TACOMA, WA. — Big-time radio honcho Mike Franco posed a standard August question last Friday during our weekly chat at 8:30 a.m. on KLAY (1180 AM):
What kind of help can the Mariners expect from their farm system in September when the rules permit rosters to expand from 25 to as many as 40 players?
The answer is simple.
That’s not to say the Mariners won’t promote several players from Triple-A Tacoma and, just perhaps, someone from the lower minors.
Nor am I suggesting that those promoted players won’t make some contribution as the Mariners seek to mount a stretch drive in hopes of ending the longest postseason drought in North American professional sports.
Even so, it seems unlikely the Mariners will get a significant boost from their farm system over the closing weeks because (a) the organization lacks a genuine prospect who is big-league ready.
And (b) any player likely to be summoned in the closing weeks has already spent time this season in the big leagues. Simply put: Were they capable of making an genuine impact, they wouldn’t have been shuttled back to Tacoma.
It’s certainly possible that general manager Jerry Dipoto will try to supplement the roster through an August trade. (In fact, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make some sort of move. Maybe multiple moves.)
The problem, though, is a familiar one: The Mariners have little to offer in the way of high-gloss prospects and, as noted above, none, really, who are close to being big-league ready.
So while ownership seems willing to take on salary, particularly short-term salary, the Mariners might be limited to sifting through veteran players who are currently underperforming.
Sometimes a change of scenery helps. (It did last August with Mike Leake.) But it’s a gamble — like taking a hit on 18 in blackjack.
As for help from the farm system, outfielder Ben Gamel might ordinarily be capable of providing a boost.
He owns a solid .290/.360/.395 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) this season in 72 big-league games and has been even better in 21 games at Tacoma: .349/.438/.554.
Gamel is a solid player who, at 26, could be around, in some role, for several years.
But…yes, there’s a but…the Mariners currently have veteran Denard Span filling Gamel’s role as a left-handed-hitting corner outfielder.
Span is slashing .305/.348/.480 — a higher OPS than Gamel — in 63 games since arriving from Tampa Bay in a May 25 trade.
The difficulty of working Span and Gamel into the lineup at the same time, once the Mariners obtained veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin, was a major reason that Gamel ended up back in Tacoma.
(It’s even tougher now because Robinson Cano’s return from an 80-game suspension means Dee Gordon, at least on occasion, is back in the outfield mix. Cano also adds another left-handed bat to the lineup.)
Since Span and Maybin are both pending free agents, Gamel is well-positioned to move back into the mix next season for regular playing time. But right now? It’s hard to see how he fits which, again, is why he’s been in Tacoma.
The Mariners seem unlikely to get much of a boost by adding David Freitas as a third catcher or in recalling first baseman/designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach or veteran infielder Gordon Beckham for the umpteenth times.
As for pitching help, the Mariners recently tried patching their rotation with Erasmo Ramirez and Roenis Elias. The result is Felix Hernandez could easily, and without any real merit, pitch his way back into a regular starting job.
The bullpen could get a boost if lefty James Pazos rediscovers his early-season form on his current remedial session at Tacoma, but check the list of other potential September additions:
Casey Lawrence, Christian Bergman, Dan Altavilla, Shawn Armstrong, Mike Morin, Ryan Cook, Nick Rumbelow and even Marc Rzepczynski. They’ve all traveled round-trip already on the Cheney-to-Safeco shuttle.
More bodies will provide manager Scott Servais with some additional matchup opportunities. Beyond that…see any real help in that list of names?
Bottom line: Unless Dipoto pulls an ace out of his sleeve — again, always a possibility — the Mariners, if they’re going to mount a postseason push, are going to have to do it with the cards already in hand.