Few people thought the Mariners would contend this year, yet amazingly, they are only 5 1/2 games out of first place in the AL West at the moment. With the division looking quite weak this year, I say they should go for it.
The Angels are not the team they once were, with serious injuries to several pitchers and generalized ineffictiveness up and down the lineup, outside of Torii Hunter, and the Rangers pitching has been lucky so far and is bound to come back down to Earth.
Both of those teams are currently better than the Mariners, but at the same time, both of those teams have less ability to improve themselves than the M’s, with established veterans up and down the roster that would be hard to move.
The Mariners, however, are in a position to dramatically overhaul their entire team, if only they can muster the willpower.
Seattle’s offense has been truly atrocious this season. When Jose Lopez and his .275 OBP has actually been one of your three *best* hitters, you have serious serious problems. A miraculous performance by the pitching staff is the only thing that has kept them on the verge of contention in spite of it all. However, with some injuries beginning to set in for the pitchers, now is the time to upgrade the offense and take up some of the slack from the pitching staff.
Now, I’m not advocating that the Mariners do anything crazy, gambling away the future in an effort to win this season. But one of the beauties of having such an atrocious offense is that even if you bring in a few guys who are merely replacement level or a little better, you can really improve things, given that so many of your hitters are currently putting up *below* replacement-level production. So the Mariners don’t even have to gamble with the future to improve their team.
Yuniesky Bentancourt has been a disaster at short, both offensively and defensively. Nor does he have a history of strong production. There is absolutely no excuse for him to still be playing at the major league level. There is also no reason for the Mariners to be carrying three backup catchers on an AL roster. They should send down the worst of them, Jamie Burke. Reserve outfielder Wladimir Balentien and his atrocious defense and .273 OBP should be sent down as well.
Other players should be shuffled to the bench. Endy Chavez for example: *great* bench player, *terrible* everyday corner outfielder. Ken Griffey Jr. should also be eased out of an everyday starting role, as he is making the days of Jose Vidro at DH actually look rosy by comparison. And Griffey’s platoon partner Mike Sweeney clearly has nothing left. When you are only batting against the off-handed pitchers you are better at hitting and you are a DH and you are OPS’ing .673, it’s time to hang them up. If he won’t go quietly he needs to be cut.
So how should the Mariners replace these players? Well, the other reason they are in good position to improve right away is not only do they have players who can easily be cut or sent down, but they also have a lot of good options at AAA Tacoma who deserve to be called up.
They should start by calling up corner outfielders Prentice Redman and Michael Saunders, both of whom are shredding Triple-A pitching so far. Even if only one of them sticks in the majors, that would be fine, since the Mariners really only need to replace Endy Chavez in the outfield. Give them both a major-league trial and go with the better one.
The M’s should also install current reserve Ronny Cedeno as the starting shortstop. Cedeno is still only 26 and has a chance to hit if given a chance. In any case he will certainly better Bentancourt’s overall production, as he is a much better defender. Meanwhile the M’s can shop around for another team’s triple-A shortstop, much the way the A’s unearthed Adam Kennedy. Again, when your previous starter was so far below replacement level, you don’t need to get a huge big-name replacement to see a signficant improvement.
Finally, the Mariners should recall DH Jeff Clement. Every sign points to the fact that Clement will hit in the majors if given a reasonable chance, which the Mariners so far have denied him. Even if he fails to reach expectations, he will certainly provide superior production to that of the awful Griffey/Sweeney platoon. Clement has nothing left to prove in AAA and should be the everyday DH right now.
With a solid rotation headed by King Felix and a resurgent Jerrod Washburn, backed by a lights out bullpen, the Mariners don’t need a lot of runs to win, as shown by their major league leading mark for victories in 1-run ballgames. All they need to do is up offensive production a bit more, and they can go from fringe contender to serious threat in the AL West.
So far Seattle has been playing with one hand tied behind its back, but it’s time to untie that hand and see what this team can really do.