The cellar-dwelling Mariners reportedly plan to aggressively unload veterans this month, which certainly exasperates fans. But lingering second-half questions may entice some brave souls to continue paying attention to Seattle’s lost season.
The first pending question has little to do with the rebuilding club’s future and everything to do with its past. For this reason, waiting for the answer must be tugging at the collective heartstrings of long-time Mariners fans everywhere.
Does The King Return?
Team icon Félix Hernández has been out since mid-May with a shoulder injury raising the possibility he doesn’t return this season. If Hernández doesn’t play in 2019, he’s probably thrown his last pitch as a Seattle Mariner – what a terrible thought.
Hernández’s contract expires at season’s end and the team appears ready to move on from its longest-tenured player. Hence, the fan interest in his recovery timeline.
Félix has been long tossing recently; his next step is throwing off a mound followed by bullpen sessions and facing live batting practice. Then, comes several can rehab starts. Considering he’s already suffered one setback, time is not on King Félix’s side.
Some may note Félix has been regressing for several years and wasn’t performing well before his IL stint. True, but so what?
Wouldn’t the King’s Court rocking one more time for one of the best pitchers in franchise history be a thrill worth re-living for both player and fans?
Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.
Which Players Leave?
GM Jerry Dipoto has previously moved veterans Anthony Swarzak, Jay Bruce, and Edwin Encarnación this season with the Mariners eating a significant portion of their combined salaries. Much to the annoyance of some fans, the team received little in return other than long-term payroll relief.
Another spoiler alert: Expect more of the same this month.
The Swarzak, Bruce, and Encarnación trades reveal Dipoto’s roster transformation strategy. Move expensive, established names to shrink the budget and create opportunities for younger players. Dee Gordon and Mike Leake should be next to go, although they make a combined $25 million next season. Therefore, moving the pair will require including a lot of cash.
Some fans prefer seeing Kyle Seager traded, but doing so may be a reach – even for the hyper-aggressive Dipoto.
Seager isn’t hitting, 31-years-old, and owed a combined $38 million in 2020-21. Then, there’s the matter of a “poison pill clause” reported by Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times last December. If the former All-Star is traded, a $15-20 million club option for 2022 transforms into a player option.
While an in-season trade of Seager may be a bridge too far for Dipoto, he has other players of varying value to peddle. All it’ll take to consummate a deal is at least one willing team interested in what he’s selling.
Pitching is always in high demand with contenders. Unfortunately, the primary reason the Mariners are in last place is an inconsistent collection of starters and relievers. We’ve already mentioned Leake; starters Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone may pique the interest of clubs seeking to improve their rotational depth.
LeBlanc and Milone are performing well as the main act behind openers and could serve as a starter or a long reliever. Milone is a free agent after the season; LeBlanc remains under club control through 2022 with annual $5 million team options. Still, neither southpaw yields Seattle significant value in a deal.
The bullpen looks even worse.
Perhaps Roenis Elias, Cory Gearrin, Anthony Bass, and Matt Festa generate some level of interest, although I suggest not getting your hopes up. As with LeBlanc and Milone, the Mariners’ best relievers are depth pieces, not difference makers.
Dipoto signed Tim Beckham to serve as s placeholder until J.P. Crawford completed honing his skills with Class-AAA Tacoma. With Crawford now serving as the everyday shortstop, there’s no clear-cut need for the 29-year-old on the roster.
This rings especially true with utility-man Dylan Moore on the roster and infielder Shed Long waiting in the wings with Tacoma. Perhaps contenders seeking infield depth express interest in Beckham. Otherwise, it’s plausible the Mariners part ways with the veteran infielder to make room for Long.
Offense from the catcher position has been a positive with Omar Narváez and Tom Murphy both delivering at the plate. Then again, it’s conceivable the team entertains offers for either backstop, especially with utility-man/catcher Austin Nola on the roster. Narváez has more upside than Murphy, but dealing Narváez for the right price would definitely be a Dipoto-like move.
Santana and Smith struggle defensively, but produce with their bats. Moreover, they’re relatively young and remain under club control for several more years. Potential suitors would have to wow Dipoto to acquire either player this season.
