What Should The Mariners Do At The Deadline?

There are three schools of thought: trade for more Major League-ready (albeit shorter-term) talent, trade away our Major League talent for more prospects, or stand pat.

The Stand Pat option is the least-satisfying one, not to mention pretty psychologically damaging to the mental well-being of the players and coaches in that clubhouse (not to mention to us as fans). While I’m sure they’re very confident in each other and their own abilities, even the biggest World Series contenders could always use a little help in some key areas. That being said, the Stand Pat option also might not be the worst one of the three, though I couldn’t possibly advocate for it here.

You only get so many bites at the apple, as they say. If you’re not doing everything in your power to take advantage of the opportunity your strong play has created, then you’re just not doing your job as a General Manager. This is especially true in baseball, since it’s so damn wonky.

Maybe I’m just spoiled by following the Seahawks, but it seems like in the NFL – as long as you have a top tier franchise quarterback – you’re always going to be in contention for a playoff spot. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything when it comes to making the Super Bowl – you need so many things to go right for that to happen – but you frequently see teams with quality quarterbacks go on hot streaks at just the right time.

With baseball, I think you see teams catch fire in the playoffs even more often; the key is simply getting there. What do we remember about the Mariners from 1995-2003? A lot of good, right? All of our post-season appearances took place in this period of time. But, in those 9 seasons, we actually made the playoffs only 4 times (heartbreakingly, we won 93 games in 2002 and 2003, yet failed to reach the post-season). What happened those other five years?

Well, we obviously had the talented core to put up a lot of great stats, and win a lot of ballgames, but we failed in our charge to add to the team when the playoffs were within our grasp. The Pat Gillick years were unmatched in our level of on-field success. But, there’s a reason why he was derisively called Stand Pat. Because more often than not, he did nothing when he should have done something; and the few times he went and made a move, it ended up being the wrong one (hello: Al Martin).

There’s a part of me that sees the level of talent we’ve been able to draft and trade for in recent years, and wants to continue on this course where we have a young, cheap core of players for the next decade. But, there’s absolutely no guarantee that any of the guys in the minors right now will amount to a hill of beans in the majors. Meanwhile, we’ve got some pretty good ones in the bigs right now who need some help around them, if we want to make a dent in the playoffs.

The Mariners are 51-42, right in the thick of the Wild Card hunt. Not just in the hunt, but IN the playoffs, if the season ended today. Our current playoff odds place us at 80% to make it; I couldn’t possibly tell you the last time it was that high! Probably 2003.

As such, it makes zero sense to ship off our veterans for more prospects. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I could see maybe one or two veterans getting moved. But, that would almost certainly be in conjunction with bringing in other veterans to take their place. Maybe we find a taker for Adam Frazier; he is an unrestricted free agent next year, after all. But, if we do that, that would probably be because we’ve found a replacement at second base who looks a little more promising, either for the remainder of this year, or hopefully for the next year or two. Maybe we package Jesse Winker with some prospects to help bring in a high-falutin’ outfielder who’s a little less volatile at the plate. Maybe we flip Carlos Santana – now that we’re confident Ty France is healthy – and would rather save the DH spot for Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger, to bring them back more slowly when they return.

Really, what needs to happen is what I’ve been alluding to all along: the Mariners need to do (almost) whatever it takes to improve the Major League ballclub, whether or not it’s a combination of veterans and prospects. And, at this point, I don’t think you can afford to leave any stone unturned.

There are obvious guys you don’t deal. You have to keep Julio and Cal. You’re probably locked into J.P. and Suarez given their contracts. And I really don’t think Haniger or France are going anywhere (especially Hangier, given he’s more valuable to your team than he would be on the trade market). On the pitching side of things, Robbie and Marco aren’t going anywhere. You’d probably be idiotic to trade Gilbert, Kirby, or Munoz. And there might literally be a mutiny if you trade Sewald.

But, as far as minor league prospects are concerned, or anyone else on the Major League roster I haven’t mentioned, I think they’re fair game. Now, obviously, this is where Jarred Kelenic comes into question. I don’t think he’s totally fallen off the map when it comes to prospect status – he could still very well turn into a great Major Leaguer. But, there’s no question that his value has taken a significant hit. This is the second consecutive year since he was called up to the bigs where he’s had to spend a good portion of the season in Tacoma. He’s got massive holes in his swing, on top of confidence issues that have left him endlessly tinkering with his approach. Before the 2021 season, you could’ve asked for the moon and stars when it came to a potential Kelenic deal; now, he’d be little more than thrown into a package of prospects to bring in a quality Major Leaguer. It would be Kelenic plus 2-3 other high-level prospects to bring in an All Star.

So, would I do that? It depends on the All Star. I’d love to lock down another premium spot on the field that we’re currently filling with a replacement-level guy. Maybe a corner outfield spot, maybe second base. I would need that guy to come with a big bat that’s not going to falter in T-Mobile Park, nor require a platoon because his splits are so stark.

The question on everyone’s mind is Juan Soto, who apparently rejected a 15-year, $440 million contract extension with the Nationals. He’s under team control through 2024. If he’s turning down THAT deal, then what are we looking at? He’s already earning over $17 million in his first Arb year this year. So, not only are you paying an arm and a leg over the next two years, but you’re probably giving him the biggest contract in Major League history to stay here long term. How do you get that done, and then turn around and extend Julio Rodriguez (who, I would argue, is the higher of the two priorities, in this hypothetical scenario where Soto gets traded to the Mariners)?

Do you just pull the trigger and let the chips fall where they may, hoping you win it all at some point between now and 2024? Do you pull the trigger, give it a couple years, and then maybe trade Soto at some point in 2024 to try to recoup? Do you try to pay both him and J-Rod and just pray you have enough pieces making the minimum around them to continue contending for the playoffs?

Half measures are a great way to win nothing, both in the short and long term. Trading for Soto would be anything BUT a half measure. However, is he enough? It seems to me, you make a Soto deal when you need that final piece to the puzzle (or, if you’re looking for a boost and a superstar to build around). The Mariners have their superstar to build around in Julio. We’re also more than one piece away from World Series contention. If we’re going to drastically trade off prospects to bolster the Major League roster, then I’d like to see them go to other areas of need.

I’d love to trade for another ace-level pitcher, for instance. What does Ray, Gilbert, and Ace 3 look like, when surrouned by Marco, Kirby, and Flexen as a 6th guy/long reliever type? Pretty great, right? Maybe add another reliever or two who throw in the upper 90s with filthy breaking stuff? Can’t have enough relievers! And, I think you can get away with middling another bat, either as an outfield platoon/insurance, or as a starting second baseman, to spare us the combo of Frazier/Toro/Moore.

If we can do that, while not completely decimating our minor league system – to save some prospects for next year and beyond, either to bolster our Major League roster, or to trade for more help – then I think I’ll be happy with the effort put forth to contend in 2022.

I already believe this is going to be a playoff team, barring more injuries. It’s not unfathomable that this could be a team that makes some noise in the post-season. With the right collection of players, and a good amount of injury luck, we might even make the World Series for the first time!

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