Not many people expected the Seattle Mariners to contend for a playoff berth, let alone finish over .500, in 2013, but the moves that general manager Jack Zduriencik made during the offseason implied differently.
Zduriencik signed veterans Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay and Joe Saunders to one-year deals, and traded for Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, sluggers with one year remaining on their contracts.
The moves played into a "win now" mentality, but with contracts expiring at the end of this season and potentially high-asking prices to renew deals, the moves also gave Zduriencik and the Mariners the option of trading these players in midseason if the team wasn't succeeding.
Morales and Ibanez have been the Mariners' greatest offensive contributors and will certainly be attractive options for contending teams at the trade deadline.
Morse was on a tear until he got hurt, but still may draw some offers if he's healthy by the deadline.
Saunders has been somewhat inconsistent, but has pitched well as of late and would be a great option at the back end of a rotation for a contender.
Bay has shown some power, but has largely been a bench player/platoon outfielder and likely won't draw any offers unless he's packaged with another player.
On the flip side, a few young Mariners have made quite an impression early on in their big league careers.
Nick Franklin and Brad Miller have taken control of the middle of the infield and the top of the batting order and look like a potential double play combo for many years to come.
Mike Zunino hasn't necessarily wowed at the major league level, but his solid play is impressive considering he spent just 47 games in the minors. Injuries and Jesus Montero's struggles opened the door for Zunino to arrive in Seattle earlier than expected, and even if the Mariners find a better solution at backstop for the short term, Zunino is certainly a major part of the team's long-term plans.
The Mariners got off to a slow start, as their offense wasn't producing once again. At times, Seattle has looked mediocre, even bad.
But Seattle also had a lot of bad luck on its side this year. The Mariners started their season-long eight-game losing streak by getting swept in Cleveland, losing three of the four games in walk-off fashion.
Then there was the 16-inning marathon against the Chicago White Sox, when neither team scored for 14 innings then combined for 10 runs in the 15th, capped by Kyle Seager's grand slam to tie it with two outs. After all that, the Mariners still lost, 7-5, resulting in the most bizarre, and exciting, loss of the season.
The M's snapped their losing streak and traded wins and losses for the next month or so, staying 10 to 11 games under .500. Then, just when everyone was ready give up and unload at the trade deadline and start thinking about next season, they start playing like a playoff team, scoring runs in bunches, coming through in clutch situations and rallying to win.
The Mariners currently own the league's best winning streak at eight games, increasing their playoff chances to 1.8 percent on ESPN.com. The streak may end up just being a positive mark to another sub-par season, but at least it's a positive sign moving forward.
Justin Smoak's bat has come around. Kyle Seager is emerging as a reputable player around the league and continues to improve at the plate and in the field. The farm system is ranked in the top 10, led by young pitching to add to a front end of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
On paper, the Seattle Mariners are on the rise. No one will really know how it plays out until it plays out. But regardless of how 2013 ends, the increase in their quality of play should be enjoyed and embraced for what it is.
Ibanez's incredible season should be appreciated and remembered while King Felix donning a Mariners uniform should be cherished and not taken for granted.
A second-half comeback is a stretch, but hey, the Indians did it in Major League, so it isn't that unrealistic.
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