Even as the Seattle Mariners seek to delay mathematical elimination from the fringe of postseason contention, let’s not kid ourselves. Club officials long ago shifted their focus to next year and beyond.
They made a series of “sell” moves prior to the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline while simultaneously opting for an extended evaluation on some in-house possibilities.
They fired general manager Jack Zduriencik on Aug. 28, which club president Kevin Mather characterized as being “about what the Mariners are going to do in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.”
And they chose a long-term view with catcher Mike Zunino, one of their touted prospects, by sending him back to the minors and then, more tellingly, to the Fall Instructional League to work on his hitting.
Mather promised a fast-track search for a new general manager and, while he continues to decline comment, the sense throughout the organization is the process will be completed within a month.
The new general manager will inherit a long list of personnel decisions at the big league level. (What to do, if anything, with the scouting and player-development departments is an issue for another day.)
We surveyed many among the battalion of scouts from rival organizations who spent time around the Mariners over the past few weeks for their frank (and, accordingly, not-for-attribution) assessments.
Take this for what it is: chatter on various topics among a collection of insiders who work for other clubs. It’s interesting, possibly, but not necessarily reflective of the Mariners’ in-house conclusions.
Roughly a dozen scouts contributed to what follows. Many offered similar views on a particular topic — and an example of the prevailing opinion appears as the first response in each case.
But there was plenty of disagreement, too.
So pull up a chair. Imagine you’re the new GM and sift through the range of opinions and see how they mesh with your own thoughts.
Should manager Lloyd McClendon be retained for the final year of his contract?
“I’ll say this much,” one scout said. “He’s got a veteran team that is having a disappointing season. Those are the teams that often mail it in down the stretch. But his guys are playing hard.”
Said another: “That team last year had no business winning as many games (87) as it did. This year, they should have been better. What’s the difference? The bullpen, man. Bullpens will drive you crazy and can get you fired.”
And a third: “Mac can manage, but that might not matter. If the new (GM) has a guy he wants, he’ll make a switch. That’s just the way it goes.”
Can Ketel Marte play shortstop and bat leadoff?
“I’ve heard some people question whether he has the arm to play short,” one said. “Usually, if you have ask yourself whether a guy can play short, he can’t. But, personally, he looks fine to me.”
Another said: “I haven’t really had to see him make a play in the hole, but he looks fine on the routine stuff. As for (batting) leadoff, I like that he’s a switch-hitter with speed.”
A third: “I’m not sold on the bat. I’d like to see a little more pop. Otherwise, you just pull in the outfield and the hitting space gets real small real quick. Can he bunt? I haven’t seen that, but that would help.”
Can Brad Miller play the outfield?
“He’s got the tools,” one scout said. “Decent speed and a cannon for an arm. But am I ready to commit to him as my regular center fielder? No. That doesn’t mean he can’t play there. I’m just not sold.”
Another said: “I agree with (the first scout). I don’t know about center. But put him in left? Sure. Or right. My concern is the bat. He should be hitting for more pop. What’s happened to him?”
A third: “I’m not ready to give up on him as a shortstop. Great arm, but he looks like he rushes at times. Just slow him down and smooth him out. You see how (Kyle) Seager is always under control at third? That’s what you want.”
Can Tom Wilhelmsen be the closer?
“Who knows?” one scout said. “He really hasn’t had any adversity since they put him back in that role. Let’s see what he’s like after he blows a two-run lead. Or two or three of them.”
Another said: “His stuff plays big time. So that’s not a concern. With all closers, it’s about the mental approach. The best (closers) are arrogant. No matter what happens, they always believe they’re going to get next guy.’
A third: “He looks different out there, more in control, and I’ve always liked his stuff. But let’s face it, he’s not exactly pitching in a pennant race — and that changes things. Would I go into next year with him as the closer? It depends on the alternatives.”
Is there a viable in-house partner for catcher Mike Zunino?
