It has only taken two years for Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto to change an organization that seemingly hasn’t had a vision or a plan for well over a decade. The outcome at the end of the 2017 season may result in an early winter once again, but this team and organization is different.
The Mariners starting rotation to open the season was Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Drew Smyly, and Yovani Gallardo. A month and a half into the season, only Gallardo remains healthy. Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger, who were acquired in the offseason from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte, have both spent time on the disabled list. Segura is healthy again, but Haniger still has a week or two before he is back. Nelson Cruz has been playing through a hamstring injury all season, and there have been too many injuries to count in the bullpen.
So now that you have a good overview of what the M’s have been dealing with, they also started the season 2-8. In the past, fans in Seattle would already be gearing up for Seattle Seahawks football, but this team is different. Dipoto has built depth inside the organization so they can dip into the farm system and have guys step in and be able to compete and excel at the big-league level. This is something that hasn’t been possible over the past decade. The Mariners’ motto this season is “Whatever it takes,” and the team won six of seven to pull back to .500 (17-17) before losing last night to the Toronto Blue Jays. Several players have been key in keeping the Mariners afloat, but Taylor Motter, Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, and Ariel Miranda have been some of the biggest contributors.
Motter, who was acquired over the offseason from the Tampa Bay Rays, won the utility man role out of spring training. He has started 19 games at multiple positions so far this season. He is slashing .235/.311/.543 with five home runs and 15 RBIs. In a stretch from April 11-28, he started 16 games while mostly filling in for Segura and slashed .253/.313/.613 with all five of his home runs during that span. Earlier this week, he had the game-winning RBI double against the Phillies after coming in the game for Robinson Cano, who exited early with a quad strain. While Motter has sparked a buzz with his on-field play, his hair has caused quite a buzz both on and off the field. As someone who lacks in the hair department, I am a bit jealous off Motter’s hair.
Gamel, who is known as Motter’s “Flow bro” because of his almost-as-long hair, has done nothing but hit since being called up after the Haniger injury and the Leonys Martin demotion to Triple-A Tacoma. Gamel, who was acquired from the New York Yankees last season, has played in 13 games for the M’s and slashed .373/.475/.588 with two home runs, five doubles, and 11 RBIs.
Heredia was the fourth outfielder for the M’s out of spring training and has taken full advantage after Martin’s struggles and Haniger’s injury. He has appeared in 22 games this season, slashing .313/.380/.422 with two home runs and has only struck out 10 times. He has played outstanding defense along with Gamel, exactly what Dipoto wanted in spacious SafeCo Field.
When Haniger returns in another week or two, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of the outfield rotation, but if Gamel and Heredia keep hitting, Jarrod Dyson may move into a bench role with Heredia in center and Gamel and Haniger at the corners.
Miranda, who was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles last season for Wade Miley, has filled in very nicely after the injury to Drew Smyly before the season. Miranda is 3-2 with a 5.20 ERA but has pitched better than the ERA shows. He had his worst start of the season this week against the Phillies, going just 3.1 innings giving up eight earned runs. The most he had given up in a start previous to Tuesday was four earned runs. When and if the rotation is ever fully healthy, Miranda might go back to a fill-in role, but knowing you have another starter who can step in and compete is a major plus.
The Mariners season would’ve been all but over with the last couple of front offices for the M’s, but Dipoto has stressed organizational depth since he took over two years ago. While the top-level prospects aren’t as deep as one would like, the Mariners realize they have a small window to win with their core at the ages they are. They may not make the postseason again this season, but seeing the progress from the top to the bottom of the organization is a welcome sign to see. If this team can get healthy, they could make a run toward October baseball — they just need to keep doing whatever it takes.