The Major League Baseball trading deadline is quickly approaching and – as is the case every July – speculation is rampant about potential deals that could happen between now and the July 31 cutoff date. Many fans of the Seattle Mariners are anxiously awaiting to see whether their team will be “buyers” in an effort to salvage a disappointing 2015 season.

Determining whether Seattle – or any team – is truly a contender isn’t nearly as easy as it was just a few year ago. The advent of a second wildcard berth has blurred the line between contender and non-contender. Look at the current wildcard standings for each league and you’ll see what I mean. Going into today, nine American League teams are within seven games of the second wildcard team – that’s every non-division leader in the league. On the National League side, seven clubs are within seven games a postseason berth.

The second wild card has certainly added more players to the trading frenzy that goes on every late-July. With that in mind, how should fans gauge whether their team has a reasonable chance at making the postseason? Reviewing the 20-year history of wildcard play makes one point glaringly clear – a team’s playoff possibilities can be linked to their record on July 31.

History lesson
Since the advent of the wildcard era in 1995, only three clubs have reached the postseason after being sub-.500 on the last day of July. The 1995 Mariners and 2003 Minnesota Twins both had one more loss than wins, while the 2005 San Diego Padres were three games under on July 31. Otherwise, every other playoff team were .500 or better at the trading deadline.

An optimist would point out that three teams have proven that reaching the postseason is possible – even if they had a losing record at the end of July. A realist would counter that only three of 160 wildcard-era playoff teams –less than two-percent – have reached the postseason after being under the .500 mark on the last day of July.

Although it’s a small sample size, that trend hasn’t changed during the brief three-year history of the two-wildcard system. The perception that more teams are willing to be buyers is true to a point, but the .500 mark seems to be the make-or-break decision point for most teams. Since 2012, only two losing clubs have been in the buy-mode – the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays and 2014 Cleveland Indians. Toronto was at the .495 mark, while Cleveland was at .491. Otherwise, sub-.500 teams were sellers or remained idle at the deadline.

What’s at stake
With approximately 20 games remaining before the deadline, the next three weeks could literally determine the number of buyers in the trade market and the postseason outlook for borderline teams – like the Mariners. As of today, Seattle has a 38-44 win-loss record and a .463 winning percentage.

Like many losing teams in both leagues, the Mariners need to perform extremely well for the rest of July just to reach the level of fringe contender. Other teams are hovering around .500, so they merely need to win a few more than they lose between now and the end of the month. In a few cases, the season is already over.

The challenge ahead
Here’s a rundown of the win-loss records that the losing teams must achieve for the rest of the month in order to get back to a .500 record.

American League
Texas Rangers  10-9
Cleveland Indians  13-8
Seattle Mariners  14-8
Oakland Athletics  14-9
Boston Red Sox  13-7
Chicago White Sox  14-7

National League
Arizona Diamondbacks  10-9
Atlanta Braves  12-10
San Diego Padres  13-6
Cincinnati Reds  15-6
Miami Marlins  17-3
Milwaukee Brewers  16-4
Colorado Rockies  16-4
Philadelphia Phillies 20-0 (would still be six games under .500 if they went undefeated)

Final thought
The next 20 games has the potential to be the most significant stretch of games in Seattle’s recent history. If the Mariners don’t make July their first winning month and play at a .633 clip for the remainder of the month, fan discussions will quickly shift from demanding roster improvements to demanding a change in management.

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. 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.

6 Comments

  1. A season for which we all had fairly high expectations has turned into something approaching abysmal.

    Paul, I don’t know that Trumbo will be Z’s last move as Mariners GM. With a few weeks still to go until the deadline, I am not sure Z can be trusted to not do something rash. I think they need to let Z go now rather than wait until sometime after the deadline. Don’t let him make any more decisions unless it’s one in which he offers to resign. He has had plenty of time to get his rebuild done, and now it looks like he’s going to leave the M’s facing another rebuild. Let’s not have him in charge of the next one.

    The team is in a bad way. Not a lot of fire on the field. Too many players who struggle to get on base. Not a lot of trade-able pieces. The season is not over, and there is still a little time to get things going in the right direction, but that window is closing fast, and optimism looks less realistic with each game.

  2. So…Jack’s job is on the line, he is desperate, and has had a “man crush” for Justin Upton for years. One last chance to save his job, does he try to swing a trade? Team has no money to spend, would he try to flip Trumbo and Ackley for Upton? At least we get out of Trumbo’s ugly arbitration number next year and can spend that money on a free agent when Upton walks at the end of the year…

  3. The M’s have some players with value.

    Seth Smith is having a good year, and would appeal to clubs.

    LoMo and Trumbo would also be decent options for clubs.

    Some team will take a shot on Ackley. Everyone knows the M’s have a terrible track record with player development, and teams are always looking for buy-low candidates (look at what Justin Smoak is doing this year….ugh). Some team will see upside in Ackley: a former #2 overall pick who is a great candidate for a shift back to 2B.

    Iwakuma is still coming back from a long layoff, but his track record is excellent, and he’ll get a few more starts before the deadline. Happ is a solid back of the rotation guy. With Felix, Walker, Montgomery, Paxton (soon, I hope), and Elias, the M’s can afford to move a guy.

    Same rule applies in the bullpen. Lowe, Rodney, Furbush, Beimel: the M’s have depth.

    Moving a lot of those guys would hurt the team. But who really cares? This team is going NOWHERE!

  4. The only thing we should “BUY” is a new GM. That purchase won’t happen until the year ends. Jack’s days are numbered. Trumbo was the worst move Jack could make, and likely his last…

  5. Hell no they shouldn’t buy. They should sell, but the problem is they have nothing to sell. No one is taking Cano’s contract. Cruz has a pretty big contract as well, so I don’t think we can get a good return for him, plus he’s the only guy that seems to be hitting and makes a perfect DH moving forward. Iwakuma would be a good piece to sell but he needs to establish some damn value first, something he hasn’t done, he picked a terrible year to be terrible. Haap, could be sold I guess, but what’s the return, peanuts? Jackson has no value, unfortunately. Felix, Seager, Paxton, Walker, Miller, Zunino aren’t going anywhere. Everyone else has absolutely no value (Morrison, Trumbo, Ackley). Mariners are in limbo and unfortunately that is the way this year is going to shake out. Hopefully it will mean a new regime comes in and rights the ship. Lord knows it’s time.

  6. I think the answer to this question depends entirely on who is making the call.

    For Jack and colleagues, they should hold out for an amazing comeback, and maybe make another Trumbo-like trade to ‘fix’ the offense.

    For anyone who isn’t the current front office, the answer to that is easy: hell no they shouldn’t buy! They should sell!

    The state of the organization has declined dramatically this year. I don’t remember a season where both the ML club and the farm system took such a dramatic fall in the same year.

    If they were smart, they would step back a bit and retool. Take advantage of the opportunity to jettison some money, restock some talent, and give guys in the upper levels of the system a chance to play.

    Then, take the opportunity to jettison the front office and player development guys. There are lots of smart executives in baseball right now who would jump at Jack’s job. We don’t need to have a failure like him running the club anymore. The team makes bad decisions, and they have an amazing track record of failure in developing position players. Expecting this same group to suddenly change is unrealistic.

    With so much parity in baseball, its become an extreme buyers market. The M’s should write off this year now and start looking towards the next few years. They should fire Jack right now before he fucks up this team more in a futile attempt to save his job.

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