Never say never with a JeDi in charge.
Realistically, no Mariner is truly safe from a trade. However, the team isn’t dealing everyone in the next three weeks. So which players are most likely to remain with Seattle after the July 31 MLB trade deadline?
The currently injured Haniger is out until later this month and not going anywhere. We’ll see what the offseason brings though.
Crawford is looking like the shortstop of the future in Seattle and the most likely player to remain until the team is ready to contend again. Vogelbach isn’t untouchable, but he’s best suited to serve as a designated hitter, which restricts his trade appeal to just AL teams.
Since the Mariners just signed Japanese import Kikuchi this past offseason and he’s still trying to establish himself in MLB, he’s not going anywhere this year. Whether the 28-year-old is still with Seattle when Dipoto expects his club to be competitive in 2021 isn’t as certain.
Gonzales is intriguing since he’d be valuable to postseason club’s wanting to add a controllable, inexpensive, and young arm to their rotation. The Gonzaga product isn’t a front-end starter, but he’s proven effective. Then again, the qualities just mentioned make him valuable to the Mariners also.
Who Arrives Next?
We’ve already seen young players such as Long, Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, Braden Bishop, David McKay, and Gerson Bautista appear with the Mariners this year. Expect to see more of them and other future major leaguers during the second half.
Jake Fraley recently joined Tacoma from Class-AA Arkansas, but could conceivably see action in Seattle’s outfield this year. During a recent Baseball Things podcast, Jason A. Churchill specifically mentioned Fraley as a potential call-up. Churchill also suggested Sheffield and reliever Sam Delaplane as players the team should audition sooner than later.
Arkansas reliever Art Warren may be an interesting option when the Mariners need more bullpen help, although he’s not currently on the 40-man roster. An injury sidelined Warren in May, but he’s back and a hard-thrower capable of missing bats. At 26-years-old, time may be running out for the righty.
Warren’s teammate, Ricardo Sanchez, is a starter and not necessarily ready for the jump to the majors. Perhaps a September cup of coffee is possible since the Venezuelan is already on the 40-man roster.
Old friend Andrew Moore is pitching with Tacoma and still just 25-years-old. The Oregon State alum already made a spot start for the Mariners this year. Perhaps he reappears with the team when rosters expand in September.
How Many Wins This Year?
One thing is certain; the 2019 Mariners will lose more games than last year’s 89-win team. How many losses the club records will be an ongoing second-half conversation piece.
The franchise record for losses is 104 set by the 1978 Mariners skippered by Darrell Johnson. Other 100-plus loss campaigns include 1980, 1983, 2008, and 2010. Whether manager Scott Servais and his squad drops 100 contests this season depends on everything we’ve been discussing.
Another factor to consider; the competitiveness of the AL West race. As the second half opens, the A’s and Rangers remain very much alive in the Wild Card race with the Angels hovering near the .500-mark.
I’ll stick with my preseason prediction of a 71-win Mariners season.
How Bad Is Attendance?
Undertaking a rebuild inevitably causes pain at the box office. To date, Mariners fans are attending fewer games than a year ago. The following illustrates home attendance since 2009.
Average attendance is down nearly 7,000 people/game this year – its lowest point since the 2012 campaign and a 23% drop from last season.
This makes it easier to understand why Seattle – or any rebuilding franchise – drastically trims payroll.
Well, there’s the Hall of Fame induction of Edgar Martinez on July 21, plus follow-on ceremonies in Seattle next month celebrating Edgar’s greatness. These events will absolutely be the highlights of Seattle’s baseball year.
Our list of questions suggests why paying attention to the Mariners’ second half makes sense. On the other hand, it’s understandable if fans don’t share this optimistic take.
Realistically, the team sinks to even lower depths after the All-Star break with the constant losing further souring a fan base waiting for a playoff appearance since 2001. For these reasons, it’s reasonable for fans to doubt the Mariners’ plan.
After all, a soon-to-be 19-year postseason drought has a way of fueling pessimism.