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How Mariners plan to end postseason drought

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- When the Mariners return to play Friday with less than two weeks remaining before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, they'll do so with an increasing sense of urgency.

While the Mariners positioned themselves well with a surprising 58-39 first-half record, it's impossible to ignore the 3-8 skid into the All-Star break, nor the fact the A's have closed the gap for the American League's second Wild Card berth to just three games after being 10 back on June 18.

SEATTLE -- When the Mariners return to play Friday with less than two weeks remaining before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, they'll do so with an increasing sense of urgency.

While the Mariners positioned themselves well with a surprising 58-39 first-half record, it's impossible to ignore the 3-8 skid into the All-Star break, nor the fact the A's have closed the gap for the American League's second Wild Card berth to just three games after being 10 back on June 18.

The question now, of course, is what happens going forward. There are still 65 games remaining and general manager Jerry Dipoto almost certainly will make moves to reinforce the roster, with more pitching depth -- both rotation and bullpen -- a distinct possibility.

"I think he'll be busy," manager Scott Servais said. "He's going to be on the phone a lot, trying to figure out different things that might help our club. It's a busy time, no question, and an exciting time. I do know it's much more fun being on the buyer's side than the seller's side."

Complicating the issue is the impending return of Robinson Cano from his 80-game suspension on Aug. 14. That should provide a helpful boost to an offense that has seen Ryon Healy put up a .200/.227/.362 line in 27 games over the past month and center fielder Guillermo Heredia batting .175/.228/.228 in 41 games since June 1.

But will Cano move to first base? Will Dee Gordon return to center field with Cano back at second base? And will Dipoto wait a month for that return or go out and supplement the offense now? And if so, where?

Video: SEA@COL: Gordon nabs Parra with clutch running throw

Those are fascinating questions. And the answers should soon be forthcoming.

Current status: Buyer
The Mariners have put themselves in prime position to end MLB's longest playoff drought and reach the postseason for the first time since 2001. They have both motivation and money, with more than $6 million in 2018 payroll savings from Cano's suspension still available as well as the potential to increase the budget to make a postseason push.

What they are seeking
An experienced starter who can help take the workload off a rotation that has four pitchers -- Marco Gonzales, James Paxton, Felix Hernandez and Wade LeBlanc -- on pace to shatter their innings total from last year. In order to be competitive in September -- and potentially October -- another quality starter would be big.

Dipoto has made numerous moves to bolster the back of the bullpen, bringing in veteran setup men David Phelps, Juan Nicasio and Alex Colome in the past 11 months. But Phelps got hurt and Nicasio and Colome have a combined ERA of 5.43 in 54 2/3 innings. So it wouldn't be surprising to see another right-handed reliever added to the mix, and a second lefty to help James Pazos is also possible.

If the Mariners add a bat, an outfielder with thump might make sense if they decide to keep Gordon primarily at second base, given Heredia's offensive struggles. Or a veteran backup catcher is a possibility, but it would need to be an offensive upgrade over David Freitas and Chris Herrmann.

What they have to offer
The ability to take on salary is a significant factor, since many non-contending teams are willing to accept a smaller prospect package if they're able to unload higher-priced veterans for the final two months. The Mariners don't have as many elite prospects to compete on the trade market as most other contenders, but Dipoto hasn't let that stop him in the past.

Possible scenario
Rays right-hander Nathan Eovaldi or Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ are the kind of starters who make sense to add for the final two months. Both are free agents after the season and thus wouldn't cost elite-level prospects, perhaps a promising reliever like Matt Festa (ranked No. 9 in the team's farm system by MLB Pipeline), Wyatt Mills (No. 10) or Seth Elledge (No. 17) and a lower-level prospect or international bonus pool money. Eovaldi is drawing considerable interest after finally getting healthy following his second Tommy John surgery, and he brings high upside, though he struggled his last outing so teams will want to make sure health isn't again an issue in his next start or two. Happ would be the safer option. He also hasn't been as sharp of late, but he's a proven innings eater who could definitely bolster the rotation.

Video: Matt Festa discusses callup to Majors

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

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