Seattle Mariners

View from the outside: Rival scouts assess the Mariners

Where do Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano and the rest of the Mariners go from here?
Where do Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano and the rest of the Mariners go from here? AP

It’s possible the Mariners still have a run left in them as they head into the final two weeks of their season.

They’ve been a resilient bunch. James Paxton and Felix Hernandez are back from the disabled list to aid a troubled rotation over the final 12 games. And none of those games are against Houston.

Even so, the Mariners’ postseason aspirations are now razor thin. At 74-76, they entered Monday’s open date trailing Minnesota by 4 1/2 games in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.

The open date offers an opportunity for reflection: How did the Mariners get here? What went right and what went wrong? What needs to happen next? And how are they positioned for the future?

The News Tribune posed those questions to several scouts from rival organizations over the last few weeks. Their views often clashed with one another, which is a point worth emphasizing.

These are opinions from professionals who make such assessments for a living, but they’re still opinions. While anonymity boosted candor, these scouts work for other clubs. There is inherent secrecy and self-interest involved in their comments.

These scouts were only going to give away so much.

Further, their views are also legitimately debatable. Scouting remains an inexact science. The Mariners would no doubt disagree with much of what follows, but we’ll save their view on the state of the franchise for another time.

Three responses are cited in response to each question. In cases where scouts offered similar views, which happened a lot, follow-up questions produced additional responses.

***It’s easy to look at the Mariners and say injuries to their rotation wrecked their season. Is that the case?

"Without question," one scout said. "No team loses that many starting pitchers without paying a price. The same thing happened to the Mets and the Angels. Even Houston, when (Dallas) Keuchel and others went down, struggled a lot.

"When you don’t have reliable starting pitching, everything is so much harder. Just ask Buck (Showalter, the Baltimore manager)."

Another scout offered a different view: "Sure, it’s true. But Jerry (Dipoto, the Mariners’ general manager) rolled the dice on a lot of guys and got burned.

"Paxton is always injured for one reason or another. (Hisashi) Iwakuma’s shoulder problems finally caught up with him. Why do you think the Dodgers walked away from that (free-agent) deal two years ago (after a medical exam)?

"The clock has been ticking on Felix for a few years. (Drew) Smyly is another guy who always seems dinged up. Now, it’s still unusual to have that many guys go down at once."

A third scout: "I tell you where Jerry deserves some credit. He went out in the middle of the season and got (Mike) Leake and Erasmo (Ramirez). Those aren’t No. 1 guys, but they take the ball. Those are guys who help a club.

"I’m also curious to see what the (Marco) Gonzales kid looks like next year. I liked him before he had Tommy John (surgery and missed the 2016 season)."

***The Mariners have had a lot of turnover since Dipoto arrived (in September 2015). Overall, is that a plus, a minus or no factor?

"Well, the club is better, more balanced," one scout said. "This is a club that needed to be turned over without a complete rebuild. They had too many veteran guys to rebuild. It was a tough challenge.

"Jerry is one of those guys who is always going to be tinkering, and he needs to keep tinkering. This isn’t a championship club, but I think a lot of the heavy lifting is done."

Another scout: "What’d they use this year? Forty pitchers and 60-some guys overall? You can't win with that much turnover. Guys need to jell. Some of it was circumstances out of their control. But, still, too much."

Another view: "If you watch them on a regular basis, you get a different perspective on all of those moves. They had no choice but to mix-and-match on the rotation because of injuries.

"But that bullpen? They just rotated the long man every time they used him. Their core relievers stayed the same. Their lineup stayed pretty much the same, too. They had a few injuries there, but nothing out of the ordinary for 162 games.

"They haven’t has as much turnover this season as a lot of people believe. For the most part, it’s been confined to the starting pitching and long relief."

***If you’re the Mariners, coming out of this season, give me something you should feel good about.

"You know, I think (Mike) Zunino has finally figured it out," one scout said. "I’m not completely sold yet. I want to see what happens next year. But he finally looks like he has a clue at the plate.

"He’s still going to strike out a lot, but his contact rate is up, and when he makes contact, it’s loud."

Another scout: "I like some of the under-the-radar starting pitching moves they’ve made. I always liked Leake in Cincinnati. I don’t know why he wasn’t better in St. Louis. Sometimes a guy just doesn’t click in a place.

"Don’t get me wrong, though. They still need pitching, but everybody needs pitching."

From a third scout: "I know they like their young outfielders, although I’m not sure all three are everyday players. (Mitch) Haniger is hard to assess because he missed two long stretches with injuries.

"For me, (Ben) Gamel has to prove he can hit lefties to play every day but, at worst, he’s a good platoon option. (Guillermo) Heredia might be a fourth-outfielder type. He’s getting exposed playing every day since (Jarrod) Dyson got hurt."

***What’s the Mariners’ biggest need going into the off-season?

"It’s the same need that every team has," one scout said. "Starting pitching. If Paxton could stay healthy, that would be one thing. But he can’t. I don’t know why he can’t, but he can’t. And Felix? You want to bet on that shoulder? I don’t."

Another scout: "Aside from starting pitching? They need a first baseman. (Yonder) Alonso and (Danny) Valencia are both gone, right? (Both are pending free agents.)

"That really shouldn’t be a problem. There’s a lot of free-agent first basemen on the market. Their two guys, (Lucas) Duda, (Mitch) Moreland, (ex-Mariner Logan) Morrison. They’ll get somebody, and it shouldn’t cost too much."

From a third scout: "They still need another outfielder. Dyson is a free agent, but he’s a good fit as a platoon with Heredia. If not Dyson, someone like him. They had a guy like that in Boog Powell, but they traded him (to Oakland for Alonso)."

***Look three years down the road. What’s the biggest issue the Mariners face?

"Felix is never going to be Felix again," one scout said. "You see teams go through this with a great player, and it almost never ends well. He’s got what? Two more years guaranteed for $25 million or so?

"I think the best-case scenario with Felix is he turns into Pedro (Martinez) with the Mets (at the end of his career). A middle-of-the-rotation guy who gives you five innings and is a constant injury risk. If you expect more, you’re kidding yourself."

Another scout: "I want to see if Robinson Cano goes back to using the whole field instead of selling out for power. I think he fell in love with home runs after hitting (almost) 40 last year.

"These days, you throw anything low and away, and he chases it with no chance of hitting it. If you miss, he hurts you. But if you locate, he’s meat. Back when he used the whole field, he could foul that pitch off or even dump it into left field."

From a third scout: "Their farm system is a mess. Jerry inherited a mess, and it’s still a mess.

"All of those prospect lists you see from Baseball America and others, they’re far from perfect. But they normally identify the top guys. You might disagree with the order, but the top guys are generally on there some place.

"You don’t see many Seattle guys on those lists. If that doesn’t change, and soon, it’s going to catch up with them. You win because of stars and, generally, you have to develop stars.

"Want to trade for an impact guy like Houston did to get (Justin) Verlander? Fine, you’ve got to have top prospects who are close to big-league ready. You see any of those at (Triple-A) Tacoma?

"Sure, you can grab someone now and again in free agency, but look around. Most of the game’s top players are on the team that developed them. You don’t win titles by swapping out the 20th-to-25th guys on your roster."

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners