BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 07/28/2015

Mariners have no choice but to play their hand

With few tradeable players, either vets or prospects, the Mariners are best to stay away from deadline trades. Since a win-now team can’t surrender, the goal is to avoid further damage.

Hisashi Iwakuma is a pending free agent the Mariners could part with and still remain in the race. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Mariners bosses thought the team was going to win this season. Me too. As did most of the local and national guessers, including Las Vegas bookmakers. Four months later, the guessing has devolved into deciding when to stick in the proverbial fork.

Then they play a game as they did Sunday, coming back from down 4-0 to win 6-5 and fan the tiny flame.

No, I don’t recommend reliance on triple plays and walk-off homers from Franklin Gutierrez as the foundation for a playoff drive. Neither do I recommend that this particular team do much of anything by the non-waiver trade deadline Friday, when the Mariners bosses are forced to join all other teams in decisions about whether to wield the fork.

Teams with records better than the Mariners will trade productive veterans for prospects, signaling that the race is over for them. But the Mariners, 46-54 after Monday night’s 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, will be implored by some fans to bust a move because the second wild-card playoff game is only seven games away.

As an experienced fork sticker-inner, I am pleased to offer the Mariners some advice, in the way I would seek Mariners’ counsel if I had a question about marketing bobbleheads:

Put the fork down. Step away from the trade mart. Concentrate on what the franchise does best: Things like the Aug. 8 ceremony for Jamie Moyer, and making mean faces at Sodo neighbor Chris Hansen. Let this roster play it out.

Sure, if a trade partner wants to give up a decent prospect for 34-year-old, free-agent-to-be Hisashi Iwakuma, who has pitched well in his past three games, go ahead. Roenis Elias can be called up from Tacoma to fill the hole in the starting rotation.

Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.

One reason is general manager Jack Zduriencik generally makes poor trades, for which evidence is ample and obvious. But the main reason is what I mentioned at the top: This team was built to win in 2015. When it didn’t, there’s no realistic play left.

In poker, it’s called pot-committed. So many chips are on the table that there is no choice but to play the hand. No folding.

The Mariners are heavy with high-priced veterans who are mostly under-performing, and few prospects who are over-performing. A team approaching the deadline can’t be in a much worse position.

As someone who has borne witness to a cavalcade of bad Mariners teams, I can say with confidence that this is not a bad Mariners team. They lead the major leagues in extra-inning games (two in a row for 14) and in outcomes decided by one or two runs (Monday was the 59th of 100), meaning they are in steady contention.

Consider the last five series were against teams near or better than .500. They split four at home with the Angels, baseball’s hottest team, played three one-run games in New York, losing two, split four at Detroit, and beat Toronto two of three. The Mariners are not a bad team.

Believe me, you hadda be here in the 1970s and 80s to know bad baseball.

But nowhere in the metrics are these guys consistent in any task — starting or relief pitching, offense or defense — that can take pressure off any other aspect. As a consequence, they have a remarkable propensity for spitting up late. They’re wearing themselves out.

Including Monday, the Mariners have lost 17 games in the opponents’ last at-bat, tied for most in MLB.

The combined pressures of failure at the plate, on the mound and on the basepaths fall on what was a strength last year that is now a weakness: The bullpen. Manager Lloyd McClendon last season consistently described the bullpen as the team’s backbone — they had baseball’s best ERA as a group.

This year, absent the backbone, they are spineless. Monday night was another example. Carson Smith, new to closing and overworked, loaded the bases in the 10th inning with two walks and a hit batter. Arizona scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly.

The Mariners may have been close many times, but the volume of work and tension for the pen has compromised this season more than the weak offense.

Zduriencik could attempt to trade for a reliever, but the price will be high for a good one, and no one arm can fix a pen as messed up as the Mariners’, especially absent injured Charlie Furbush.

The GM’s seven-year penchant for big-fly, big-whiff guys like Justin Smoak and Mark Trumbo comes at a cost of filling other needs. The voids add up to a team that is not reasonably repairable from the outside via trade or inside via callup.

To be sellers this week is to signal to fans that the win-now, $120 million payroll team has failed in four months. That assures Zduriencik’s demise. To play it out at least holds the hope that a few more triple plays and a few more home runs from Franklin the Friendly Ghost will provide a rally similar to 20 years ago when the Mariners came back from 13 down in August.

Absent another 100-year miracle, the best the Mariners can hope for this week is to harm themselves no further.


  • coug73

    Art, your premise is fine with me. Just maybe we keep some veterans on this team and sort the M’s out in the off season. Of course, a big banner deal isn’t in the cards for the M’s, but if some team comes sniffing with a good deal maybe a trade makes sense. Just put Jack Z on the DL.

    A 3 year deal for Hisashi Iwakuma might make sense when the dust settles after this season.

    • art thiel

      Because of the hard miles accrued in Japanese baseball, extensions for mid-30s pitchers are higher risk.

