Have to say, I’m a bit surprised, but the deals the Mariners made last night seem to be the only ones the team is going to make by the non-waiver deadline. We’re now a half-hour past the deadline, and no news of any last minute filings has come through. So, the team’s mid-season moves have seen them acquire a fourth outfielder type in Eric Thames and a Class A outfielder and Class AA closer for relief pitchers Brandon League and Steve Delabar.
Also, there was last week’s trade of Ichiro to the Yankees for a couple of minor league pitchers.
Still remaining in Seattle are Jason Vargas, Kevin Millwood, Miguel Olivo and Chone Figgins. In reality, you could deal the latter three of those guys before Aug. 31 and risk losing them on a waiver claim because the returns for them as individuals — rather than part of a package — won’t be worth all that much.
Vargas is pretty much here to stay because he would not make it through waivers in any deal, given how little he’s owed and the numbers he’s put up. If the Mariners plan on keeping Vargas beyond this year, then holding off on dealing him could turn out to be the right move.
But still, given how little the M’s have improved overall as a team the last calendar year, their relative inaction at this year’s deadline is a bit of a stunner.
There will be the usual arguments put forth today that it takes two teams to make a deal, that others may not have been buying what the Mariners were selling, that the team can come out ahead by “staying the course” and not giving anyone up. All valid points.
You can argue that the real changes a team makes come in the off-season, when you have all 30 teams to choose from and a full compliment of the best free agents you’re going to find in any 12-month period. Again, that’s a valid argument.
Only, when you look back over the last 12 months, you have to ask yourself, have the Mariners taken any real step forward?
I will argue that, other than shedding a whole bunch of payroll, they have not.
One year ago, the Mariners had just got done auditioning Carlos Peguero in the outfield and were about to give Mike Carp and Trayvon Robinson a whirl for a sustained period.
A year later, they’re now done with Peguero, are still looking at Robinson and have decided Carp isn’t their outfield guy. The offense has improved marginally to where it’s now one of the worst in the league instead of one of the worst all time.
The pitching is worse than it was when Doug Fister was still here. The bullpen looks to be the strongest part of the team, though, arguably, you could have said the same thing back in 2009 and 2007 and 2006.
Right now, you can argue there isn’t a single position player anywhere on this team who could start at his position for a championship-level club. Maybe John Jaso as a backup catcher. Perhaps Brendan Ryan on a team with offense to spare. But that’s it. Maybe in the future, you could add Michael Saunders to that list in center, maybe Casper Wells in right and Kyle Seager at second base. But not right now.
Last year’s team had Dustin Ackley looking like a breakout second baseman. This year’s team? Not so much.
This year’s team has Justin Smoak in Class AAA. Seager has put up pretty good numbers for a second baseman. Problem is, he’s playing third base.
Franklin Gutierrez is hurt again. And Felix Hernandez is about to finish up another year earning close to $20 million on a team he will not have pitched a meaningful game for since the season opener.
Teams like that usually can’t afford to stand pat.
Again, the M’s can always wait until the winter to make major upgrades. But we argued the same thing last year, then watched them drift through the winter without acquiring a single impact free agent — making their only impact move a lateral one by trading a top young pitcher for a top young hitting prospect in Jesus Montero.
And in the interim, the M’s have fallen further behind everybody else in the division. Not based on what I say, or what some other beat writer, columnist, or blogger says. Based on the very real, factual numbers laid out in front of us daily. Based on the AL West standings, the payroll gap between Seattle and the division’s top-two teams and the speed at which the Angels, Rangers and A’s are churning out prospects and young players who are better than what Seattle has.
So, yes, it is true that perhaps there was not an impact move for the Mariners to make this July, even if the team was, in fact, prepared to deal a Taijuan Walker, or James Paxton. or Danny Hultzen, Tom Wilhelmsen or Nick Franklin. Maybe they were and they couldn’t get the right fit? Who knows?
But they couldn’t find enough right fits last winter either.
This winter, they will have to find some fits. And yeah, the free agent class might not have that many great bats out there. That’s the risk you take when you stand pat.
But at some point, obstacles or not, this front office will have to find a way to make moves that improve this team at a quicker rate than they have. Because the Mariners are losing ground fast in the AL West. And if you can’t finish at least second in the division, your odds of landing any playoff spot will be slim indeed, regardless of the second wild card.
It’s not me they have to please. I just call it like I see it. If you see the M’s gaining ground in the division over where they were last year, feel free to let me know all about it. But for those of you who’ve written in over the past month to ask about whether this team would make a play for Justin Upton? I gave you my answer and I’m standing by it. No, I didn’t see it happening then and I don’t see it happening now for any player who fits his description at that price.
I don’t think this team plans on winning anything before 2015. And nothing I’ve seen leading up to and through July 31 has me feeling any differently.