So the Seattle Mariners completed their June gauntlet with a 7-8 record against the Astros, Angels, Red Sox and Yankees, including going 1-5 last week in New York and Boston.
That was supposed to be the stretch that proves the Mariners’ staying power among the top teams in the American League — their mid-term exam, so to speak — and prove whether they are set up to contend with those clubs and end their 16-year playoff drought.
The Mariners endured that and still have the fourth-most wins in the major leagues behind the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees and are six games ahead of the Angels.
They had chances to win a few more of those, but the feel still remains that they’re not as dangerously set up as any of those top three A.L. super powers … albeit close.
That stretch from June 5 through this past Sunday should give Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto a better idea of what to look for — and you know he’s looking — before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Entering Monday, the Mariners had a 68-percent probability of reaching the playoffs, according to Fangraphs, with a pair of AL West rivals next on that list in the Angels (16.7 percent) and Athletics (6.9 percent).
Most of the teams on the Mariners’ remaining schedule fall more into the category of teams chasing next year’s No. 1 draft pick over this year’s World Series, which means there’s deals ripe for picking with so many clubs trying to strip payroll and get younger.
“Even if we fall off, we are still in a contending position, and we want to do all we can to maximize that while the window is open, and that win curve matters right now,” Dipoto said during one of his recent segments on 710-ESPN radio. “(We want to) do the right thing, pay attention to the value of a win right now. Right now they are important.”
Important enough to deal assets from what is already considered the weakest farm system in baseball?
“What I try to do with every decision that’s made is balance the present and the future,” Dipoto said. “Right now on the win curve, a win in 2018 is significant for us. We feel like we’re a contending team.
“Frankly, a win in 2018 is more important to us than 2021. I know a win is a win, but we have to balance those. It could change. We might not play well in a three-week stretch, but right now we’re on pace to win 96-97 games and certainly we’d like to maintain that.”
Most of the rumor chasers around baseball peg the Mariners to go after a starting pitcher, even though their rotation has pitched better than most outside the organization expected this year with James Paxton establishing himself as an ace, Marco Gonzales’ emergence and Wade LeBlanc coming out of, well, nowhere.
Mike Leake has turned a corner the past month, and while Felix Hernandez has been their most struggling starter, he had looked much better in three of his previous four outings.
But Gonzales is on pace for a career-high workload, and the Mariners have to decide whether LeBlanc is for real or if this run he’s had since entering the Mariners’ rotation in May is a career outlier.
To the trade whispers:
The Mariners have been linked to Toronto Blue Jays 35-year-old right-hander J.A. Happ, who has pitched much better the past three seasons than the 4.64 earned-run average he had in 20 starts with the Mariners in 2015.
MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tied the Mariners to local product, 27-year-old Matthew Boyd, who is the Tigers’ left hander from Sammamish’s Eastside Catholic. Morosi reported that the Mariners almost acquired him two years ago in talks that centered around outfielder J.D. Martinez, but the Mariners instead traded right-hander Taijuan Walker in a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks that brought Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura.
The Mariners aren’t shy about dealing with the Tampa Bay Rays, and maybe they’d dip into that well again to go after right-hander Chris Archer. Marlins righty Dan Straily, Rangers lefty Cole Hamels, Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin and Tigers lefty Francisco Liriano are among other starters rumored to be on the market, though not necessarily linked to the Mariners.
That’s if the Mariners are even considering a starter.
Look at the theme of the club’s recent five-game losing streak. Their starting pitching wasn’t as stellar as it had been most of the season against some of the best lineups in the league, but their bullpen really struggled. They allowed eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in their 14-10 loss to the Red Sox and five runs in 3 2/3 innings in a 7-5 loss to the Yankees, with the Mariners surrendering five-run leads in both of those.
They had a bullpen ERA of 4.00 entering Monday, which was below the league average despite Edwin Diaz dominating like he has and leading the major leagues with 27 saves.
Juan Nicasio and Nick Vincent probably aren’t always going to look as rough as they did in that Red Sox loss, but maybe they go after a late-inning left-hander to go alongside James Pazos. Dipoto stressed all offseason how much baseball is moving toward bullpen-oriented staffs, and the Mariners are no different. Dipoto already struck first with his move to pick up Alex Colome from the Rays.
Maybe this doesn’t mean the Mariners pickup Orioles left-handed closer Zach Britton or Padres lefty closer Brad Hand, and the Royals already traded their closer, Kelvin Herrera, to the Washington Nationals. But watch out for them to add another bullpen piece, much like when the Cubs acquired lefty Mike Montgomery from the Mariners for their stretch run to the World Series two seasons ago.
The Mariners don’t have the big upper-level prospects to offer as trade chips, though they do have 2016 first-round pick, outfielder Kyle Lewis, and last year’s first-round pick, first baseman Evan White at high Single-A Modesto.
Their biggest trade chip is money. They had about $12 million to spend of Robinson Cano’s salary since he was suspended 80 games without pay and Dipoto said they took on almost $9 million after acquiring Colome and Span (including the cash considerations they received). But for an organization trying to end the longest active playoff drought in major North American professional sports, it’s not unfair to expect they’d dip even deeper than that into their pocket books for the stretch run.
Keep in mind, Cano will be their biggest late-season addition. He’s set to return from his suspension on Aug. 14 (barring any postponed games), though he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs.
The biggest takeaway: Just don’t rule anything out with Jerry Dipoto.