The skeptics, like me, are being won over. The excitement is mounting along with the wins. This is Seattle Mariners baseball the way it used to be, the way some were starting to fear it never would be again.
Yes, it’s still possible that doom is residing around the corner, that all this is a pleasant mirage. But the legitimacy of this Mariners team, of Lloyd McClendon’s remarkable melding job, is growing as the All-Star break approaches.
Kevin Mather, barely five months into his stint as team president, sensed he might be walking into a situation about to blossom. He told the media as much when he was hired in late January, and now he’s enjoying the Mariners’ emergence along with everyone else.
“It’s been really fun,” he said. “Our fan base, they’ve been patient. It’s nice to see them have fun. Every once in awhile you walk out and say, ‘Boy, that was a stinker.’ But as a general rule, it’s been an entertaining product.”
And so unexpectedly (to most) successful that the debate has shifted from the one that usually exists at this time of year. Instead of “What’s wrong with the Mariners,” the burning topic, as the July 31 trade deadline nears, is this: “What can the Mariners do to get better?” The urgency ramped up Friday with the Oakland Athletics’ stunning acquisition of two frontline pitchers, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, from the Chicago Cubs.
It’s a fun debate, and more nuanced than it first appears. Of course, the Mariners could stand to add a bat or two, maybe an arm. But at what cost in young talent? The give-and-take of “going for it” now, balanced against the potential to disrupt the future, is an eternal dilemma this time of year. And one in which the Mariners have come out on the wrong end too many times.
Mather says, emphatically, that the Mariners have the financial resources to enhance the roster, despite speculation to the contrary.
Mather also notes that the second wild card has made it so that most of the teams are convinced they’re still contenders, complicating trade negotiations.
“The three or four that are really trying to move, they think they’re the only ones moving,” he said. “So we’re going to be patient. We’re going to be smart. Jack (Zduriencik, the general manager) has been great about that. I’d like to make the playoffs four out of the next five years. So let’s make smart long-term decisions and make sure we’re not selling our souls for ’14, because we’ve got young talent. Other clubs are interested in our young talent.”
It’s a delicate balance. The M’s recall Adam Jones for Erik Bedard, Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard and Adrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez as much as you do. But a sniff of the playoffs can be alluring, especially for a franchise that has been shut out for 13 years.
And so the debate will continue through July – beef up, or sit tight? And at what cost?