Stark fact of trade-deadline day: The Mariners have little in the way of prospects or veterans to interest other teams. GM Jerry Dipoto stayed put, and Mariners responded with a traditional one-run loss.
Mariners fans, you know what it’s like to get to town the day after the circus leaves: Peanut shells and elephant poop.
The failure to bust a serious move at the non-waiver trade deadline Monday came as a disappointment to fans eager for a veteran starting pitcher or a lead-off hitter who could get on base consistently.
But to hear general manager Jerry Dipoto tell it, at a game over .500 on the playoff fringe, the market wanted the Mariners to sell their good players. The Mariners said no. The Mariners wanted to buy, but offered the market little of interest.
So there were the Mariners — inert. Their traditional home away from home.
“The greatest opportunities we had were to sell off,” Dipoto told reporters Monday at Safeco Field before the game with the Red Sox, who went on to beat the Mariners 2-1 on another ninth-inning flameout by closer Steve Cishek. “And that’s just not something we were willing to do. We feel like the core of this team is still very good.”
Meanwhile, as Dipoto and owner-in-waiting John Stanton stood by, the Texas Rangers acquired two premier veteran talents in OF Carlos Beltran and C Jonathan Lucroy for a team already eight games up on the Mariners in the American League West.
No seasonal outcome has been determined, of course, and the Mariners still have the month of August and its trade deadline to obtain players who clear waivers. But at the moment, after another familiar loss — 20 of their 52 have been by one run – it takes a laser-like squint to see a way past the Rangers, or the other wild-card contenders in 2016.
Dipoto tried not to throw in the towel, but there’s no doubt he’s in his windup.
“We are realistic about where we are in this playoff push,” he said. “We feel like we have a chance in August and September, but obviously a lot of things would have to break right for us.
“The best thing we can do is focus on the good parts of our roster and how we are going to transition into 2017-18-19.”
Dipoto made smaller deals that surrendered three veteran pitchers — Mike Montgomery, Wade Miley and Joaquin Benoit — for two pitchers and a first baseman/designated hitter who are unlikely to have much impact this season.
The flag, if not white, is exceedingly pale.
The games Saturday and Sunday in Chicago neatly captured the season for Seattle. When everyone played well against the team with baseball’s best record, they won. But, aside from home runs, this roster has minimal capacity to compensate when a thing goes haywire.
The contrast with the Cubs was startling. In Sunday’s astonishing come-from-ahead collapse by the Mariners, the Cubs entered the game with an emergency pitcher who hadn’t started in four years.
Predictably, he was thumped, giving up two-run homers in each of the first three innings. Brian Matusz was yanked from the game trailing 6-0 and designated for assignment Monday.
Yet a game that the Cubs all but marked as a throwaway defeat turned into a win, thanks to a top-to-bottom lineup more talented than the Mariners and a bullpen that delivered a five-hit shutout over nine innings under the mastery of the game’s best manager, Joe Maddon.
Yes, it was a one-run defeat. But the chasm between the franchises seemed to need a plane to cross.
No one does walk-off home runs better than the Mariners; they lead the majors with six. They won a three-game series 2-1 despite having never led once during any of the games.
But they are 17-20 in one-run games; the Rangers are 23-7.
Injuries to pitchers coupled with a lineup less athletic and youthful than Dipoto’s stated aspirations the past winter have left the Mariners again on the outside looking in. It was, and is, unrealistic to expect a transformation in a single season for an organization that has busted too often with its top picks — Jeff Clement, Adam Jones, Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen, etc. Dipoto has no choice but to adopt the longer view.
“So many good things are happening in our organization below us,” he said. “We don’t want to forsake that, either. I think we did the right thing. We kept the pieces that made the most sense for us. And we found value where we could find value.”
It does make sense. But the affection for baseball is purely illogical and emotional. So calling up Donn Roach from Tacoma, and claiming Mike Freeman off waivers from Arizona, on trade-deadline day, does not appeal to the passions.
The trade-deadline outcome is as familiar as the Hallmark Card sentiments for the category, “For Fans of Teams Out of the Playoffs 15 Seasons.”
Wait ’til next year.