|my face as I write this part of the post|
The Mariners sport a -50 win differential, which is among the worst in the Major Leagues. The Mariners haven't had bad luck this season; if anything they are lucky to have won as many games as they have. The rule of thumb is that roughly every 10 runs is worth a win. A team with a perfectly even (0) run differential would be .500, so -50 should mean 5 wins short of .500. This actually equates to a record 10 games below .500 because 5 less wins also accumulates 5 more losses - a team either wins or loses, after all. The Mariners sit only 7 below .500 at the moment.
It's bad enough that the Mariners have played so poorly, but they find themselves in a very bizarre landscape. They are one of only four teams in the American League with a negative run differential. The other three are the White Sox (-69), Red Sox (-57), and Indians (-20). Notice how none of those teams play in the AL West. While it is true that the Athletics are below the M's in the standings, they have a shockingly good +36 run differential. Oakland is easily the unluckiest team in baseball this year because the way they have played on the field suggests they should be challenging Houston for first place.
For comparison, the National League has a much more typical run distribution. Eight NL teams have a negative run differential, with seven positive. In fact, the NL East has four teams with negative differentials all on their own - the same amount sprinkled across the entire American League.
Realistically, the Mariners would have to play about 6 wins better than they have so far just to keep pace with this year's contenders, and then on top of that make up another 5 or 6 games in the standings to make up for their poor start. That totals 11 to 12 wins, which is about what one season of Mike Trout is worth. Now, with only a little under 100 games remaining, that's basically asking the Mariners to come up with the equivalent of two Mike Trouts to make the playoffs.
Furthermore, this back-of-the-envelope calculation doesn't take into account the staggering 11 AL Teams with positive run differentials. That's a ton of pretty good teams. It's perfectly reasonable, and probably even safe to assume, that a few teams in this group will get hot and either win more games than they should or just turn out to be better than they are right now.
The 2015 Mariners, plain and simple, are incredibly unlikely to make the playoffs. This season is just about impossible to save, and frankly not worth saving at this point. I am a product of the 1995 Refuse to Lose miracle, the team 13 games back in August, but that team got Ken Griffey Jr. back after his huge wrist injury and the good fortune of an epic collapse from the California Angels. There also weren't as many other teams the leapfrog. Even though the 2015 Mariners are supposed to be good, behind a surprising Astros team, and fewer games back with many more games to go than that 1995 squad, I would still argue that this team's chances are significantly worse than that '95 team faced.
I am terrified that the Mariners are about to set themselves back another 4 or 5 years, and long enough to completely ruin King Felix's prime. Jack Zduriencik must be able to feel the heat. He is in the type of position where GMs try to preserve their job at an incredible cost. Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz were signed to significant contracts in back-to-back offseasons, and even the Mark Trumbo trade signals a "win-now" attitude, plus gives of a hint of desperation. It is easy to imagine a trade deadline where Z grabs whatever slugger he can at whatever prohibitive price - and saddling the Mariners with another big contract and falling well short of the playoffs.
However, the Mariners could take an alternative route. It might suck for the next few months, but could lead to a quick rebound.
The blessing of the M's cursed position is how many pretty good teams are ahead of him. In fact, 21 of 30 teams in baseball are within five games of a playoff spot right now. Translation: the trade deadline should have way, way more buyers than sellers.
I hope the Mariners identify themselves as sellers. In my heart of hearts I don't think the Mariners are really as bad as their performance so far suggests, but here they are. Scrambling back into the race would take a nearly impossible effort. On the other hand, this is still an organization with three MLB-caliber shortstops in AAA or the majors. J.A. Happ is only signed through this year. Willie Bloomquist and his gritty versatility might have some value to another team, especially in the National League. Logan Morrison and Mark Trumbo might generate some interest in a market thirsty to acquire anyone. Austin Jackson is also a free agent at the end of this season.
The basic economic concepts of supply and demand suggest that whomever decides to sell players will get loftier returns than normal, because so few are expected to sell and so many expected to buy. The Mariners can maintain faith in this star-crossed season and overpay for veteran upgrades that won't get them in the playoffs, or wave a white towel and see what they can stockpile for a run at the postseason in 2016. One of these options looks more appealing than the other.