I know we’re getting WAY ahead of ourselves here, but I’ve got a free Friday with nothing to do, so I thought I’d look at this.
Now, obviously, many things can change between now and the end of July. Key guys could get injured, opening up new holes on this roster I haven’t even imagined yet. But, let’s say things stay relatively static between now and July 31st. The Mariners continue to win, staying in contention, and guys for the most part stay healthy (or, if they hit the DL, aren’t expected to miss too much time). If the deadline were today, where should the Mariners look to improve?
Make no mistake, if the Mariners are still in contention at the deadline, I think it would be foolish to stand pat. Even really good teams – and so far, I would include the Seattle Mariners in that description – can always use some help somewhere. I think, at this point, with how veteran our 25-man roster is, we should most certainly be in Win Now mode. There really isn’t much of a farm left to mortgage anyway.
For starters, let’s look at where we’re set. Second base, third base, catcher, DH, and left field are all pretty much on lockdown. I’d say as long as Marte avoids a massive collapse, his spot at short stop is pretty safe too. Another fringe lock to remain on the team would be Leonys Martin; he’s on the fringe because his bat isn’t there, but he’s a lock because of his defense. I suppose it’s POSSIBLE that the Mariners could upgrade there, but they’d have to find someone whose defense is just as good, and I don’t know if there are a whole lot of those guys out there.
The obvious upgrade spot is at first base. I tend to agree with the people who say Lind is going to turn things around and start playing to the back of his baseball card again. Which, considering the hole he’s dug himself through five weeks, would be a significant surge in production to get back to his career norms. If that comes between now and the end of July, then fine, keep the first base platoon and move along. But, if for whatever reason, he simply can’t hit the ball in a Mariners uniform – like so many crappy first basemen we’ve brought in through the years – then I think this is the first spot you look to shore up at the deadline. Bring in another lefty to pair with Dae-ho Lee, or if you can find one, bring in an everyday starter (because, if I’m being honest, I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop with Lee, but you didn’t hear that from me).
Another upgrade spot that isn’t so obvious is corner outfield. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some Seth Smith, and I want to see him get his regular at bats against righties throughout the season. He’s going to give you the most professional AB of anyone on this team, and when things get interesting in September, you’re going to want him up there with the game on the line. What I will say is that maybe there’s an upgrade over Guti sitting out there. I like Guti as much as the next guy, but this isn’t 2010 or 2015. This is a contending Major League Baseball season! Feel-good stories only feel good when the player is succeeding, and to this point Guti hasn’t brought a whole lot to the table. If he’s not producing on offense, then what is he? He’s clearly lost a step in the outfield, so if you can find a right-handed corner outfielder who will bring you improved defense, while being able to contribute at a league-average level at the plate, then that could be a nice little spark for us going into the post-season.
On the pitching side of things, let’s go with the starters first. I really WANT to say that we’re all set here, but I have to look at this thing logically. If there’s a high-quality starter out there, probably on the final year of his deal, and that team is looking for prospects because they know they can’t re-sign him to a big money deal, then I think you absolutely make that deal. Don’t trade Walker to do it, of course! Trade anyone but Walker (and Felix, obvs)! Hell, Paxton should be a really nice trade chip for us by July, and I’d even be willing to part with Karns – whose value right now has to be at an all-time high – if we were able to get the right guy. Someone like David Price LAST year. I don’t know who that pitcher is this year, but he’s gotta be out there. That would put you with a rotation of King Felix, Ace #2, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley, and Taijuan Walker, which is just beyond sick (if you imagine a David Price-quality pitcher as that Ace #2).
As for the bullpen, I kinda feel like if the Mariners are going to do ANYTHING, this will be the primary focus. Steve Cishek is obviously the man, and Joaquin Benoit could be back as early as this weekend. If Benoit can prove he can stay healthy through July, then I think you’ve locked down your 8th & 9th innings. That will bump Joel Peralta back a ways (where he belongs, if I’m being honest), to where he’s not in so many high leverage situations. That slots Nick Vincent back as well, with Montgomery and Nuno still holding the fort on the left side. The only reason why I wouldn’t go totally hog wild on the bullpen is that there are other reinforcements on the way. Charlie Furbush, for one, can be quite effective when healthy. I’d like to see the team ensure he’s back to 100% full strength before wedging him back into the bullpen. If he’s able to return for a second-half run, that’s a nice little pickup, and maybe allows the Mariners to trade off someone like Mike Montgomery to get help elsewhere. Also, Tony Zych should hopefully return in another month to 6 weeks. He’s arguably one of the most talented arms in the entire bullpen, so that’s a huge pick-me-up for us. A bullpen, from the top down, that goes Cishek, Benoit, Zych, Furbush, Peralta, Vincent, and Nuno is – I think – a bullpen that can consistently get the job done night-in and night-out.
But, of course, if Peralta falters like we all expect him to, and the Mariners can go out and get another arm on the semi-cheap, I think that’s a given. I’ll take that for granted all day err day.
It’s funny. In years past, a post like this would’ve been three times as long, with all the holes we’ve had up and down our roster. THIS year? It’s actually kind of a struggle to find places to improve. You can make solid cases that guys who are currently underperforming will eventually break out of it and pay back all of our patience. It might not be the worst thing in the world if the Mariners stand pat, but I think when there’s an opportunity to at the very least improve your depth, you have to do it in a season like this. By every measure, the Mariners are – right now – one of the best teams in the American League. But, are they at the level of World Series champions? Probably not without some help.