The Oakland Athletics have traded left-hander Scott Kazmir, setup man Tyler clippard and utility master Ben Zobrist to contending clubs in the last five days. All three players are headed for free agency. The Cleveland Indians moved platoon outfielder David Murphy Tuesday. The Rays dealt outfielder David DeJesus Tuesday, too. The Boston Red Sox traded Shane Victorino Monday. The hottest of rumors have the San Diego Padres very involved in talks for several of their players, pending free agents as well as others. The Detroit Tigers are considering selling ace David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
So, to recap, the A’s, Indians, Red Sox and Rays have sold, the Padres appear likely to and the Tigers are feeling enough doubt about their 2015 chances that Price and Cespedes, possibly as well as catcher Alex Avila, could be moved before Friday’s trade deadline.
Why mention those clubs and not those buying or even sellers such as the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies? Because the Indians, Rays, Tigers and Padres all are closer to a postseason spot right now than are the Seattle Mariners, and the Red Sox and A’s are within two games of the M’s, yet clearly it’s sell time for those clubs. Why not Seattle?
The shaky defense of a ‘stand-pat’ scheme goes in multiple directions. There’s the idea that the club simply doesn’t want to admit to themselves and/or the fan base that this season isn’t happening, despite all the expectations and a bad first 100 games. There’s also the idea that the ownership may not want the current general manager to make any deals, sell, buy or anything in-between.
For the record, I have don’t know if either of the two above thoughts have any level of validity at all. I believe the latter is absolutely a factor, based on the actions of the ownership over the course of the past two-plus decades. Not that they don’t want to win, but they do make a lot of business decisions that don’t necessarily fly with what seems to be the right baseball decisions.
I don’t buy into the former — handcuffing the general manager so he’s not allowed to do anything makes zero sense. That isn’t happening here in Seattle. The problem, though, is that any variation of the conceivable scenario is business, not baseball. Avoiding any notion of selling and indirectly ‘admitting’ to fans that the 2015 season is virtually over is easy. Don’t say it. Don’t have a fire sale where even names such as Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz and the like are in play. There’s no need to do so, and there’s no need to treat trades that involve J.A. Happ, Austin Jackson and even Hisashi Iwakuma as selling 2015 down the river.
Neither Happ nor Jackson are exactly irreplaceable. Roenis Elias may be an upgrade over Happ right now. Maybe. At the very least expecting him to hold his own at Happ’s level is not only reasonable, expecting anything less is ridiculous.
But the bigger issue here isn’t how the club can/should handle the deadline it’s why do all those other clubs make the decisions they have made, but Seattle doesn’t make a similar one, despite being as far or further out of the race than all but two of them.
Is it because the Mariners are simply a markedly better club, thus the expectations over the final 60 games or so are drastically higher? Not sure anyone sees that being plausible, perhaps except the Mariners. The No. 2 Wild Card leader in the American League is the Minnesota Twins. They’re paced for nearly 86 wins this season. Let’s assume, for a second that the other six clubs ahead of Seattle in the race for the No. 2 Wild Card berth fall flat on their face and play .325 ball for the remainder of the season. Now, let’s assume the Twins, the lone club left ahead of the M’s in our little scenario, play just .500 ball the rest of the way and end up with 84 wins. Heck, let’s say they play a game under .500 from here on out and end up 83-79. The Mariners, including Tuesday night’s game, would have to win 37 of their next 62 games — a winning percentage of .597 — just to tie.
Seattle has played .460 ball through Monday’s game No. 100. The lineup has begun to score some runs, but the starting pitching, even with Iwakuma back and looking more like he did the first four months of last year, is shallow. James Paxton is out, without a return date in sight, Taijuan Walker has been up and down, as has J.A. Happ and to a lesser extent Mike Montgomery. The bullpen, a strength a year ago, is a mess. Fernando Rodney has been awful, Danny Farquhar is down in the minors because he can’t get outs regularly and some of the arms that have been solid — namely Mark Lowe and Carson Smith — are starting to be overworked due to the lack of capable reinforcements.
To go on such a streak the Mariners certainly would not only need the offense to keep up their July pace, which is unlikely albeit not impossible, but play at such a pace that not even the more optimistic of optimists believed was possible heading into the season. To believe the current roster can win 60 percent of their games — which, remember, only gets them to 83 wins and a tie in our miracle, make-believe, all-but-one club plays terrible baseball for the final two months narrative — is simply silly.
The Seattle Mariners should sell. Not selling is a mistake. No, Happ isn’t returning an impact player, and neither is Jackson. Iwakuma might net the club something better than a long shot prospect, however. Maybe a bullpen piece for 2016 (or even 2015), and perhaps something within 25-30 percent of what Kazmir hauled in for Oakland.
I would understand not trading both Happ and Iwakuma and putting the rotation, and therefore the bullpen, in a bad spot the rest of the season, but despite the fact that some of the deals mentioned above netted those clubs ‘nothing special’ they still made them, and they weren’t just about dumping salaries. The 2012 Ichiro trade was nothing special, either, yet the Mariners got two very good years out of Farquhar. Take a chance at the Double-A reliever who throws 95 mph but his breaking ball is inconsistent or his command is below average. That’s all Farquhar was.
Mark Lowe has more value than Steve Cishek — he’s been miles better and is significantly cheaper in terms of dollars — and the Marlins received said Double-A reliever. Lowe likely gets the Mariners something better than that. What’s Lowe going to do for the Mariners over the final 60 days? Help them get to 78-80 wins? We’ve already discussed how awful it likely would be if that is where the Mariners landed come the end of the schedule.
Worried about sending the wrong message to the fan base? The A’s aren’t. Neither are the Red Sox — a big-market club that also came into the season with big expectations after signing Pablo Sandoval and acquiring Wade Miley via trade over the offseason. Their approach at the trade deadline is a baseball decision. The clubs that treat it as such improve their chances to succeed, even if by just a tiny bit. Those that pretend they’re still in the race lose the opportunity to jump start their roster improvement. And once the season fails anyway, and it will barring the miraculous scenario posed above, the July opportunity goes away. August waiver deals limit value for obvious reasons. Holding out against all hope is a business decision, not a baseball one.
Don’t just make the right decision. Make the right baseball decision. And to be fair, the Mariners have not decided anything at this point. They may very well sell off a piece or two, buy for 2016 on a piece or two, and if they do so, none of the above matters. But the club that’s paced for a win total in the 70s also is paced to fail at the trade deadline. And this after making exactly the right kind of moves last July.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.