No matter what happens the final three weeks of the season, the Mariners’ record will probably finish somewhere in the neighborhood of .500.
It’s not a great neighborhood to reside, sure, but if you think of the season as a “fixer-upper,” then it’s not too bad.
It’s just hard to tell if this team is riddled with termites or structurally sound.
So what has happened this year that bodes well for the future? And what has happened that bodes, well, poorly?
In this 50/50 season, the answer has to be a little of this, a little of that. A baseball version of flip or flop if you will.
Flip: Some young, inexpensive, under-club-control talent has emerged.
We will start with Ben Gamel, mainly because we are jealous of his hair. But his coiffure aside, Gamel, 25, is a good defensive outfielder and a slap hitter with a small but consistent power zone. If you throw a fastball low and in on Gamel, there is a good chance he’ll put a charge into it. Other spots, not so much.
Though not considered a power prospect – he has eight home runs – his OPS (on-base plus slugging) going into Sunday was still .729, a point better than Danny Valencia’s. So there is that.
Mitch Haniger is a year older than Gamel and his numbers are better as well. In fact, Haniger’s OPS is .821, second-best on the team to Nelson Cruz.
Both are not arbitration eligible until 2020 and can’t hit the free-agent market until 2023.
Flop: There isn’t much in the way of young talent.
By young talent, we’re not talking minor league players here. There are others out there who have a better understanding of that than us. We are referring, however, to players 26 or younger who have made a major league impact already.
Gamel and Haniger are in that category. So is Mike Zunino, but we are all a bit prejudiced against Zunino because of his past struggles. The catcher is doing better offensively late this season – his average is up to .238 and his OPS is .805 – but we need to see more of that more consistently to be duly impressed.
But is Guillermo Heredia an impact player? Or Andrew Moore or Marco Gonzales impact pitchers? We’re not convinced.
We’re sure Edwin Diaz is – another guy under control until 2023 – and we believe left-hander James Pazos and righty Thyago Vieira are. But if there are other young pitchers in the system who might have helped, they should have been in the bigs this season. After all, the M’s have used 38 pitchers – and two catchers – to get outs since April.
Flip: Jerry Dipoto’s last couple of trades for starting pitchers have turned out OK.
Mike Leake is a veteran starter with a decent contract – the M’s enticed St. Louis to pay $15 million of what Leake is guaranteed over the next three years – who should slide seamlessly into Hisashi Iwakuma’s former role next season.
And though Andrew Albers is a stopgap this season, the left-hander has filled his role well, including Saturday night’s six-inning shutout performance in a much-needed win over the Angels.
Flop: Age and injuries.
These two have to be thought of in tandem. There is a correlation.
The M’s are aging. Nelson Cruz is 36. Robinson Cano is 34. Felix Hernandez is a well-used 31. All were bit by the injury bug this season, Hernandez more than once.
Our crystal ball tells us keeping the trio healthy all next season may be an impossible task.
Other key pieces, including dominant-when-healthy left-hander James Paxton, have spent an inordinate amount of time on the disabled list. Another left-handed starter, Drew Smyly, hasn’t pitched for them all year and may never throw a regular-season pitch in a M’s uniform.
It’s almost as if this 50/50 season is destined to result in a 50/50 future. But there is one thing you can count on 100 percent: Dipoto won’t stand still.
If the M’s fall short of making the postseason – and the stat folks see that at about a 91 percent certainty – then Dipoto will be looking to make changes.
He can’t afford too many more flops.