The post-deadline drought is always rough, but there’s still a lot of excitement and intrigue left in the 2019 season, even for baseball’s sixth-worst team.
The Mariners came as advertised this year; tons of dingers, suspect pitching, and historically bad defense. After the smoke-and-mirrors of their 13-2 start to the season, they’ve been a chore of a team to watch. I’ve seen a lot of bad Mariners teams over the years, and this has been by far one of the worst clubs to have ever taken the field on the corner of Edgar and Dave.
Even then, I’m not disappointed. Those directly involved with the team outright said what their intentions were this year; to take a step-back in order to build something more than just a second wild card contender. From John Stanton to Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners warned its fanbase: don’t expect much from the big league club this year.
Down in the minors, nearly everything the Mariners needed to go right this year did. At the Major League level, Dipoto was able to deal Jay Bruce, Edwin Encarnación, and some of the other veterans he had taken on in the offseason to offload some of the organization’s more lucrative and restricting contracts, while seeing great strides being made by J.P. Crawford and Omar Narváez out on the field.
For as much as the Mariners have failed on the field this year, the first phase of their ultimate plan has been a roaring success.
Now, we’re on the cusp of the moment we’ve all been waiting for. A little over three weeks remain until rosters expand to 40, which means a small glimpse into the future. You may not get to see everyone immediately, especially those who may come directly from Double-A Arkansas, who’ve already clinched a spot in the playoffs. But at the very latest, fans should expect to see the likes of Justus Sheffield, Kyle Lewis, Sam Delaplane, and Justin Dunn take the field at T-Mobile Park by mid-September, if Arkansas is fortunate enough to make a deep run.
Two bigger names that should be up before then, and perhaps before September 1, are Jake Fraley and Shed Long. Both are currently nursing injuries, but should be in line for a call-up by the time they return to full health. Long has already spent a couple of stints with Seattle’s Major League club, but the logjam created by Crawford, Dee Gordon, Tim Beckham, and Kyle Seager in their infield led to the Mariners (correctly) sending Long back down to see more consistent playing time.
With Beckham’s suspension, Long may take his place as the team’s supplemental left fielder and utility infielder for the final month and change of the season. Even with Gordon expected to return from a quad injury soon, Scott Servais should be able to find ways to get Long in the lineup most nights.
Gordon isn’t the only one set to return from an injury, however, with Mitch Haniger and Braden Bishop also close to making their rehab assignments. It’ll be interesting to see how Servais divvies up the playing time in the outfield once they return, especially if they plan on calling up Fraley and Lewis as well. One would assume that Haniger and Mallex Smith will likely play nearly every day, while the final spot cycles through the trio of Bishop, Fraley, and Lewis, with Keon Broxton and maybe someone like Ian Miller (probably not *sigh*) sprinkled in there as well.
The bullpen will be the most interesting group, however, as there’s a laundry list of names who could realistically be called up. You could make a legitimate case for pretty much every single pitcher in Arkansas right now, and surely a couple should find their way to Seattle at some point in September. There’s also Taylor Guilbeau, whom the Mariners acquired from the Nationals at the deadline, and is currently throwing for Triple-A Tacoma.
As for the current Major League unit, perhaps Anthony Bass and Brandon Brennan can enhance their trade stock heading into the offseason with extended roles. Brennan just returned from injury, but had such great success to start the season that he’ll hopefully build upon to close things out. We also know that teams already had interest in Bass at the deadline, so if he does well in his new role as the team’s de facto closer, that could be something to keep an eye on.
Trade stock is something to keep in mind for Dee Gordon and Domingo Santana as well. Can both stay healthy and finish the year out strong? That would do wonders for Dipoto’s hopes of finding a deal for those two, which is likely at the top of his list heading into the offseason.
At the very least, in the next few weeks, the Mariners should be the most talented they’ve been all year. Hopefully they get on a little bit of a run and create some fun memories as they look to establish a culture moving forward.
To wrap things up, yes, the Mariners have been tough to watch, but I implore you to stay with it. The 2019 Mariners, for better or worse, are that one terrible movie you watch just for the epic five-minute action scene at the end. Even at 48-68, some 27.5 games out of first place in the American League West, things are actually getting interesting in Seattle.