Close your eyes and drift back, for a moment, to a time long ago, when Edwin Díaz was preparing to start games for the Jackson Generals; when the dream of Cerberus was still alive; when Scott Servais was a rookie manager tasked with creating lineups with the likes of Adam Lind, Dae-ho Lee, Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith and yes, there was still just one DH.
It was just the second game of the 2016 season when the Seattle Mariners faced off against their former reliever, Tom Wilhelmsen, who had been traded that November in a deal that sent him, James Jones and a PTBNL (Patrick Kivlehan) to the Texas Rangers for Leonys Martín and Anthony Bass. It remains one of the most entertaining trades Jerry Dipoto has made during his Seattle tenure.
- Martin played the better part of two seasons for the Mariners, and they even signed him to a minor league deal at the start of this year, where he made a handful of appearances in Spring Training before being released.
- The Rangers non-tendered Jones a month after the trade, re-signed him to a minor league deal and said “Hey, you’re a pitcher now.” To prove he was a true Texas pitcher, he underwent Tommy John surgery midway through the 2016 season. The Dodgers signed him to a minor league deal this off-season (as an outfielder).
- Bass was released by the Mariners that January to pitch in Japan, and would eventually return to Seattle as a free agent in 2019, before becoming a Guy Who Tweets At Airline Accounts.
- Kivlehan was traded back to the Mariners in May of 2016, released a few months later, claimed by the Padres and hit his first big league home run in his second-ever plate appearance off of Robbie Ray. Baseball’s a small world, isn’t it?
But back to The Bartender. In his first appearance for the Rangers, against his former team, Wilhemsen was tagged for five earned runs and was thrown from the game after plunking Chris Iannetta. In 21 games with Texas, he amassed a 7.93 FIP and though ERA means nothing, his 10.55 really hollered to be seen. In June of 2016 he was optioned to AAA, elected free agency, was promptly signed by the Mariners, proceeded to return to solid relief form, and the DoubLLe Agent legend was born (some believe this gif was the final piece that helped José Rivera nab a job running social for the M’s). Further investigation revealed one-time M’s southpaw Wade Miley was engaging in suspiciously similar saboteur activities in Baltimore.
But it’s a fool who gets caught holding the bag for the crime, and Jerry Dipoto is nothing if not a man confident he can swap the bag in his hand for two cost-controlled bags in the bush. The M’s appear to have shifted tack, adjusting the ball, pitch clock, and Coriolis effect to bring about the cutting edge in intra-sport espionage. Specifically, the M’s have continued to deal off players at record rates, however their tactics have shifted. Instead of seeking players who can sink their new clubs like a stone in Puget Sound, the new recruits are more surreptitious, instead endeavoring to play well, sticking around at least long enough to twist the knife at just the right moment: facing one of Seattle’s key playoff contention rivals.
Consider the damning map of evidence below (click here for interactive link):
As you can see, these yarn strings all connect around one hub: these final 10 games, a stretch of regular season heretofore unseen in the history of Major League Baseball.
LOOK AT THE TOP OF THE AL WEST— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) September 20, 2023
This is the 1st time that 3 teams in the same division were all within half a game or fewer of first place with all having 10 games or fewer left to play, since divisions began (1969)
h/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/b7PqtEk63R
And so, intrepid amateur detectives, be there a Nancy Drew or a Tintin amongst you, we suggest you keep your eyes trained in two directions, challenging for the average human but easy for the rarely-surprised iguana. Keep one, in this final week and a half, laser-focused on the hometown club, of course, as rooting hard is a stellar cover for any investigator. The other eye, however, we suggest you keep on a few other clubs, those who happen to oppose the M’s fellow contenders for the AL West crown and the remaining Wild Card spots.
Facing the Toronto Blue Jays to close the season are the Tampa Bay Rays - RHP Shawn Armstrong, RHP Zack Littell, and RHP Erasmo Ramirez (somehow, again, still) - and the New York baseball Yankees - OF/1B Jake Bauers, RHP Luke Weaver, LHP Nick Ramirez, and RHP Ian Hamilton. What may seem like a smattering of mediocre castoffs is in fact a web of the top subterfuge agents in the sport, and without constant vigilance they may swing the balance of the playoff hunt. So too may former M’s deadline acquisition, LHP Tyler Anderson, who could play a role in a three-game matchup between his moribund Angels and the Rangers.
But if it were not evident enough the fix is in, Jigsaw Jerry has saved his greatest trick for last. The Houston Astros may expect the most obvious gambit: Dipoto pulling the strings for his own flesh and blood, his son Jonah to make his big league debut as a surprise call-up from Triple-A Omaha, an unlikely outcome that the crafty ‘Stros would surely sniff out. Instead, that possibility will serve as a smokescreen for Seattle’s crack team of Arizonan ex-pats in the season’s final series. Ketel Marte, who drank deep from the fountain of youth and has already aided the M’s this season. The hometown kid Corbin Carroll, NL Rookie of the Year-to-be and Seattleite through and through. And, just as he might have hoped at this season’s outset, when the lights dim in the top of the 9th in the desert, it will be time for Paul Sewald to pitch, clad in different regalia but with an animus unaltered: close out a win to defeat the Houston Astros and clinch the AL West for the Seattle Mariners.