In a season that is tantamount to extended spring training, any game outcome or personnel development can’t be considered large, because there is little incentive to care about either for 2019. Nevertheless, Sunday and Monday may be seen as benchmark days in the larger plan of general manager Jerry Dipoto to get the Mariners competitive before the polar ice caps melt.
Sunday, the Mariners had a small wish turn into a small reality when they were able to unload 1B/OF Jay Bruce, 32, and some of his onerous contract. He was traded to Philadelphia for a Class A outfield prospect Jake Scheiner, 23, and induce the Phillies to pay $3.5 million of the $21.3 million balance due on the contract through 2020, according to the Associated Press.
If that doesn’t seem like much of a deal, it isn’t. But it’s better than zero, which is what was staring at the Mariners.
The market for aging, expensive, limited veterans is small, made worse by the fact that the post-season berths are already almost decided before the midpoint of the season. Numerous teams besides the Mariners are tanking, so the drama that used to attend the July 31 trade deadline is vanishing because fewer teams are one player away from contention.
Regarding Bruce, all parties understood he was a temp hire as part of the seven-player player deal with the Mets in December that got the Mariners out from under the odious contract of 2B Robinson Cano. But it also cost them All-Star closer Edwin Diaz.
In exchange, the Mets forced the Mariners to accept the remaining two years and $26 million on Bruce’s contract. They also gave Seattle two journeymen relievers, Anthony Swarzak and Gerson Bautista, and two good prospects, OF Jarred Kelenic, 19, and RHP Justin Dunn, 23.
The prospects were the goal, and both are playing well in the minors. Cano and Diaz are not doing so well with the Mets (28-31).
Diaz is 1-3 with two blown saves and a 3.22 ERA with 13 saves. He’s already given up five homers — his total all of last season. Before going on the injured list with a strained quad, Cano was hitting .241 with a .658 OPS, three homers and 13 RBIs. His only noteworthy feat was getting benched for a failure to run out two ground balls.
Bruce did well enough in his short Seattle tenure — a .212/.283/.533 slash with 14 homers and 28 RBIs in 47 games in left and right fields, as well as the first 15 games of his career at first — and was a clubhouse leader. He was never part of the future, but Mariners had to give him playing time to create a modest market.
The Phillies have the National League’s second-best record at 33-26, but have lost four in a row and have a spot in the outfield next to Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen after Odubel Herrera was arrested in early May for domestic violence allegations.
In 38 career games in Citizens Bank Park, Bruce has hit .294/.354/.559 with 10 home runs, so he has to be happy.
“I figured this would be the situation,” he told reporters pre-game in the clubhouse as he packed his bags. “You never really know when it’s going to happen. It’s bittersweet. I really like the group of guys here. I got to know some of them and had great relationships.
“It’s part of the business, though. I get to go somewhere I have a chance to win, and at this point in my career, that’s pretty paramount for me.”
The Mariners’ next goal is to create the same fate for 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, 36, who is making $21.6 million this season, with a $5 million buyout option for 2020. They will likely have to eat a handsome chunk or that contract too. But for those of you new to this sensibility, throwing money away is also part of the customs and traditions of tanking.
As mentioned above, Monday also looms large: It’s the start of the annual amateur draft.
The Mariners have four selections in the top 100, starting with No. 20. While it is easy to presume, given their draft history, that this is akin to handing a metal fork to a toddler near an electric outlet, Mariners fans have to be brave because, well, stepping back from the draft is a step too far, even for them.
Obviously, results of the two days won’t be known for years. Not light years, just ordinary ones. But that’s the spectrum that must be embraced.
Sunday’s daily horror, a 13-3 loss to the Angels (box), was the 13th defeat in the past 18 games, yet dust in the wind.
The Mariners gave up double-digit runs for the 13th time this season — the next-worst team has done it nine times — and their 7-21 record in May was not only tied for the worst in MLB, it produced a minus-71 run differential, which was the worst. Haplessness is the planned outcome.
“We’ve played this game a few times this year,” said a disgusted-sounding manager, Scott Servais. “I’ve had enough of it, quite frankly. We will switch up some things tomorrow.
“When you don’t throw strikes, when you don’t play defense, when you don’t make plays, that’s hard to watch . . . it’s bad baseball. I know we’re young in some spots, we’re inexperienced in other spots. But you’ve got to do the right things.”
It’s a grim situation for Servais. But he signed up for what he thought was the right thing: Extended spring training.
It’s hard to see what can be done with the lineup and roster when the mission is to let go of helpful players such as Bruce, Cano, Diaz, Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura, James Paxton, Mike Zunino and Alex Colome for a distant goal that may not be realized.
But at least there was one Seattle winner Sunday. To repeat: “I get to go somewhere I have a chance to win,” Bruce said.