It's not revolutionary to state the Mariners are long shots to make the playoffs. On top of being 7.0 GB as of this writing there are 7 teams between them and that coveted 2nd Wild Card. However it is also not revolutionary to state that this roster was designed to contend primarily in 2015-2016. There are few sellable pieces and the team is desperate to not admit defeat, even as the hordes gather their pitchforks.
As much as the organization is unlikely to sell off meaningful pieces of the roster it is also obvious they should not consider themselves significant buyers. They are long shots, as previously stated. In addition they are largely bereft of currency to buy with, thanks to a catastrophic performance from almost every meaningful member of the farm system. The team is largely what it is, for better or far more likely for worse, until the end of the regular season.
However that does not limit the Mariners from doing everything within these constraints to maximize their chances at their Hail Mary finding friendly hands. With that framing in mind I'm going to offer five suggestions for optimizing their chances between now and game 162.
1) Go to a strict 1B platoon between Logan Morrison and Mark Trumbo
The Mariners are stuck with two underperforming and disappointing assets in Morrison and Trumbo. As with many of these suggestions this is about trying to figure out how to turn a black hole into merely a very deep hole; the Locate the Floor Principle, if you will. This one is simple. Here are Logan Morrison and Mark Trumbo's wRC+ splits Vs. LHP/RHP
Logan Morrison: 16 wRC+/113 wRC+
Mark Trumbo: 100 wRC+/86 w RC+
Trumbo's stats are for the entire season and don't take into account the the half-season long acclimatization apparently necessary for every Mariner mid-season acquisition and his ensuing collapse in to awfulness.
The upside here is an attempt to scrape out a league average bat at 1B. Is a league average bat at 1B a league average first baseman? Absolutely not. We're looking to make do best with what we have. This roster is an island of misfit toys.
2) DFA Fernando Rodney and re-call Roenis Elias from AAA.
Almost everyone anticipated that the 2014 bullpen was going to regress this year. There was no way that the group would sustain the nearly universal career performances of last season. However Rodney has done more than regress. He's been nothing short of one of the very worst pitchers in the game. His 5.79 FIP combined with regular usage in high leverage situations have been catastrophic for this team. In 41 IP he's managed to be a worth -0.9 fWAR and it honestly feels like that undersells the awfulness of his performance.
Lloyd McClendon is a loyal manager and man, which is to his credit. You don't earn the loyalty and respect of 25 millionaires without first showing those qualities yourself. However his continued insistence on regularly using Rodney gives Jack Zduriencik no choice but to simply remove him from the roster.
Is there a chance that Rodney is claimed on waivers? I think so. The vastly better Fernando Rodney is only one year away and some team will think they can fix him (Tigers please). Either way, claim or no claim, with Rodney a FA next year and in no way a part of this team's plans in 2016 it is time to say goodbye and look for another alternative. Thanks for the 2014 arrows Fernando, shame so many of them landed in the seats in 2015.
As for Elias, the Mariners have watched their patchwork rotation begin to crumble two months earlier than it did last year. With Taijuan Walker and Mike Montgomery complete wild cards on any given start and J.A. Happ struggling to get through 2 innings in his last start the team is in bad need of a viable starter and/or legitimate long reliever to keep the bullpen from being overworked. Elias has proven that he can pitch in the major leagues. His addition to the roster is an obvious move at this point.
3) Acquire a back up catcher. Again.
Since the decision to trade John Jaso for Michael Morse there is no one personnel move I have disagreed with as vehemently and instantaneously as the decision to trade Welington Castillo for Mark Trumbo and Vidal Nuno. Unfortunately, I was in the mountains and away from a computer so I can't point to that reaction online to earn valuable "Told you so" points.
It was a bad trade at the time and it's results have been deservedly poor. However, that doesn't mean the team can just be ok with their catcher position being, by far, the weakest offensive position in the American League. Even in the unlikely scenario where Mike Zunino's recent surge is the sign of things to come, he is still playing in >90% of games, an untenable amount given the fatigue inherent to the position.
The team was apparently close to making a deal for a catcher just recently so the names are already out there: Geovany Soto, Derek Norris, even, well, no not A.J. Pierzynski but a name like that still makes sense to allow Zunino's playing time to be regulated. Jesus Sucre, as much as I root for him, is not a major league baseball player.
4) Play Dustin Ackley or trade him.
Although very unlikely at this point to ever blossom into the hitter he was hyped to be out of college, Dustin Ackley has still managed 3 seasons in MLB between 1.5-3 fWAR. He is not a star but has been an above average major league corner outfielder as recently as last year.
However this year has seen Ackley's production and playing time dwindle, posting a 75 wRC+ in 202 PA. It's hard to fault Lloyd McClendon for relegating Ackley to more of a pinch runner and defensive replacement but the simple fact is Ackley is better than this. His 2015 is, by far, the worst stretch of baseball he has played in the major leagues. At 27, there is little reason to think this represents a substantial drop in overall talent level. Given regular playing time there is a good chance that Ackley reverts to more of his 2012-2014 levels, when he managed to average 1.5 fWAR.
With Franklin Gutierrez an effective but always, always fragile part of the team, Ackley's skillset merits more playing time than he currently receives. Between occasionally spelling Austin Jackson and the careful regulation of Gutierrez' health issues there are at bats for Ackley on this roster, even with the team rightfully prioritizing Seth Smith's bat against RHP.
The alternative is to cut ties and attempt to trade Ackley for whatever minor league talent he would fetch; at this point I would imagine nothing more than a relief pitcher. There is no player on the roster I can more easily imagine finding new levels of success with another organization than Dustin Ackley, and the shine of his prospect pedigree and hit tool still hold some allure around the league. This track allows the team to add Justin Ruggiano to the 40 man roster and re-call him from Tacoma, as he is a much better fit for what this roster needs currently. Again, misfit toys.
5) Meet the roster where it's at.
This is an overarching, general point. The Mariners have experimented with Brad Miller as a Swiss Army Knife style player. Chris Taylor is almost unarguably a better defensive shortstop than Miller. Playing Miller at SS and Taylor at 2B, as they did two days ago, is a clear mismanagement of defensive ability.
The team spends the majority of its games with either Nelson Cruz or Mark Trumbo patrolling right field. No one, even the team I imagine, needs to be told that both players are below average in that position. The moves outlined above allow Cruz to finally play primarily at DH and Trumbo part time at 1B.
Lloyd McClendon needs to stop doing things like playing against the platoon advantage and then citing pitcher/batter matchups as the reason. There are few things in baseball less grounded in an understanding of statistics than prioritizing a few dozen at bats over a few hundred, or even thousand. I freely admit that setting a lineup and utilizing a bullpen is far more complex than using a spreadsheet and picking the optimal choice every time. However, the understanding and prioritizing of the optimal statistical choice must absolutely be A) known and B) deviated from only for good cause. It's time to get real, Lloyd.
The Mariners have no Troy Tulowitzki to buy, and the ones they have already they rightfully don't intend to sell. The chances of a miracle run to the playoffs are dependent on just that: a miracle. The best thing the team can do now is to take an honest look at what they have, make some minor tweaks, and use this roster as it stands in a way that makes miracles the most likely. With rumors swirling about job security and reasons to believe this is Jack Zduriencik's final chance at the playoffs, it's time to show some willingness to adapt.