By BEN McCARTY, OREGON SPORTS NEWS
As the Seattle Mariners continue to shuffle along in the middle of the American League standings, they are part of a group of teams with some decisions to make over the next month and a half. The Mariners enter mid-June eight games back in the American League West standings and five games back in the Wild Card standings, hovering around a .500 record. A second straight trip to the playoffs is not out of the question. Still, the team has some significant work to do to get there, including leapfrogging multiple division rivals to grab any available playoff spot.
The Mariners are where they are because their pitching has been dynamite. They lead the majors in pitching WAR (wins above replacement) by a wide margin, and the pitching staff can usually be relied upon to keep an opponent’s offense in check. On the flip side, the Mariners are where they are because their offense ranks tenth of 15 American League teams. They have shown they can compete against fellow .500 record teams and have pummeled the lowly Oakland A’s seven straight times this year. However, they have crumbled against tougher competition. Against the New York Yankees at the end of May, the team entered the series at the high-water mark of their season at 28-25. They then lost two of three to the Yankees, being outscored 20-7, with their only win coming on a 1-0 extra innings affair where the pitching was again magnificent. To start June, the team had its annual “Get punched in the face by a team from Texas” series. In recent years, the Houston Astros has been delivering spirit-crushing defeats. This time, it was the resurgent Texas Rangers, who won three straight and outscored the Mariners 30-9.
After recovering from a slow start in April to go 17-11 in May, the team has scuffled to 4-6 in June. The offense has recovered a bit as the pitching has come back to earth a bit in the pummeling by Texas and New York. Jose Caballeros has taken a firm hold on the second base job after Kolton Wong fell off a cliff to start the season and never climbed out, Mike Ford has provided something resembling offense from the Designated Hitter position after AJ Pollock fell off a cliff and never climbed out, and Ty France, Teoscar Hernandez, and Julio Rodriguez have climbed at least partway out the cliff they fell off of to start the season. If the Mariners are going to get any clarity on where they stand before the August 1st trade deadline or even the July 10 All-Star break in Seattle, they will need to start beating some of the teams ahead of them in the standings. They have the chance to do so: They play AL East opponents, who are responsible for the logjam at the top of the wild card standings, 12 times through the end of July. However, they only have four games against a division opponent, Houston, in that same period to make up any ground in the division standings.
If the Mariners fade, not only will it be a massive disappointment and a huge step back for a team that spent years promising world series contention was just over the horizon, it will be a tough pill to swallow because they don’t have many assets to trade to try again next year. On the offensive front, Teoscar Hernandez or Eugenio Suarez could both be dealt, with Hernandez hitting free agency this offseason and Suarez having one more guaranteed year on his contract, but there is no one in the minors close to ready to step in at third base this season or next, and unless the team has a replacement in mind, it doesn’t make much sense to deal Suarez unless an offer blows them away. For pitching, most of the starting rotation is young or under long-term contracts. They could dip into the bullpen to trade veteran arms like Paul Sewald, but the return doesn’t figure to be stunning.
The Mariners are a team built to win now, and in the near future, so a realistic trade deadline may be watching Jerry DiPoto rob Peter to trade Paul by dealing some of the team’s young pitching arms like Bryce Miller or Bryan Woo to try and bolster the offense by acquiring players with a few years for team control. He would then again plead for patience and promise that World Series contention is just around the corner, for real this time, and that the team will really honestly not-kidding I swear I’m not crossing my fingers behind my back, but you also can’t look behind my back spend money on offense this offseason.
There are a few players who fit the mold:
Brent Rooker, Oakland A’s Designated Hitter, Rooker is still under 30 and will still make the league minimum this year. His .265/.366./515 slash line would also look nice in the Mariners’ lineup. With the A’s ownership essentially burning the team to the ground, he may not take a big prospect haul to acquire.
Dominic Smith, Washington Nationals, First Base: Smith signed with the rebuilding Washington Nationals after several up-and-down seasons with the New York Mets. He’s currently putting together his best season since 2020 (with an OPS+ of 86, but still isn’t saying much), but he’s cheap, young, can get on base, and still has an additional year of team control.
Matt Duffy, infielder, Kansas City Royals: The Royals are the second-worst team in the majors, just ahead of the Athletics, and have even less tradeable position player talent. One available person is Duffy, a 32-year-old who will be a free agent after the season’s end and is on a budget contract. He has split time between second and third base and has been decent at the plate. The problem is, pretty much every contender is after back-of-the-roster players who can play multiple positions, so while Duffy theoretically should not take a high cost to acquire, the Royals may have multiple suitors looking to obtain his services.
Aroldis Chapman, Relief Pitcher, Kansas City Royals: On the surface, Chapman makes very little sense for the Mariners. He’s old, despicable, and represents a position of strength for the Mariners. However, if acquiring hitting proves to be too expensive for the Mariners, doubling down on bolstering the pitching staff is also an option. He’s put together his best season since 2019, is cheap, and shouldn’t take much to acquire, as a basement-dwelling team doesn’t have much need for overachieving free-agent-to-be relief pitchers.
Even if the Mariners don’t acquire these exact players, they represent the type of upgrades they can be expected to get this year: Either cheap rentals who don’t demand much in return for prospects or players with multiple years of control who can still help the team going forward even if they don’t make the playoffs this year. While it would be nice to see the team acquire an offensive force at the deadline, there are not many of those to be found among the teams who are obvious sellers, so the Mariners will just have to make do by making a push for the pieces that are made available.