Now that the the MLB trade deadline has passed, a hard truth.
The Mariners roster has been incrementally upgraded, perhaps enough to catch the decaying Oakland A’s, losers of 19 of their past 33 before Friday’s games, for the fifth and final playoff spot.
But the Mariners also would have to finish better than than one among the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, teams whose improvements this week surpass the Mariners’ efforts. Even the A’s added quality veterans OF Starling Marte, C Yan Gomes and INF/OF Josh Harrison, at the deadline.
Playoffs are now more unlikely. All of the rivals showed more aggression than the Mariners.
As general manager Jerry Dipoto himself put it, “A lot of teams around us got a lot better today.”
Now, the only way to get past those teams this season would be to have OF Jarred Kelenic, OF Kyle Lewis, 1B Evan White, C Cal Raleigh and SP Logan Gilbert tear up August and September by getting close at once to their forecasted potentials.
And maybe get newcomer INF Abraham Toro, 25, to solve for the second base production, even though he’s had two career games at the position.
Possible? Yes. Probable? No.
Even if the Mariners did get the final playoff spot, that would mean a cross-country flight to one among Tampa, New York or Toronto, where they would be heavily favored to lose the single do-or-die game.
The aforementioned youngsters have made the big time (although White is lost for the season after hip surgery). But in 2021, they are understandably offering glimpses, not sustainability.
Dipoto executed this week his prime directive: Do no harm. Which is a splendid mandate for a doctor. Dipoto, however, is in the entertainment business.
“I’m pleased with the things that we’ve done,” he said in a video conference after the deadline Friday. “I wish we could have done a little bit more, but it didn’t work out for us. We were committed to not blocking the young players from getting experience.
“We knew we were walking a fine line, but we tried to walk it. I think we did it as effectively as we could.”
Translation: Wait ’til next year.
The Mariners are last in batting average, 20th in team ERA and 19th in defensive runs saved. Yes, the averages are dragged down by a slower seasonal start, due in part to a litany of injuries and two COVID-19 episodes, that have required use of 57 players. To get to 55-48 before Friday’s series opener at Texas has been a remarkable, entertaining feat, marked by an MLB-best 23-8 mark in one-run games.
Nevertheless, they are an average team with a flair for the absurd outcome — as well as the toxic moment.
The latter happened Tuesday when players, fresh off an astounding come-from-behind win Monday over the Astros, found out that a clubhouse leader, reliever Kendall Graveman, was traded across the field to Houston — a deal that, as a stand-alone, even Dipoto agreed didn’t make sense.
We later learned that Dipoto had a deal nearly done to replace Graveman with Tampa Bay closer Diego Castillo, which went down Thursday. But because the Astros wanted a second reliever, Rafael Montero, who was about to pass through waivers Monday, the Mariners had to pull the trigger at the worst possible time — with the Astros in town. In addition, the Astros wanted to avoid having Graveman, who isn’t vaccinated, take a commercial flight to catch up with the team.
Since none of those matters were known, the clubhouse erupted. What will linger from the episode is this quote in the Seattle Times from an anonymous player:
“It never changes. They don’t care about winning. How do you trade him and say you care about winning? And you trade him to Houston? It never changes.”
The observation, which went national, was a devastating through-point connecting the decades for the only team in baseball to have never reached a World Series. It climaxed a series of unfortunate events, which cynics can say began in 1977.
Dipoto has since tut-tutted the players’ outbursts.
“They have their own opinions — they deserve to have that,” he said. “So I can’t tell you what they should feel. But logically, I feel like we we just made the team better in the present, and we feel like we made the team considerably better for the future. That’s always been the line that we’re trying to walk.”
Indeed, in three deals, he largely kept the predators from the high-value nest, giving up only 3B Austin Shendon, ranked 12th among Mariners’ system prospects by Baseball America. So logically, yes, sense was made.
But in trade deadline period of unusual intensity, 10 players who made the 2021 All-Star team were traded. According to @EliasSports, that is the most All-Stars ever to change teams in a single season.
The Mariners were not successfully involved in any of those transactions at the adult table.
Expectations for this season never realistically included the playoffs. But given the unexpected relevance, there is an unquantifiable psychological value for a hapless franchise and its fan base in the pursuit of even that single drop-dead game, and its lead-up of September drama. Especially with this group of several new homegrown personalities and talents destined to be here for several years.
Adding four players in Toro, closer Castillo, reliever Joe Smith and No. 5 rent-a-starter Tyler Anderson, does no harm. But how it was done didn’t help. And when it was done, amid an MLB-wide eruption of transactions creating high intrigue for the next two months among contenders, was a failure to recognize that in the entertainment business, timing is everything.
This was no time to connect with a lingering trope that the bosses don’t care about winning.