After remaining in the 2016 wild card race until game-161, the Seattle Mariners spent the offseason making deals at a breakneck pace with one goal in mind– end baseball’s longest active postseason drought.
Just forty games into the current season, the notion of playing meaningful October baseball in 2017 is a fleeting dream after a devastating series of bad breaks and disappointing performances.
Can the Mariners get back on track and compete for a postseason berth? What are their strengths and weaknesses? In the First-Quarter Report Series, we’ll touch those bases and more.
I won’t dwell on injuries since that ground was covered during the run production and pitching staff updates. Having said that, I will point out just six Mariners appeared on last year’s first-quarter injury report. As you can see, the list is much longer in 2017.
|Mariners Walking Wounded |
|Jean Segura||Strained hamstring||Returned to action|
|Tony Zych||Shoulder surgery||Returned to action|
|Steve Cishek||Offseason hip surgery||Returned to action|
|Drew Smyly||Flexor strain||Begin throwing late May|
|Shae Simmons||Flexor strain||TBD|
|Felix Hernandez||Shoulder inflammation||TBD |
|James Paxton||Forearm strain||Return late May|
|Mitch Haniger||Strained oblique||Return late May|
|Evan Marshall||Hamstring injury ||TBD|
|Shawn O’Malley||Shoulder surgery ||TBD|
|Evan Scribner||Flexor bundle strain||TBD|
|Hisashi Iwakuma||Shoulder inflammation||All-star break|
|Ryan Weber||Biceps strain||TBD|
|Robinson Cano||Quadriceps strain||TBD|
The Mariners’ reserves have been tested early and often due to the combination of injuries to Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, and Robinson Cano and the demotions of Opening Day starters Mike Zunino and Leonys Martin. Overall, the layers of depth general manager Jerry Dipoto built into his roster during the offseason have withstood the pressure.
While utility-man Taylor Motter has cooled off in recent weeks, his power bat and respectable defense helped fill the gap at shortstop when Segura was on the DL in mid-April. Motter’s versatility and willingness to play virtually anywhere makes him a critical asset for manager Scott Servais. His value is once again on display with Cano currently on the DL.
As noted in the run production report, the duo of Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia have been productive contributors with Haniger out and Martin patrolling center field for Class-AAA Tacoma. Both have played superb defense in the corner outfield spots and their bats have bolstered the top of the order.
The biggest improvement of the bench has to be center field depth. In 2016, Martin was the club’s only true center fielder. This was readily apparent last season when Martin spent two weeks on the DL and was replaced by Nori Aoki. The results were sub-optimal. This year, the options are plentiful — starter Jarrod Dyson, Heredia, Gamel, and recent call-up Boog Powell.
The Mariners entered the season with the best catching depth they’ve had in nearly a decade. Unfortunately, Zunino’s demotion due to his offensive woes pushed 38-year-old Carlos Ruiz into more playing time than the team prefers and led to the promotion of light-hitting Tuffy Gosewisch. Neither player is as defensively skilled as Zunino. Worse yet, Zunino was better at the plate.
Dipoto has done a nice job of building a versatile and athletic roster with lots of depth. Having said that, no one could’ve predicted the number of injuries the club has encountered or the ineffective performance of two starting position players. But, the Mariners continue to slog along.
The high number of openings has led for opportunities for young players. Through yesterday, the Mariners have used the most rookies in baseball this season (13). Here’s a look at the players who’ve seen action.
|Dan Altavilla||Chase De Jong||Mike Freeman|
|Ben Gamel||Mitch Haniger||Guillermo Heredia|
|Taylor Motter||Dillon Overton||Emilio Pagan|
|James Pazos||Boog Powell||Daniel Vogelbach|
Technically, Motter isn’t qualified for the Rookie of the Year Award because he’s over the major league service time limit by several days. But, he’s listed as a rookie by Baseball Reference.
It’s worth noting three important pitchers — starter Ariel Miranda and relievers Edwin Diaz and Tony Zych — aren’t rookies. However, each has one year-or-less of service time in the big leagues. Imagine where the Mariners would be without these 16 youngsters.
Dipoto routinely notes he breaks a season into three segments when evaluating his team and determining a course of action.
Around Memorial Day, he assesses his club’s outlook and adjusts course by making deals during the next two months. After the trading deadline, the 48-year-old executive gets out of the way and lets his modified roster compete for the remaining third of the season.
With the first milestone quickly closing, Dipoto likely has a good idea on what he needs to do. Whether he’ll add players to contend or become a deadline seller is unknown. Regardless of the course chosen, Dipoto will certainly be a busy deal-maker between now and the end of August.