“Is that a serious question?” one scout asked. “If they had a truly legit guy anywhere in the system, they’d have sent Zunino to the minors in May.”
From another: “They had that guy in (Welington) Castillo, and they traded him (to Arizona). Now, I’m a (Mark) Trumbo guy. I’d rather have Trumbo (than Castillo) unless I really needed a catcher. They really need a catcher.”
From a third: “They really did that kid (Zunino) a disservice by rushing him to the majors. I understand why they did it. They didn’t have anyone else. Still don’t. For their sake, you hope they didn’t wreck him.”
Is Jesus Montero a guy who can play regularly in the big leagues?
“You know what, I’d really like to see him succeed,” one scout said. “It looks like he’s really got his life in order. But I don’t know.”
Another said: “Look, that guy was once one of the game’s top prospects. The tools are there. Can he play every day and be a contributor? I don’t know, but I’d give him three steady months to find out.”
A third: “I just don’t think so. Not unless he fixes that twitch in his swing. You can get away with that in Triple-A but not up here. It slows his bat. He has some power, but it’s to right because he can’t get around on most guys.”
What about the pending free agents (starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and reliever Joe Beimel)?
“I think everyone assumes they’re going to re-sign Iwakuma,” one scout said. “I hope they don’t. I’d love to make a run at him.”
Another said: “I’ll be shocked if Iwakuma and Gutierrez aren’t back. They seem like good fits here. They’ve really done a good job of managing Guti’s situation. I doubt Beimel holds out for a multiyear deal again.”
From a third: “I really like Iwakuma, but I can’t imagine him leaving unless the Mariners low-ball him or somebody really overpays the market. That could happen, I guess, but I’d be surprised.”
And a fourth: “All three of those guys seem to be in a comfort zone here. I think some teams might take a run at Iwakuma, which could push the price up. Then it’s up to the Mariners.”
Any other thoughts on the roster?
“Who is the center fielder next year?” one scout asked. “I don’t see one on this roster. They don’t have one in the system either. They have to go out and get one.”
Another said: “I’ve seen them a bunch this month, and I’ll tell you two guys who have helped themselves: (Shawn) O’Malley and that (Tony) Zych kid. I like O’Malley as a true utility guy. Just don’t overuse him, but he can help you on a limited basis. I like Zych as a middle (relief) guy.”
From a third: “This team needs more speed; more athletes. I like their middle with (Robinson) Cano, (Nelson) Cruz, Seager and Trumbo. Now give me some OBP (on-base percentage) speed guys for them to drive in.”
A fourth: “Their rotation can be special if they keep everybody healthy. Now, I’m assuming they keep Iwakuma. But you’ve got Felix (Hernandez), and (Taijuan) Walker looks like a stud on the rise. Keep (James) Paxton healthy, and that’s a great rotation.”
SO YOU’RE SAYING…
About those postseason chances … the Mariners are 71-76 with 15 games remaining and trailing Houston by 6 games for the American League’s final wild card berth.
The Astros were swept in four-game series at Texas, which is where the Mariners open a three-game weekend series on Friday.
The odds on the Mariners prior to Thursday’s games:
▪ Baseball Prospectus (www.BaseballProspectus.com) put them at zero chance to win the American League West and a 0.1 percent chance to gain a wild card berth. That’s one chance in 1,000.
▪ Fangraphs (www.Fangraphs.com) also rates the Mariners at zero chance to win the division but was a little kinder on the wild card at 0.3 percent. That’s three chances in 1,000.
The Mariners open their final trip at 5:05 p.m. (PDT) Friday with the first of three weekend games at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Left-hander Paxton (3-4, 3.82 ERA) will face Rangers right-hander Yovani Gallardo (12-10, 3.35).
FRIDAY: Seattle (LHP James Paxton: 3-4, 3.82 ERA) at Texas (RHP Yovani Gallardo: 12-10, 3.35), 5:05 p.m., Root Sports, 1030-AM, 710-AM