Going For It At The Trade Deadline Is Scary As A Mariners Fan

I grew up in the shadow of the Heathcliff Slocumb deal, let’s not forget. That was a pretty dark day in general for the Mariners’ organization. July 31, 1997. The team was great … for the most part. The offense – especially the power numbers – was off-the-charts elite. Griffey in his prime, Edgar in his prime, Buhner in his prime, A-Rod in his mother fuckin’ prime! That lineup, 1-9, there will never be one like it again in Seattle.

We also had a starting rotation big three led by Randy Johnson in his prime, Jamie Moyer in his prime, and Jeff Fassero in his relative prime. You know what’s ironic about the 1997 Mariners? If I told you we had all of those players at the peak of their abilities, and told you the reason we lost in the first round of the playoffs WASN’T necessarily the bullpen, you’d think I was a God damn liar. But, in Game 1, Randy got torched for 5 runs in 5 innings, and Mike Mussina limited that hall of fame offense to 2 runs over 7 innings. Game 2, more of the same, as Moyer couldn’t get out of the 5th, giving up 3 runs, and the offense was largely shut down. We won game 3 behind a dynamic Fassero start (8 innings, 1 run). But, then the offense was once again eaten alive by Mussina in game 4 (7 innings, 1 run).

Now, granted, that bullpen did us no favors in the first two losses. Bobby Ayala gave up 6 runs in Game 2; Mike Timlin gave up 4 runs in Game 1. But, the bullpen, all year, was the problem. So, on July 31st, we made a pair of moves to try to shore up our weakest element of the team.

Jose Cruz Jr. was our next hotshot prospect to be called up, only to be sent to Toronto for the aforementioned Timlin, and lefty Paul Spoljaric. Spoljaric was a total and complete bust, however Timlin proved fairly effective as an 8th inning high leverage guy. Cruz ended up not amounting to much in his Major League career, but I’ll always wonder if leaving the friendly confines of the Kingdome somehow stunted his growth.

The real nightmare deal of that deadline was the Slocumb trade, who we got from the Red Sox in exchange for starting pitcher Derek Lowe and starting catcher Jason Varitek. Both of them are in the Red Sox Hall Of Fame, if that tells you anything. Meanwhile, Slocumb is still haunting me, both in my sleep and in my waking life.

It’s exactly THAT kind of deal that gives me tremendous pause every trade deadline.

You could argue the 2024 Mariners are a lot like the inverse of the 1997 Mariners. An elite collection of starting pitching, the likes of which we may never see again. A bullpen that’s good, not great, led by some really terrific back-of-the-bullpen guys. And a lineup that is just the fucking worst. We’re currently poised to win the A.L. West just the way we are, but we could obviously use a little offensive help to get us over the finish line.

The real kick in the pants about that 1997 season is the fact that the new bullpen pieces didn’t really do much of anything to solidify those later innings. I don’t believe for one second that the players we acquired made any difference in us winning our division that year; we got there on the back of our offense and starting rotation.

The same is likely to be true in 2024; if we get to the playoffs, it absolutely won’t be because of any player we get at the deadline. It’ll be on the back of our pitching staff. Oh sure, maybe a trade acquisition might have a big hit or two, but in the grand scheme of things, he won’t be the difference-maker. And he certainly won’t put us over the top and into the World Series!

There have been a variety of deadline deals throughout the years. Randy Johnson to the Astros (was only mitigated by the fact that it precipitated an all time run of greatness for the Mariners from 2000-2003), Freddy Garcia to the White Sox (bringing back a collection of crap), and one of the great Chef’s Kisses of the Bill Bavasi Era: 2006, separate deals with the Cleveland Indians, sending out Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo within a month of each other for some hot garbage. Choo and Cabrera went on to have long, fruitful, All Star careers; the guys we brought back did nothing and 2006 ended in misery (as so many years did between 2002 and 2021).

Seeing those players go on to have tremendous careers for other teams is EXACTLY the reason why I’m so paranoid about the Mariners making any sort of Win Now move.

The Mariners have totally re-stocked their farm system with a collection of exciting, young prospects. 5 players in the top 50 of all of baseball, according to some people! Thinking about one or more of those guys going somewhere and being in another team’s Hall Of Fame gives me panic sweats.

Logically, I understand how stupid it is to want to cling to all of these guys. They’re not ALL going to turn out to be amazing big leaguers. I also understand that at some point, you have to push your chips in; you can’t keep waiting around forever for these prospects to develop into bona fide stars at this level. Because, as you keep waiting, the guys who are here now will eventually move on, because we WON’T be able to afford to keep everyone. And, let’s face it, this is an organization that’s starved for some success.

The bottom line is, if a deal ends up resulting in this team winning it all – even if the player(s) we get in return don’t affect the outcome all that much – no one will care about who we lost. We’ll just remember the good times of finally getting this monkey off our back.