obscured by moments of big fireworks such as Franklin’s grand slam Sunday and Miller’s two-homer night Friday (all against the woeful Astros pitching). Say what you will about ex-Mariner Erik Bedard; he knows how to pitch, and Saturday held the allegedly formidable Seattle lineup hitless for 6.1 innings. The fact that the Mariners managed four runs and a win deploying one hit was freakishness akin to coaxing a filibuster out of Marcel Marceau.
What is more substantive about the current uptick is that it provides a reason to let the season play out as it is, instead of exercising the dubious option of pursuing more prospects, only to throw them off the 40-man roster a year from now in another dither-storm.
The addition of proven middle-of-the-lineup hitters such as Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and, to a lesser extent, Mike Morse, has taken pressure off young hitters to carry the day. While all three vets could leave after this season, the Mariners are tied for second in the American League in home runs, a fact that by itself is not predictive of team success but does suggest a big franchise problem was solvable.
Aided by moving in the fences, there is now some data showing veteran free agent hitters that Safeco Field is no longer the barren wastelands of Mordor. So there is tangible momentum.
The recent uptick wouldn’t preclude, say, trading reliever Oliver Perez to a desperate contender for a major-league-ready prospect, because a Perez replacement is relatively easy to come by. But the Mariners’ chances to get better sooner are improved by finding out who among the young position players, protected by vets, is a long-term major leaguer, either in Seattle or traded to another team after major-league value has been established.
It is a help to Mariners fans to keep in mind that while the current run seems dazzling, given the minimal expectations surrounding the team, the Dodgers and Rays are each 20-5 over the last month. That is hot. The Mariners are merely warm around the edges.
Zduriencik and Wedge have made their gambles with personnel changes, and they have acquired a bit of house money. Given the Mariners’ trade deadline history, best to play, as Seahawks coach Chuck Knox loved to say, the hand already dealt.