Never underestimate the ability of the Seattle Mariners to punch themselves squarely in the face.
In the morning hours of July 26, the team had pulled within one game of the Oakland Athletics for the second wild card spot in the American League. The night before, they had rallied from seven runs down to defeat the Houston Astros courtesy of a Dylan Moore grand slam and a lockdown bullpen.
Before the Astros series, they had taken three of four against the Athletics themselves to drastically cut into Oakland’s margin for error.
The team’s dugout featured a party-like atmosphere the night before. Then, as they have managed to do every year since 2001, the team’s management stepped in and threw down the wettest of blankets.
The team traded Kendall Graveman, the team’s breakout bullpen star, in exchange for a prospect. In a vacuum, it’s something the Mariners have done pretty much every year since 2001. Buy low on a veteran player, then sell high when you drop out of contention. But this Mariners team isn’t out of contention. Even worse was the team’s identity to which they traded Graveman and the return they received in the trade. Hours after helping the Mariners to their signature win of the season against Houston, Graveman was shipped across T-Mobile Park to the visitors’ clubhouse to the Astros. The same Astros that have pummeled the Mariners for years reinvented cheating and were probably looking around T-Mobile Park for a recycling bin to hammer on for a new sign-stealing scheme after blowing the lead in game one of the series. In exchange, the Mariners brought back infielder Abraham Toro. Instead of trying to win now, the Mariners did what they do every year, traded a veteran player for a younger, cost-controlled player who may help them win at some point down the road.
The Mariners have absolutely no business being one game out of a playoff spot, to be fair to the team’s front office. If the team could be considered buyers at the trade deadline, they could use upgrades at pretty much every position that includes “base,” “stop,” “field,” or “pitcher” in the name. However, if there is one thing the Mariners and their promotions team absolutely love to remind fans was a thing that happened, it’s 1995. That team had no business making the playoffs, but it did, and the franchise has never been the same.
I would say the team has forgotten the lessons it learned from that franchise-changing season, but it couldn’t have possibly done that, being that the 1995 team is brought up in literally every single game broadcast. The front office gave that 1995 team the benefit of the doubt, bringing in multiple players at the trading deadline to push for the team’s first playoff spot. This team deserves the same.
If you are on a 20-year playoff drought, saying “I know this trade looks bad” in the first moments of speaking with the media is not going to cut it. Nor is just not showing up in the team clubhouse to explain the deal to players who were described as “livid” or robbing from one of the team’s few areas of strength to get a player who is now all but certain to replace team stalwart Kyle Seager in the near future. Dipoto may pull off splashier moves before the July 31st trade deadline, but the team’s history over the past 20 years does not lend itself to giving him the benefit of the doubt.
While the Mariners were busy pinching pennies and bending over backward to justify a deal that players called a betrayal, and media both national and local described as baffling, the Oakland Athletics were doing what they do every year — trying to win. The A’s, whose roster is assembled out of rusty baling wire and a decade-old piece of gum found under a seat on the BART, brought in Starling Marte to shore up the team’s outfield and keep the Mariners at bay.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, in the pivotal third game of the Astros series, the Mariners bullpen showed what happens when you remove a critical Jenga piece from a wobbly tower. Trailing 4-0 and with the team’s starting pitching once again falling to go deep into a game, the game was handed over to the bullpen. The Astros promptly doubled their lead. Houston would go on to win, the Mariners to lose, and life in Seattle goes on to the same beat as it has for the past two decades.