  • jafabian

    If I was asked if the M’s would finish last in the AL West this season I would have laughed. Not with Cruz batting behind Cano and Seager after him. There were some obvious concerns: no backup catcher, Miller, Zunino and Ackley’s annual struggles, a very young rotation, trading away members of a successful bullpen and an OF with no proven Gold Glover. (Kinda needed in the expanse of Safeco Field’s OF) But the struggles they’ve had this season have been surprising to say the least. In theory the batting order and overall pitching would be enough to get past those shortcomings and that wasn’t the case. Big part of that has been Cano’s well known problems at the plate the first half of the season. If he truly was having health issues that affected his performance he shouldn’t have been playing. Last years version of Cano, were he playing today, could have added 10 wins to their record and they’re 10 games out right now. The M’s window for a successful playoff run has closed. The Red Sox, A’s and Tigers will retool and the Royals, Angels and the rest of the AL East aren’t going to decline any time soon. Their push should have been this season and that didn’t happen.

    Jack can’t be brought back. The club doesn’t even have the quality farm they had of the past couple years. What I hope is this time when the M’s owners look for yet another GM with a proven track record of getting into and winning in the playoffs. Dick Balderson and Jack were first time GM’s. Woody Woodward and Bill Bavasi did not make the playoffs during their short tenures as GM’s before they joined the M’s. Only Pat Gillick had a proven track record and it’s well known what he accomplished in Toronto. When you see the Cubs go out and get Theo Epstein and how they have 52 wins right now you wonder if the M’s did something like that where would they be right now? They have a good manager and coaching staff and depsite anything else there’s a core group of players that’s solid. But the club is still missing pieces and to get to the playoffs, to WIN in the playoffs they need a GM who can recognize what’s needed and take care of that. I’m almost rooting for the Nationals to win it all this season or at least get to the World Series. If they do the M’s will be the only team not to get to The Big Show. I think that would light a fire under ownership. The M’s are the only club to have a losing record AT HOME for an ENTIRE decade. It’s time to stop trotting out ’95 and ’01 highlights and work on the here and now.

    • Lodowick

      Well said. They need a GM with a proven track record. And a few more position players with a proven track record in fundamentals like sound baserunning, clutch hitting, a strong outfield arm, and gritty, reliable, consistent delivery. Not weak April/May and strong August/September.

      • art thiel

        I still want McClendon to explain green-lighting on the basepaths a team slower than Seattle PD’s fish-truck spill squad.

    • Sonics79

      Your final sentence sums it up nicely for me.

    • JimC

      But…but…it’s the 20th anniversary!!…sputter.

      • art thiel

        Vince Coleman is available.

    • art thiel

      Gillick still has a home here . . .

      • jafabian

        And Howard is still in charge. Even though Chuck is gone I’d be surprised if Gillick came back.

  • dingle

    “One reason is general manager Jack Zduriencik generally makes poor trades, for which evidence is ample and obvious.”

    Every GM in baseball has Jack on speed dial. I bet a couple of them have a red phone in the GM office that dials only Jack’s number. They know they’ll walk away richer.

    • art thiel

      He does dress nattily.

      • dingle

        To paraphrase Carl Spackler, “So he’s got that goin’ for him. Which is nice.”

        Don’t know about the whole total consciousness thing, though.

        • art thiel

          As in, conscious all the time? Man, you’re strict.

  • Lodowick

    I agree, Art, with your assessment that there is talent on the roster that was not there in many past years. They’ve played many games close right to the end. But the downside is that they have struggled against absolutely everyone, regardless of the opponent’s strength. Pitching and hitting in combination has produced a team effort that is all about constant struggles.

    Look at the Giants. They’ve had a number of breezy wins this year by four or five runs. And that’s in spite of Cain, Lincecum and Pence on the DL and Panda gone. The biggest differential between the Giants and M’s is the GM. Sabean saw the value in Hunter Pence at the trade deadline years ago and he has lit up the team and lit up the city, and not at $20 million a year. Sabean saw the worth of Posey in the draft. Sabean saw the coolness in the kid named Panik. Panik to Posey to Pence. Voila. Three titles. M’s need a GM with that kind of vision.

    • art thiel

      Hard to argue your points. Zduriencik has misfired too often in trades, and the high draft picks following low finishes have not produced in the fashion of KC/Houston/Tampa.

  • notaboomer

    fire jack z today. fire mcclendon. make edgar manager. new pitching coach. bring up jesus. trade for stephen vogt at catcher. try to win this season.

    • art thiel

      You are such an anarchist.

      • notaboomer

        at least i have a plan.

  • JimC

    Good god. Has it been seven years of Zduriencik?

    • art thiel

      Remember that his five year W-L record was identical to Bavasi’s.

      • Tim Madison

        As good as Bavasi? Surely that’s a strong reason to keep him around

  • FloydZ

    You neglected to mention my favorite big fly, big whiff guy: Jack Cust. Sure, a career .242 batting average didn’t inspire a lot of hope as an addition to a team that was hitting in the .230′s, but his career .388 STRIKE-OUT average fit right in. That signing was the end of any hope I had for Jack Zduriencik. And he continues to sign those types. With the exception of a rockin’ .242 team average last year, it’s been in the .230s for more than half a decade. Back in the day, only Gold Glove shortstops and 40-homer a year guys could stick on the roster if they hit much below .250. How can we blame the pitching when the offense averages less than 4 runs per game? Only one AL team has a lower BA and has scored less runs than the M’s; it’s a wonder they have as many wins as they have.

  • 1coolguy

    Lincoln and JZ still there? Yes? Oh well, on to the Hawks and Huskies.

  • steveshaver1

    Time to trade Felix. He will never get this team to the promise land and he’s getting older.
    Trade him to the playoff team with the best farm system and get their best prospects. We need talent and Felix is our only player other teams will give up anything for.