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Out of Right Field: First 15 games tell a lot about this current Mariners team; future remains unclear

By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

It usually takes a quarter of a season to discern the quality of a major league baseball team. In any normal year, that’s about 40 games. In 2020, it’s 15.

After Friday night’s 8-4 home loss to the Colorado Rockies, the Mariners’ record stood at 5-10.

Do we know who they are? What they can become? And what the remaining games hold?

Yes, yes and sort of.

Whether the Mariners are the worst team in the American League is debatable. What is not debatable is they carried the league’s worst record – tied with Kansas City and, by percentage, Texas – into Saturday’s action. And their two home wins ties them with four others for the fewest in the league, though they’ve played two more than the other two-win teams.

In other words, they aren’t very good.

Are they locked into mediocrity for another year? It sure seems like it.

To win in baseball these days, any team must have a bullpen it can count on, at least most of the time. That’s not in the M’s equation. Why?

It’s by Jerry Dipoto’s design.

The M’s are spending some $64 million in salary this season, not the least but low by any measure. And of that money, only $2.39 million of it is sitting in the bullpen right now – despite having 10 relievers on a 28-man roster.

Seattle is trying to win on the cheap, at least as the bullpen is concerned.

All but Carl Edwards Jr., who signed as a free agent in December, are making basically the major league minimum. After the prorated 40-game deal with the players’ union, Edwards is taking home a bit more than a half-million dollars. None of the other nine make more than $213,000.

OK, the M’s were counting on Yoshihisa Hirano to anchor the pen this season, but COVID-19 struck in June and he has yet to be activated. The veteran, who pitched two seasons for the Diamondbacks after a six-year Japanese career, would improve the group – and raise the salary.

But even with his addition, the Mariners are going with youngsters, Some, like Joey Gerber, who was pitching in a men’s league four years ago, and Yohan Ramirez, a Rule 5 draftee who has yet to harness his electric stuff, are using this season as a learning tool.

Few, however, are the type of relievers who make up a contender’s bullpen. This year, that’s all the Mariners have.

• The M’s have plenty of holes elsewhere to limit their 2020 potential. The biggest may be in the outfield. And yet, there would seem to be the perfect antidote waiting in Tacoma.

But is this the best year to bring Jarred Kelenic to the big leagues?

The former Mets’ first-round pick, and key part of the Robinson Cano/ Edwin Diaz trade, is reportedly mashing the ball against Seattle’s pitching prospects in the stay-ready camp in Tacoma.

So much so, in fact, The Athletic’s Corey Brock suggested the 21-year-old Kelenic be recalled to boost the M’s offense.

It’s not going to happen.

Here’s why, as described by Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish in a recent tweet.

“Would you rather have:

  • Kelenic play around 45 games in this truncated 2020 at age 21 and be a free agent after the 2026 season.
  • (or) Kelenic not play in 2020, but play 150-plus games in 2027 at age 27 – his peak age.

From a realistic standpoint, this doesn’t seem like a debate.”

It isn’t.

If the Mariners wait until a handful of games into next season to recall Kelenic, under the current service time rules he won’t hit the free agent market until after the 2027 season. It’s the same timetable the Angels used with outfielder Jo Adell, who boarded the service-time train a year before Kelenic and was recalled 11 games into this season.

And it’s what Dipoto thinks is the right thing to do for the long-term viability of the franchise. So Kelenic will continue to work out in Tacoma, will hone his craft and will arrive in Seattle some time in May 2021.

Besides, it’s not as if bringing up the hot young prospect this coronavirus- addled season would put more fans in the stands.

• Is it just me, or do the games seem more enjoyable on television when Aaron Goldsmith handles the play-by-play duties? It seems, as can best be discerned in the banter coming through the broadcast, he and analyst Mike Blowers enjoy working together.

That doesn’t seem to be the case when veteran Dave Sims handles the play-by-play.

A strong rapport between the announcing crew members is crucial for a smooth presentation, especially when the on-field product leaves something to be desired.

Maybe the organization recognizes the difference as well. It seems Goldsmith and Blowers have teamed together more often this year, though we’re only some 15 games into the season.

Or, to put it another way, a quarter of the way through.