You can’t really expect Mariners players to get it. Although the idea that GM Jerry Dipoto has to come down to the clubhouse to OK any decision he wants to make isn’t how things work in any company. The fans are probably in between, because they went into this season pretty much only looking forward to what they would get for Kyle Seager or Mitch Haniger, and hopefully the debut of Jarred Kelenic and the continued development of Kyle Lewis (neither of those things have gone particularly well this year either for varying reasons). Suddenly, they have a team that finds itself in the wild-card chase. Except it might not be any good still, though the ride here certainly has been fun.
So let’s get on the ground. The M’s traded their closer, Kendall Graveman and a sixth infielder to the Astros for a reliever in Joe Smith who’s just about as anonymous as his name, and young infielder Abraham Toro. The surface optics look bad when you’re not only dumping your closer, but to the team in first place in your division who, in theory, you’re trying to chase down.
Except the Mariners aren’t going to chase down the Astros. They’re not making up seven games, and Dipoto almost certainly knows that. The M’s had to go 13-7 so far in July just to get to this point. They were one game under .500 in the season’s first three months. That’s a much better indication of who they are. Meanwhile, the A’s have gone 8-11 in July to drop into catchable range for the M’s. Would any reasonable person expect these trends to continue?
To boot, losing a reliever isn’t really that big of a blow to a team with 61 games left. Graveman is likely to make what, 20 more appearances? Maybe 25? The 20-25 innings he would throw would make up about 4 percent of the innings the M’s have left. If Seattle can have another guy throw 15 innings as effectively, it’s basically a wash on what they would have gotten from Gravemen. Sure, it could lose the second wild-card spot by a game, and point to some late-inning meltdown they had as that one they had to have. But there will be plenty of other moments to point to as well.
As silly as it sounds to the layperson, the average-as-can-be starter Tyler Anderson that the M’s then picked up late last night from the Pirates is going to be twice as valuable as Graveman. He’ll make 10 or so starts, and throw twice as many innings. Unless he completely melts down. Maybe Graveman will, as well, in Houston, though. Who knows? That’s the thing with middling pitchers, which both of these guys are. You can get anything.
The question is whether Toro will be good enough in the coming years to justify the current Mariners roster burning effigies of Dipoto in the clubhouse. He might? His 2019 was very good, and then he didn’t have a minor league team to go to last year, so he was with the Astros probably a tad early, and it had an effect. Maybe this is all he’ll be in the majors. Maybe a chance to reset gets him back to 2019 form. How much better can you do for a guy like Graveman who had just been “a guy” before this season?
Whether the M’s miss or make the playoffs will depend on more than the 20 innings they would have gotten from Graveman. And Toro has something of a chance to be part of a consistent contender for years, which is the idea here and was the idea before the season that everyone in Seattle was on board with.
I’m sure there are M’s fans who want to tell me there’s something magical about this team. And there may be, because they really aren’t good. They’re 10th in runs in the AL. 8th in starters’ ERA. They just happened to hit remarkably well with runners in scoring position, which we know now is basically a coincidence, and have fashioned a bullpen out of a collection of guys who got kicked out of bar bands around town and didn’t have anything else to do or anywhere to go. None of this suggests “sustainable.”
It does feel cold-hearted and too analytical in a game that’s suffered too much from that. It removes any emotion, which is supposed to be part of the experience. It perhaps queers the relationship between players and front office in a way that could be a problem down the road. It feels too spreadsheet, and not enough human. But that’s what a GM’s job is, especially for a rebuilding team like Seattle. And if the Mariners flatten out the last two months, the players will have just as much responsibility for it.
My senior year of high school, I had what my baseball coach called the worst practice in the history of our school. I maintain it wasn’t totally my fault, as it was the first practice after spring break and I hadn’t slept or been close to sober in at least four days (strangely I didn’t go anywhere, but I didn’t need sunlight and beaches to destroy myself). No throw I made came within five yards of any of my intended targets. Even the freshman, backup shortstop was making fun of me, so I had to beat him with my glove before walking out of practice and saving everyone the trouble.
Basically, every throw I made looked like this from Cody Bellinger last night which gifted the Giants a 2-1 win:
It can happen to anyone. It binds us all, from the functional alcoholic on his couch writing this to a former MVP. That should be part of James Earl Jones’ speech in Field of Dreams.