MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Despite flaws, Mariners have nucleus to contend

Despite flaws, Mariners have nucleus to contend

DENVER -- The Mariners were favored by many to win the American League West back in the spring. There was even a strong suspicion that they would actually enjoy a World Series experience for the first time in this, their 39th year of existence.

Results, however, have eluded the Mariners. They sit 10 games back of the AL West-leading Astros, just two games ahead of the last-place A's, puzzled by how a season with such high expectations could have turned into such a downer.

For all the public grimacing, however, there was a message sent by the franchise at the passing of the non-waiver Trade Deadline last Friday. There are flaws to be fixed, but from a big-picture view there's a nucleus in place in Seattle for a contending team.

The Tigers unloaded the likes of David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria and replenished the farm system with prospects. The A's dealt Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard and Ryan Cook for a handful of prospects. The Phillies dealt Cole Hamels (three more years on his contract), Jonathan Papelbon and Ben Revere without a proven big league player in return.

Onetime contenders, they started to rebuild.

Not the Mariners.

They shuffled the roster a bit, but it was more of a house cleaning in the decision to finally give up on the development of former No. 1 pick Dustin Ackley, and a matter of getting a decent return for the reclamation of reliever Mark Lowe, who is building a home in the Seattle area and might even return to the team as a free agent in the offseason.

There, however, was no fire sale.

The Mariners are disappointed with how things are playing out this year. They, however, are not distraught.

Just like it took a revamped roster in Toronto a couple years to jell, Seattle's remake -- which began with the signing of Felix Hernandez to an extension that binds him to the franchise through 2019, and then lured free agent Robinson Cano with a 10-year deal prior to the 2014 season -- is not necessarily a quick fix.

"I think the nucleus is here," said general manager Jack Zduriencik. "We are a better club than we have played. We were not motivated just to be doing things [at the Trade Deadline] to do things.

"The club had great expectations, but there were a lot of factors that led to what happened."

There were significant injuries to a rotation that was expected to be a cornerstone for success. Hisashi Iwakuma was sidelined with a strained right lat from April 21 through July 5, and James Paxton has been out since May 29 with a strained left middle finger. Right-handed reliever Tom Wilhelmsen (hyperextended right elbow) missed four weeks early in the season, and Charlie Furbush (left biceps tendinitis) has been out since July 8.

And then there was the implosion of Fernando Rodney, who led the Majors with 48 saves in 51 chances a year ago. He is only 16-for-21 in saves this year, having lost his full-time closer role.

"When you have inconsistency at the end, everything else is out of whack," Zduriencik said of the bullpen.

It's been that kind of year.

Consider that the Mariners have a higher batting average at home (.252) than on the road (.232) and a lower ERA at home (3.67) than on the road (4.23), but they have a better record on the road (27-27) than they do at Safeco Field (22-31).

Check out the six division leaders: the Yankees are 31-17 at Yankee Stadium; the Royals are 34-18 at Kauffman Stadium; the Astros are 38-18 at Minute Maid Park; the Mets are 38-18 at Citi Field; the Cardinals are 40-16 at Busch Stadium; and the Dodgers are 37-18 at Dodger Stadium.

Translation: Division titles are won at home.

And don't overlook the fact Cano struggled the first two-plus months of the season, hitting .237 with two home runs and 19 RBIs in his first 61 games. He is hitting .300 with nine home runs and 29 RBIs his last 41 games.

"This has been a weird year," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "Look at the home/road numbers. Go figure it out. The bullpen was dominant last year."

It has been the kind of year that would set off a panic within upper management, leading to knee-jerk moves just to do something.

Not the Mariners, however. They see a positive even in a season that has been a negative.

"In my opinion," said McClendon, "this franchise is relevant again. The fact people are disappointed speaks volumes about where we are and where we are headed.

"We are moving in the right direction."

The trip back to the top of the AL West is just taking a little longer than planned.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.