As I type this, the Mariners have just 11 games remaining this season. With their Fangraphs playoffs odds now down to just 1.9%—they’ve now fallen behind the Rangers, and are 0.1% more likely than the Royals—it would take nothing short of a miracle for the M’s to sneak into the playoffs. The Twins, who currently possess a relatively secure lead on the second Wild Card spot, get to face the lowly Detroit Tigers seven more times as we round out the season.
As they say, “it ain’t over til it’s over”, but things are looking undeniably bleak. That said, the Mariners are set to return almost their entire core in 2018-19 of their top 10 players in fWAR are under control for 2018--and there are some decisions to be made that could benefit the organization if they’re willing to shift from “win now” mode to “win in 2018” mode.
Shut Down Felix Hernandez and James Paxton
Although it has been a bit inspiring to see the club’s projected ace and actual ace rebounding from injuries here in the final month of the season, recent performances from the men they call “The King” and “Big Maple” aren’t instilling tons of hope that their returns are going to propel the club to the storybook ending we’re all rooting for. On the heels of a season that has seen the teams projected 1-4 starting pitchers start a combined 41 of their 110 games to this point in the season, they’d be better off resting what looks to be the team’s #1 and #2 starters next season rest down the stretch instead of reaggravating their respective injuries pitching in what almost certainly figures to be meaningless games in cold weather in the Pacific Northwest.
Make Vogelbach the Everyday First Baseman
Dan Vogelbach’s struggles to man the defensive duties of first base have been well documented basically since he was brought over to the organization last summer. That said, Vogelbach was obviously brought to the organization for a reason, and with Nelson Cruz locked in as the DH through next season, any consistent at-bats Vogelbach sees will have to come at first base, and with Yonder Alonso and Danny Valencia both ticketed for free agency following the season, these final 12 games could offer another roughly 50 major league plate appearances and 150 defensive innings to assess what the state of the position looks like heading into the offseason. If Vogelbach demonstrates an ability to hit big league right-handers anywhere close to the .897 OPS he posted against them this year in Triple-A, the M’s could allocate the cash they would have spent on a left-handed half of a first base platoon to acquiring a mid-rotation starting pitcher. Additionally, if Vogelbach has shown no improvements defensively after manning first 81 times for the Rainiers this season, the offseason wish list suddenly just got a bit more complicated.
Let the Starting Pitching Prospects Start
In a perfect world, the Mariners wouldn’t have devoted any starts to the Marco Gonzalez, Andrew Albers, or Andrew Moore this season, but, as discussed earlier, the injury bug bit hard into the Mariners rotation this season. With the pitchers accounting for 41 of the teams starts this season not under control for next year (Gallardo, Iwakuma, Gaviglio, Overton, Heston) there appear to currently be 1-2 rotation spots up for grabs next season. It’s safe to assume at least one of those openings will be addressed via trade or free agency in the offseason, but it wouldn’t be a shocker to see the #5 spot occupied by someone already in the organization. Ariel Miranda, Erasmo Ramirez, Andrew Albers, Marco Gonzalez, and Andrew Moore have all flashed at times, and another 1-2 starts against major league competition could reinforce the organization’s confidence that our 2018 #5 starter is already with the club. Gonzales in particular has seen his stuff play up significantly in a relief role, but any sign of an ability to translate that success to success as a starting pitcher would be a welcome sign.
Get Mika Marjama In the Lineup and Behind the Dish
I wouldn’t necessarily advise completely benching Mike Zunino in the midst of one of his now famous torrid hot streaks, but after catching in 118 games this season and with Nelson Cruz wrapping up a season in which he’s been playing through injury, I’d be completely fine with Mike Z surrendering a few starts behind the dish to Mike Marjama, who has logged just two at-bats in his 19 days with the big league club. After wRC+ing 120 with the Durham Bulls, Marjama saw an insanely low .167 BABIP drive that number down to 48 in 21 games with Tacoma. As Kate mentioned back when Marjama was initially acquired, Marjama’s defense is a work in progress, but getting some defensive innings in under the watchful eyes of Mike Zuinino and the big league coaching staff could be invaluable in preparing him to inherit the backup catcher role in 2018, assuming Carlos Ruiz isn’t brought back. While the backup catcher isn’t usually the player who makes or breaks a teams playoff hopes, some extra time adapting to the demands of the position could be educational for the 28 year old rookie, while Zunino is already regarded as one of the top defensive catchers in the game, and has no doubt earned a night or two out from behind the plate.