SEATTLE -- General manager Jerry Dipoto finds himself in an interesting position as the Mariners head toward the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline hovering just over .500 at 45-44 coming out of the All-Star break.
The Mariners have put together an offense clearly capable of contending, but injuries to both the rotation and relief crew led to a roller-coaster first half that wound up with Seattle smack in the middle of the American League West.
With new CEO John Stanton poised to take over for Howard Lincoln in August, the restructured local ownership group would surely love to make its mark by pushing to end the longest postseason drought in MLB with a team whose biggest stars -- Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez -- aren't getting any younger.
The club already went above its projected budget when the late opportunity to re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma rose last winter, and the sense is that more money could be available if there's a realistic chance to push for the playoffs.
Those factors, along with the wide-open nature of the AL Wild Card race, have to be weighed against the notion of giving up assets from a thin farm system to make a push with a team that hit the break 8 1/2 games behind front-running Texas in the AL West and five back of Boston and Toronto for the two AL Wild Card spots.
Dipoto has proven willing to make moves and take reasonable risks from both his four years with the Angels and his short time in Seattle if he thinks he can help his club, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he wheels and deals in an attempt to bolster the pitching and give this group a chance to see what it can do in the final two months.
Thus, the next few weeks figure to be critical in helping determine which direction Dipoto goes and how much he's willing to do at the Deadline as he weighs short-term improvement vs. long-term health of the franchise.
If the Mariners feel they're in it, the biggest impact move would likely be adding a power arm to the back end of the bullpen mix. But they certainly wouldn't be the only team looking to go that route and Dipoto would have to give up some valued prospects to land a significant difference-maker. D.J. Peterson has raised his stock with a good start at Triple-A since his recent promotion, and the Mariners have several young power-hitting prospects like Gareth Morgan and Austin Wilson who don't seem to fit the new regime's profile, as well as some quality lower-level arms that could be dangled.
WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?
The Mariners have one mission in mind. Having missed the playoffs for 14 straight years, they are eager to play meaningful games in August and September and find a way into the postseason party for the first time since the 116-win campaign in 2001.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The Mariners open the second half with a three-game series against the Astros, the team three games ahead of them in the AL West. Swept in Houston last week, Seattle needs to begin turning the tide and showing signs of being able to compete both in the division and Wild Card races. After closing the homestand against the White Sox, another Wild Card competitor, the Mariners then hit the road for a tough trip against the Blue Jays, Pirates and Cubs leading up to the Trade Deadline.
Getting Hernandez back and healthy clearly would be a huge boost and the Mariners ace is expected to rejoin the rotation on July 20, the final game of the first homestand against the White Sox. There were many other factors involved, but it's hard to ignore that the Mariners were 28-19 and leading the AL West after his last start, then went 17-25 while he's been on the shelf. A healthy Hernandez both solidifies the rotation and helps the bullpen by reducing its innings load on a regular basis.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
The Mariners already received a huge boost with the arrival of flame-throwing reliever Diaz. Most of the remaining top prospects aren't ready to contribute this year, though center fielder Guillermo Heredia is one to watch. The 25-year-old Cuban signed during Spring Training and opened the year in Double-A Jackson, but is a strong defender and has continued to hit well since his promotion to Tacoma three weeks ago.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.