Salk: Mariners being in between is why deadline was frustrating

Aug 1, 2023, 9:20 PM | Updated: 9:35 pm

Seattle Mariners J.P. Crawford Cal Raleigh...

J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners celebrates with Cal Raleigh after scoring on Aug. 1, 2023. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

As the last few minutes and then seconds before the MLB trade deadline ticked away, you could almost feel the collective anxiety around Seattle.

“Are the Mariners really not going to do more? Are they not going to buy more? Not going to sell more? Not going to do more to make their team better?”

That’s what I heard, or maybe I’m just projecting because that was exactly what was going through my head.

I think we are all programmed to want action. We want things to change, to evolve and to improve. The trade deadline is one of those rare opportunities for it to actually happen. We get enticed by names and options. We want our team (especially one that underwhelmed in the offseason and has straight up disappointed in the regular season) to be the one making everyone else jealous. When it doesn’t happen, it’s hard to process.

I am frustrated the Seattle Mariners didn’t do more at the deadline.

How Seattle Mariners’ trade deadline compares to rest of AL West

I understand why they didn’t do more, but I remain frustrated nonetheless. My guess is you are probably in the same (or a similar) boat. A week ago, I asked fans what they wanted the Mariners to do at the deadline. As you would expect from a team that has under-performed but still held onto hope all year, the results were all over the map. A plurality actually wanted to sell. Some wanted to buy. Some wanted to do nothing, and others wanted to thread that needle between buying and selling by doing both.

By Tuesday at 3 p.m., at least three of those groups had reason to be upset! And I put myself in that category. But as I reflect on my anger, I think it’s more about the position the team is in rather than the actual actions they took (or didn’t take) at the deadline.

I wanted them to be clear in their intentions. I wanted them to be in a good enough position to clearly buy or a bad enough position to sell. They found themselves in the dreaded no man’s land in between.

Realistically, the Mariners were a bad fit for this year’s market. They are loaded with starting pitching, which was the resource most readily available. The teams with happy fanbases (Texas, Houston, Los Angeles) needed and found pitching.

There weren’t many players that moved this year that I wanted here in Seattle. Mark Canha maybe. He didn’t cost much and could have helped at multiple positions. Maybe first base prospect Kyle Manzardo, who has some serious upside. I’ve seen folks who would have liked power threat Josh Bell, but he has a 0.0 WAR in a very ugly season. The hard reality is that the thing the Mariners needed – high end, or even professional hitting – wasn’t really available.

So the Mariners did the prudent thing. They traded from a position of strength (their bullpen) to address positions of weakness, and they got players who are just starting their big league careers. I can respect and understand the prudence.

Maybe Dominic Canzone turns into a lefty-hitting Hunter Pence (a pretty good comp). He is athletic, has some pop, and should have better plate discipline than much of what we’ve seen. Maybe Josh Rojas recaptures the offense from his first two seasons and locks down second base. He was a 3-plus win player last year. They are prudent additions that have more value than a 33-year-old reliever who will be a free agent after next season, which is what Paul Sewald is. But that’s a lot of maybes – more than you’d want for a contending team.

You can make an argument that the 2023 team is better today than it was a week ago. But that improvement is marginal, if it exists at all. What you gain in defense and athleticism this season is likely balanced by the loss of a lockdown, rubber-armed closer, and the growing pains that come with another rookie in the outfield (Canzone) and another second baseman having a terrible season at the plate (Rojas).

The Mariners tried to thread the needle, but if it doesn’t work perfectly, they will have split the baby instead.

It is always dangerous to be in between. NFL teams who can’t decide on a quarterback (or pay an average one) wallow in mediocrity. NBA teams that hover on the edges of the playoffs tend to stay in exactly that position unless they luck into a star. This is the second time in three years that the Mariners have been in between. Last year, they were in. They knew they were buyers and the acquisition of Luis Castillo helped push them to the playoffs. The year before? That was the split baby of Kendall Graveman, Abraham Toro and Diego Castillo. The results weren’t nearly as positive.

This year’s team is in between because they haven’t played well enough or poorly enough to make it obvious. Their pitching is good enough to deserve more professional hitters. Their hitting has been bad enough to make you concerned not only about the rest of this year but the future of all four corner positions plus second base.

Usually when you try to please everybody, you end up making everyone unhappy.

I think I’d understand if they had traded some of their future to bolster this group. And while it would have stunk at first, I could have gotten excited about dealing for younger talent with bigger upside. I don’t dislike what they did. How could you? They acquired more value than they gave up. I understand their thinking, and time will tell if their scouting and projection was accurate.

But the Seattle Mariners’ goal is to win a World Series, and I don’t see how they are much closer to accomplishing that today.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners Trade Breakdown: GM Justin Hollander on deal with D-backs
Seattle Mariners DFA Kolten Wong, make five other roster moves
Mariners trade prospect to Orioles for reliever Eduard Bazardo
Seattle Mariners Trade: Closer look at three new players from D-backs
What They Said: Sewald, Servais after Seattle Mariners trade

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