With the Seattle Mariners having lost their 81st game on Wednesday night, it would appear that another losing season is all but guaranteed in Seattle.
Following a three-game sweep at Safeco Field by the Houston Astros by a combined score of 25-7, the M's looked like a team that may have finally ran out of gas.
Unfortunately, we still have a few weeks to go, but even before the Mariners' latest losing season becomes official, I'm already starting to plan ahead for 2014.
After having detailed a few weeks back about what the Mariners must do to compete in the AL West next year, I figured it now makes sense to piece together a more plausible forecast for this offseason.
Some of these points may seem familiar or even overlap, but rest assured that this review concerns more about what the Mariners will do versus what they should do.
That's not to say it's all bad news, so much as scaling back the sense of expectations. If you're a Mariners fan, you should be accustomed to this anyway.
So what exactly are my early predictions for this offseason other than saying that it will be another rinse-and-repeat scenario similar to so many we've seen over the better part of a decade now?
Let's take a look and find out.
It seems that the Mariners have already managed to get off to a head start for next year with a handful of late-season call-ups, meanwhile several high-profile prospects who haven't made it to Seattle have instead been slated to play in the Arizona Fall League, according to Mariners.com.
In essence then, nearly every Mariners' prospect who appears ready for the majors should be given a chance to perform either with the big club or in Arizona among the game's top prospects before Thanksgiving.
So what exactly does this mean? That depends on your point of view.
Does giving Taijuan Walker and James Paxton a handful of starts mean they're going to be part of the M's starting rotation next year?
Can Abraham Almonte show he's a potential fixture in the outfield over these final few weeks?
In short, the answer to both questions is no. Long-term, though, the team's decision-makers at least get to see who has a pulse to determine how the 40-man roster may look by Opening Day 2014.
With these ongoing auditions, I'd imagine the M's will be taking copious notes on who they have to either play with next season, trade over the winter or stash away in the minor leagues.
For example, in his debut last Saturday night, Paxton looked fairly impressive, yet does this make Joe Saunders expendable moving forward?
Time will tell, but suddenly, the M's may have more than one left-handed starter going in to 2014 and that kind of flexibility can be a huge help this winter.
Beyond saying goodbye to the obvious cast of veterans as a means of shedding payroll, I think that Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik will continue to erase whatever mistakes he can of the past several years.
It was something I touched upon back at the trade deadline, and it should continue this winter.
Former Mariners such as Alex Liddi, Trayvon Robinson, Francisco Martinez, Vinnie Catricala, Eric Thames and Casper Wells are all gone, either traded or let go over the past year.
I see this trend continuing with Jesus Montero sitting atop the pile of skeletons and I wouldn't be shocked to see him sent packing this winter.
With supposedly one final year under contract, Zduriencik is not going to want to be haunted by Montero or anyone else who he has specifically brought into the organization and has gone bust—even if it means trading them for low-level prospects you will never hear of again.
What else may Jack Zduriencik do this winter?
Allow me to answer a question with a question.
If you happened to be the Mariners general manager, would you be willing to put your job on the line with an outfield comprised of Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders and a veteran like Franklin Gutierrez, Raul Ibanez or Endy Chavez? Not to mention rookies like Stefen Romero and Abraham Almonte.
Me neither, especially with an infield that will likely rely on the "experience" of Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak for support.
Right now, the Mariners' outfield looks like a major liability both offensively and defensively.
Not that this is something new in Seattle, but anything short of Ackley becoming a force in the lineup with Saunders emerging as a steady 20-20 combination of power/speed and one of the rookies merely looking competent is going to save this group from looking like a complete and utter train wreck.
The problem is, who should the Mariners go out of their way in adding to the equation?
Much like death and taxes, at some point this winter, the Mariners will either make a blockbuster trade, sign a big-name free agent or both.
Say what you want about general manager Jack Zduriencik, but almost every winter, he at least tries to drum up some sort of deal with the hopes of reversing the Mariners' fortunes.
Last year, Zduriencik started out by pursuing Josh Hamilton, yet ended up trading for Kendrys Morales as a consolation prize after the Angels considered Morales redundant. Never one to give up, Zduriencik later made a deal with Arizona for Justin Upton, only to have Upton reject the trade, leading Zduriencik to work out a three-team deal for Michael Morse instead.
The year before, Trader Jack shipped off Michael Pineda in exchange for Jesus Montero in a deal that both sides are still trying to forget.
As for free agency, does the name Chone Figgins sound familiar?
Had enough or shall I continue?
When it comes to the "Big Deal", either by trade or free agency, Zduriencik hasn't had very much luck over the course of his tenure in Seattle.
At the same time, he is most likely going into this winter as a desperate man with money to burn and a handful of prospects worthy of some attention from rival GMs.
In other words, don't get too comfortable with the current stable of youngsters. Guys like James Paxton, Brandon Maurer and Taijuan Walker, aren't pitching right now just to sell tickets to help fill an empty ballpark.
But you say that the M's wouldn't trade Walker, right? After all, he struck out eight Astros in five innings on Monday night.
Perish the thought, but I thought the same thing of Michael Pineda two years ago.
"What about signing a free agent or two instead?"
In the coming weeks and months, expect to hear names like Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Tim Lincecum being linked to the Mariners. However, like last winter's top free agents, I'm not particularly in love with any of them.
Yet I can't see Jack Z sitting on his wallet this winter, assuming the M's maintain a payroll similar to what they've been spending in recent years.
So who will the M's throw their money towards?
Isn't it funny that Kendrys Morales has seemingly busted out of his slump the past week or so heading into the end of the season?
In case you haven't heard, it happens to be a contract year for Morales. The Mariners, in theory, could use his services for another two to three years.
That wouldn't seem so bad at the current going price of a little more than $5 million dollars per year for Morales, but the odds of him inking a deal at that price are laughable.
So what should the Mariners do?
My suggestion has been to seek out a player who could potentially be a far more dynamic option.
Of course, being the Mariners, I'd imagine they will bring back Morales for at least double, or close to triple, the price if the team makes him a qualifying offer.
Kudos to Morales. By simply being competent and staying reasonably healthy this season, he will become an even richer man this winter, whether he stays in Seattle or not. What's really sobering is that Morales is probably past his prime, much like the majority of the free agents available this winter.
As of today, I'm resigned to the idea that the M's will likely find a way to keep Morales simply because he didn't embarrass himself this season and he's as good an insurance policy as any to fill out one spot within the middle of the order given the current roster.
For Jack Zduriencik, Morales is the "bird in the hand" so to speak, given that he doesn't need to sell him on the organization in the same way he would if he were to speak to Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo. Instead, he merely needs to write him a check to make Morales' agent, Scott Boras, giggle.
Time will tell what happens this offseason, but in order to succeed Zduriencik will need to make some tough calls on each of the points outlined here and remain vigilant while in search of the right opportunities.
Basically. he will need to spend money and/or make trades to find players who complement the current core of youngsters while avoiding the mistake of bringing in the next Chone Figgins or Jesus Montero.
With the odds against him and nothing to lose, don't be shocked if he goes for broke.
On some levels I find that exciting, as it should make this particular offseason quite entertaining. Knowing Jack Z, however, it's also a bit scary.
I only wish I had faith in him and the situation.
Sadly neither inspire much confidence. Both have been lost for years now.