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Keep the Band Together

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We're competent. We have some aging stars. We've had some bad luck. Regroup, refocus, return.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

With the August 1 trading deadline looming, the Mariners are scuffling along right now. Even after yesterday’s exciting walkoff win – which caused me to almost wake up the people trying to sleep in nearby hostel beds in Barcelona at 1 a.m. – the M’s remain 6.5 games back in the AL West race and 5.5 games back of the second wild card spot. Their playoff odds, well above 50 percent not too long ago, have dwindled to 17.5%, per Fangraphs.

And yet.

This is not a column about selling, though Zach put together a persuasive piece this morning that argued just that. Rather, it’s the case to keep the band together. This team can contend in 2016, but more importantly, selling now would destroy what I believe to be a real chance to contend next season as well.

In talking with other LL staff about this piece, Patrick made a great point that there are three windows to consider when making midseason trades: this season, next year, and the long-term future.

THIS SEASON

I’ve watched a lot less of the Mariners in recent weeks due to being nine hours off Pacific time, and during that span the wind has slowly been sucked out of the fans’ sails. I get it. When nine of the team’s last 20 losses are by one run, when you follow a three-game sweep of the Orioles by losing three straight to the Astros, when one-time bright spots like Chris Iannetta and Ketel Marte are mired in horrible slumps, it makes it hard to be overly optimistic.

So, perhaps it takes a fan who’s been following from afar to rally the troops. But this team is above .500 in late July, with a slumping Texas Rangers team leading the division and King Felix back on the mound. It has overcome injuries to its starting centerfielder and shortstop, as well as the aforementioned ace, and discovered along the way that, oh yeah, there’s a lefty in the rotation who can hit triple digits on the radar gun and a young buck in the bullpen who doesn’t even let hitters introduce themselves before striking them out. This team could easily be on the precipice of a run.

And history shows us that this run is not only possible, it happens every year. A couple years ago, Grant Brisbee wrote an article about the lowest playoff odds of any eventual postseason participants at the trade deadline. In five of the last 10 years that he included, teams had lower odds on July 31 than the M's have right now - and the addition of the second wild card only gives the Mariners a better chance.

In addition, one needs only look at last season to see examples of teams going on hot streaks after the deadline. The three NL division leaders had some incredible post-July streaks:

  • The Dodgers went 13-2 from August 25 to September 8.
  • The Mets went 18-6 from August 1 to August 27.
  • The Cardinals went 9-1 from August 23 to September 1.

In the AL, the Blue Jays ripped off 11 straight wins starting on August 2, the Rangers went 13-4 from August 13 to August 30, and the Royals had a 10-2 run beginning on August 7.

I'm not trying to say that the Mariners are "bound" for such a run - rather, that this does happen every year, and both the eye test as well as various projection systems still think this squad is talented. Why not talented enough to echo these teams?

NEXT SEASON

Of course, not wanting to sell doesn’t mean that the M’s should stand pat. Yesterday’s trade exemplifies this to a T. Mike Montgomery, though a favorite of certain LL staff members (we love you Kate!) and a pitcher with five years of team control after this season, had shifted to the bullpen and didn’t have a lot of value to the team. This rings especially true since Charlie Furbush appears almost ready to climb back into the pen.

By flipping MiMo to the Cubbies, Jerry Dipoto snagged top prospect Dan Vogelbach, who rivals Kyle Schwarber for Best Depiction of Popeye as a Baseball Player. Short, squatty, and seriously jacked, Vogelbach could easily be called up this season, and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t in the Opening Day lineup next year.

The strategy last offseason was to pause, plug the leaks, and go for it, combining short-term fixes like Adam Lind & Hisashi Iwakuma with longer-term players like Leonys Martin and Nate Karns. I’m willing to trust Dipoto to go for it again.

Next year’s team has a number of obvious positives. All-Star-level performers appear at the top of the rotation, two different spots in the infield, at designated hitter, and potentially in the back of the bullpen. Guys like Martin, Marte, and Taijuan Walker are young and could easily improve, and there are solid players at a number of other spots in the lineup. Make a few fixes and next year could easily be a successful one.

LONG-TERM

The case to play for these two campaigns is bolstered by the lack of obvious trade pieces on the roster. When selling, one wants to trade away players that don’t fit into a team’s long-term plans, as well as guys that contenders would see as viable upgrades. Nelson Cruz and Hisashi Iwakuma fit the bill, though Iwakuma’s injury concerns might give some teams pause.

Beyond that, however? It’s pretty thin.

Cano’s contract is simply untenable for many teams, especially since what made the deal palatable in the first place was the first few years that have already evaporated. Eating money is the only way to move that deal, and I doubt the M’s are willing to do that. Kyle Seager, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Ketel Marte, Leonys Martin – these are all players with lots of control that should remain on the roster for the forseeable future.

Adam Lind and Seth Smith, though decent players, aren’t likely to get much more than lottery tickets in return. Relievers don’t bring back all that much in trades, and though Dae-Ho Lee is a fan favorite, his lack of a track record or positional versatility would limit his value as well.

Finally, there’s Felix. Trading the King would be an emotional dagger to this long-suffering fan base, and such a move is unfathomable. Moreover, even were Dipoto interested in dealing him, his injury this season and velocity dip might give pause to other teams about to commit to him long-term.

I love analytics and playing the numbers, and I know that the M’s playoff odds aren’t exactly high right now. I get the appeal of the Cubs’ path in MLB, and if you’ll give me a basketball reference, I’ll freely admit that I Trust the Process that the Philadelphia 76ers have apparently backed away from. It makes sense to try to contend year-in, year-out and to build with that in mind.

But doing so doesn’t mean that the front office should turn its collective nose at a short-term playoffs possibility. It’s one thing to tear apart a team that’s truly scuffling its feet with no realistic chance at the postseason, and quite another to do the same to a team that has, in my mind, a very realistic shot.

It’s possible that not selling means we push an inevitable rebuild back a year or two, maybe even three. Yet it could also mean this team gets to the Promised Land, and it keeps hope alive. For fans that have seen slumping teams for so long, it's only fair to keep this going.

This isn’t just a pipe dream. There’s something here. Let’s see it out.