SEATTLE -- Don’t tell Scott Servais that the Mariners’ three-game series against the Astros this week, which just so happens to lead Seattle into Friday’s Trade Deadline, is among the most monumental in at least three years.
Seattle’s skipper, at least publicly, isn’t having it. But perhaps that mentality is partly why the Mariners are in this position, just one game out of a postseason spot after Monday’s thrilling, 11-8 come-from-behind win.
“Certainly, there was a lot of excitement in the ballpark over the weekend,” Servais said. “There should have been. Those were exciting games. You're hanging on the edge of your seat. You need guys to step up in big moments, and we had a number of players that did have outstanding weekends. I say all that, and that's behind us.”
Servais did, however, acknowledge how refreshing and confident it feels that Seattle’s front office entered Deadline week as buyers before Friday’s 1 p.m. PT Deadline, which will follow an off-day for Seattle on Thursday.
The Mariners haven’t been in this spot since 2018, when they added outfielder Cameron Maybin and relievers Zach Duke, Adam Warren and Sam Tuivailala -- none of whom had a significant impact, and all but Tuivailala were rentals, as part of an effort to make one final push at the postseason.
“I was thinking about that driving in today,” Servais said. “Much different feel here this year than maybe the last couple years. … That’s a credit to our players that have put us in this position. These guys have really played hard. We've dealt with injuries and some adversity along the way like every team does.”
Multiple sources told MLB.com on Sunday that the club has a high interest in Royals infielder Whit Merrifield, who would be as strong a fit as any player for Seattle on the market. From a need, position, cost, ability and control perspective, the 32-year-old primary second baseman checks every box.
And after the Pirates dealt Adam Frazier to the Padres, the second-base market became thinner. The Mariners made an offer to Pittsburgh for Frazier, who bats left-handed, has just one year of club control left and before this season had been more inconsistent than Merrifield. Frazier netted three prospects, including the Padres’ No. 7, per MLB Pipeline, but the Pirates also sent $1.4 million to the Padres. Seattle’s offer, sources told MLB.com, was as competitive and did not ask the Pirates to include cash.
Anyways, what the Pirates asked for Frazier is likely the floor cost for Merrifield, who has approximately $10 million left on his deal, including a club option for 2023. And the Mariners, who have the No. 3 farm system in baseball, are in as good of a position as any to buy.
“The one thing I will say, I'm really proud of the fact that we are in a position where we have a lot of prospects,” Servais said. “We can talk about any player in the game because we have that many prospects and they're that young. And we couldn't do that a few years ago. We couldn't talk about half the players in the game, because we didn't have the prospect wealth we do now.”
Seattle has received the lowest production in baseball at second base, per FanGraphs’ WAR (minus-0.4), with a collective slash line of .186/.256/.344 . It’s been a position of need since last offseason, when the club made offers to Tommy La Stella and Kolten Wong but came up short. Dylan Moore’s pinch-hit, go-ahead grand slam on Monday was a reminder that his best role is off the bench rather than starting at second every day. Even after the homer, he’s hitting .188/.274/.368 this season.
There are other notable needs, too, such as within the starting rotation -- and that market is even more bleak than second base. Seattle has just four healthy starters and on Monday turned to Darren McCaughan, up from Double-A Arkansas, for the second straight time through to eat innings.
He wound up pitching a much-needed four innings, but he also allowed six straight Astros to reach and score in the first inning, putting a tangible representation to the Mariners’ void at the back end of the rotation while Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield recover from injuries.
“Literally, after the first inning and how it was going, you're starting to think, ‘Do I need to throw a position player tonight at the end of this thing?’” Servais said. “We were that short on the pitching side.”
Dunn (right shoulder inflammation) and Sheffield (left forearm strain) are each progressing, but at the very best are still a few weeks away. Yet with the Mariners just one game behind the A’s -- after Seattle took three of four from Oakland over the weekend -- for the second AL Wild Card, there is far more urgency to plug that fifth rotation spot now.
Sources say that the Mariners have been scouring what was described as an incredibly bleak starting-pitching trade market ahead of the Deadline. And while general manager Jerry Dipoto has publicly maintained that the club won’t engage in the rental market, the belief is that logic would change if the price was right. But therein lies the issue: The asking prices for starters have been astronomical, sources say.
The Mariners are in a position of power with their prospect capital, but Dipoto has spent three years cultivating this talent.
“We will always weigh the present with the future, and the present means something to us,” Dipoto said. “It does. The team is playing incredibly well.”
The Mariners are at the point where they’d even entertain fringe Triple-A pitchers without much wear and tear and can throw strikes. That’s essentially what McCaughan represented on Monday, a spot that likely would’ve gone to Héctor Santiago had he not been serving the final game of his 10-game suspension. Santiago, who threw a bullpen session over the weekend, will return Tuesday and be immediately available as a multi-inning piece.
Most clubs are in the same spot as Seattle, needing arms to eat innings over these next two months. And those that have assets are well aware of Seattle’s standing and its ambition to snap the longest active playoff drought in American professional sports. It’s leverage that can and will be used against the Mariners, especially with virtually every contender seeking starters. The Mariners are actively looking to bolster their rotation, but only if its within reason.