The Seattle Mariners, one of the season's better feel-good stories in the first half, are experiencing turbulence.
The Mariners entered Saturday having lost five consecutive games as part of a stretch that has seen them drop six of their past eight. All of those contests have taken place against the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, Seattle's likeliest opponents in the event the Mariners make it to the American League Wild Card Game. The M's lead for the second wild card has been reduced over the past week, with the Los Angeles Angels boasting a three-game winning streak.
Jonah Keri recently opined on CBS Sports HQ (click here to watch live) that the Mariners need to pursue rotation help at the trade deadline. Per Keri's thinking, James Paxton is a stud and Marco Gonzales seems like he could be an above-average starter as well.
From there, things fall apart. Wade LeBlanc has authored a fun run, but his track record suggests he will not continue to lead the Seattle rotation in ERA+ (125) -- or, for that matter, that he will continue to be an effective starter. Keri points to Mike Leake's poor strikeout rate as a reason to not believe in him as a legitimate asset. Then there's Felix Hernandez, whose 78 ERA+ is unfit for a king and ranks in the bottom 10 among starters with 50-plus innings. (Hernandez, to his credit, has better peripherals than his company.)
Patch it all together, add in how the injured Erasmo Ramirez only recently began a throwing program, and it does make sense for the Mariners to chase another arm. The problem is the Mariners might not have the means to land a big upgrade.
General manager Jerry Dipoto has wheeled and dealed since taking over in Seattle, and has further reduced what was an already-weak farm system. Entering the season, Baseball Prospectus graded one Mariners prospect, outfielder Kyle Lewis, as having a "likely" outcome as a league-average player. Comparatively, MLB.com's grades are downright rosy -- and yet even they assign a 50-plus grade to just four other M's prospects: first baseman Evan White, right-hander Sam Carlson and outfielders Julio Rodriguez and Braden Bishop.
Evaluations can differ, and it's possible the industry -- or at least a few teams -- are higher on the M's kids than the public. Still, Dipoto would seem to have his work cut out for him if he's going to match or do more than what he did last year, when he netted Gonzales and Leake in separate deals with the St. Louis Cardinals. Examining both as blueprints for how the M's could navigate this deadline feels reasonable enough: either by executing a challenged trade -- when they dealt Tyler O'Neill for Gonzales in a swap of unproven talents -- or by taking on a contract another team wanted to dump -- when they snagged Leake.
Alas, there are hitches there, too. For starters, only one of Seattle's aforementioned top prospects (Bishop) is at a level higher than A-ball. (White played a few games at Triple-A to cover for organizational depth issues before returning to high Class-A.) Other teams are unlikely to want to deal a big-league ready arm, even one who isn't yet entrenched, straight up for a player years away from contributing.
There's also the financial aspect. The Mariners didn't spend much during the winter, signing Juan Nicasio to a two-year deal worth $17 million and assuming the $27.5 million that remained on Dee Gordon's contract. By and large, the Mariners otherwise sat out the offseason -- even when potential starting-pitcher bargains like Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn seemed ripe for the picking.
Nonetheless, the M's still entered the season sporting a franchise-high $157 million payroll. The Mariners did gain some financial flexibility with Robinson Cano's suspension, as he had to forfeit more than $11 million. Yet their trade for Denard Span and Alex Colome ate into those savings, leaving them with just a couple million to spare. Perhaps ownership is willing to stretch further in order to end what is baseball's longest playoff drought.
If not, Dipoto will have to work some magic to find a legitimate upgrade. Despite recent developments, Seattle seems to have plenty to spare.