At This Point, We Have To Ask Ourselves: Are There Too Many Holes To Fill On The Mariners?

At this point, about three weeks ago, I was really gung-ho about the Mariners’ chances.  It was at about this time where I had a very simple request:  get a top-notch starter and two decent-to-good hitters and let’s go win this thing!  Specifically:  Price, Zobrist, and whoever else that could DH/play first base.  The last piece of that puzzle could be almost anyone – as long as he’s an improvement in some way over Hart – which is why Kendrys Morales fits the bill.  But, with the Rays just destroying teams left and right, and with not only their division but the second Wild Card perfectly in sight, they no longer have any incentive to give away their two best players for prospects.  They can utilize the window they’ve got open right now and try to win with Price before he becomes too expensive to keep.

With that season-saving move off the table (what I wouldn’t give to be able to pool all of our resources with that of the Rays to make a super team; only in my dreams, I guess), and with the majority of Mariners hitters completely falling off the fucking table, it’s time for some hard truths:  there is too much to fix on this team to make 2014 a realistic option.

As per usual, we’ve got the two locks:  Cano & Seager.  Obviously, they can’t do everything, but they do just enough to avoid our scorn.  After that, when it comes to simply batting, we’ve got a sea of duds.  Zunino is a lock, but that’s primarily for what he brings to the table defensively.  We could withstand his lack of getting on base if the rest of the lineup was solid, because he has just enough power to be a solid #8 or #9 hitter in the order.  Everyone else, you’d like to see replaced.

A few weeks ago, I had James Jones down as a lock, but that was before it was made aware to me that he’s actually not that great defensively.  Just because he’s the fastest guy on the team, doesn’t mean he’s a good defensive center fielder.  He takes poor routes on balls and seems tentative on those iffy plays where he can’t decide whether to dive for the catch or pull up to keep the play a single.  He has a strong arm, but nasty accuracy issues.  So, without any discernable defensive advantage, what have we got?  A guy who absolutely refuses to work a count and take a walk, and a guy whose only power derives from slapping a ball to the opposite field and legging out a hustle double.  If his defense was Guti-like, we could all forgive the lack of power and on-base-ness (because of that and his contributions on the basepaths, stealing and whatnot).  But, without that defensive advantage, he’s just a faster version of Endy Chavez.

Who, I might remind you, is getting the bulk of the playing time with Michael Saunders on the DL!  Yes, we like Saunders, and when he’s healthy he’s a remarkable contributor to this lineup.  But, we simply can’t count on him being healthy, which means he probably HAS to be a part-time player going forward, whether we want him to be or not.

When you tack on Ackley, you’ve got all three outfield spots that need to be improved upon.  Yes, I know Ackley has been on a tear in the month of July, but it won’t last.  It never lasts.  This is Ackley flashing his awesome potential – the reason why he was a #2 overall pick – which ultimately leaves us wondering “What If”, which leads to more playing time, which leads to him stinking for the vast majority of the year.  To count on Ackley keeping up this hot July through the rest of the season is absolutely asinine.  You can do it if you want to, but I’ll have to see it to believe it.

Then, there’s short stop.  Brad Miller is a fucking mess at the plate, so the Mariners brought up Chris Taylor.  Taylor is supposedly the best defensive short stop we’ve got in the organization, so that’s neat.  He was never projected to be much with the bat, yet he’s done nothing but tear new assholes in the minor leagues.  Even if he struggles somewhat at the plate, his defensive contributions should be enough to warrant his roster spot.  In that regard, he’s a lot like Zunino, in that on a good team – WITHOUT seven holes in the lineup – you could bury him in the 8- or 9-hole and be okay.  Not so much here.

And, of course, who can leave out 1B/DH?  Kendrys Morales is back, locking down that DH spot, so we’ll see how that goes.  If he returns to last year’s form, we should be okay.  If he continues to struggle, as he did for much of his time in Minnesota, then I guess he’s one more flop to throw on the pile.

Morales’ return means we’ve got LoMo and Hart at first base.  I feel like, even if we don’t make a move at the trade deadline, this team is pretty close to DFA’ing Hart.  He’s done.  To be frank, I’ve been calling for his head for weeks, but I’m not even mad at him anymore.  THAT’S how certain I am that his impending removal is imminent.  Then, there’s LoMo, who was on a nice little Ackley-esque tear when he came back from the DL, but has once again reverted to his inconsistent, Ackley-esque form.

When Saunders was healthy, and LoMo was roping the ball, and James Jones was slapping singles the opposite way and stealing bases left and right, and Brad Miller was on the mend at the plate after a disasterous first couple months, and Seager was ascending to All Star status, and Cano was Cano, and Zunino’s contact rate was up, it was easy to see how a hitter here and a starting pitcher there could turn this already-good team into a real, legitimate contender.  But now?  I don’t think there’s any saving this season.

Oh, we’ll continue to hang around, “in the hunt” as they say.  We’ll be .500 or a little bit better, within shouting distance of that elusive second Wild Card spot.  We can do nothing else – leaving it at that when it comes to trades – and offensive regression alone will pick up to the point where we’ll look good at times.  Great, even!  And, if our pitching somehow holds, we MIGHT even win that second Wild Card spot.  It’s not impossible; nothing’s impossible when it comes to the second Wild Card.

But, it’s not bloody likely.  And, my attitude might change, but right now I’m weirdly okay with that.  This season was certainly interesting, but without major upgrades, it’s not meant to be.  Major David Price & Ben Zobrist upgrades, which – as I stated above – aren’t going to happen.  At this point, it’s probably better to NOT sell the farm.  Not for the lesser return we’d likely see.  I still think we should ship off Nick Franklin for a warm body who can play outfield and replace Endy Chavez/Stefen Romero.  But, no longer do I think we should throw everything at winning now.  It’s a lost cause.  The last couple of months can still be entertaining, but they’ll just be baseball.  A higher-quality of baseball than we’ve been used to this last decade, but just baseball, not Playoff Baseball.

There’s still a lot to like.  The rotation is rock solid with Felix and Iwakuma at the top.  Roenis Elias will have survived his first full season in the Majors.  While he will be shut down in the coming weeks, it’s still quite the accomplishment, and something to look forward to for next year.  And, there’s still a chance for Taijuan Walker & James Paxton to make an impact in August or September.  If we can get them back, at full health, it’ll be a nice little momentum-builder going into next year.  Granted, this is what we were talking about at the end of 2013, but they can’t lose ALL their seasons to injury, can they?  Hell, maybe Chris Young keeps up this insane run of pitching he’s been on and we bring him back to a modest salary in 2015.

At this point, we know what’s necessary next year.  A lot of it is the same problems we’ve had for years:  first base, DH, outfield.  We’ve got a foundation in place with Cano, Seager, and Zunino.  I figure Zunino’s production at the plate is bound to improve year by year until he’s eventually an All Star, so we should get a boost there.  There are ALWAYS outfielders to be had in free agency, as long as we know where to look.  No more reclamation projects.  Now, we need to go out and build on this talent we’ve already got.  It’s okay to over-pay for free agents if you’re over-paying for quality.  And, when Ackley proves he’s not the guy we thought we were getting when we drafted him, flip him for someone better.

We need to be gunning for 2015 now; that’s where our big hope lies.  2015 and beyond, when D.J. Peterson and some of our other highly-touted prospects are ready to be thrown into the fire.

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