Right now, the biggest endemic problem behind the Mariners' continued futility (aside obviously from bad fortune and a relative lack of talent) is Don Wakamatsu's insistence on affixing and entitling players to roles.
Last year, a big part of the team's success lied behind Wak's constant reshuffling and tinkering of the existing roster, hitting, pitching and playing nearly everyone in different lineup spots, different bullpen situations, different substitution roles, different lots of things, unless guys showed a consistent demonstrated in-season ability to produce at a given spot. History and track records were largely ignored.
Save for Griffey in the 5 hole, Wak didn't let a bad hitter hit 2nd or 3rd while leaving a good hitter to either bat 8th or rot on the bench in 2009. He didn't balk at letting slugger Russell Branyan bat 2nd just because he was "not a #2 hitter" or because "he's a middle of the order bat". Save for Ichiro at RF and batting leadoff, Wak mixed and matched a lot of different lineups, often moving guys up if they were hitting well and moving guys down if they weren't.
This year, however, he's insistently batted Chone Figgins 2nd despite weak production, insistently batted Milton Bradley 4th or Griffey 5th despite weak production, insistently batted Josh Wilson 7th-9th despite actual production, and insistently refused to play Ryan Langerhans despite actual production when he has played.
The bullpen is no different. He's insistently turned to Sean White and Brandon League in pressure situations because he doesn't trust the other pitchers... even though he turned to everybody last year without regard to whether he could "trust X pitcher in a pressure situation". That's how short reliever David Aardsma got the chance to establish himself as the closer last year.
If Wak wants to help turn this ship around (whether or not it's too late and you could have argued it was weeks ago), he needs to ditch the roles and start mixing up the lineups again. If a guy's hot, hit him higher in the order even if your scouts say the guy blows. Let him prove he blows, and then move him down or bench him in favor of someone else that's hitting hot. Take Langerhans and Saunders off the bench and play them 3-4 times a week... somewhere, ANYWHERE. Let Langerhans start at 1B or LF vs LHPs. Maybe Wak will finally learn that he can hit lefties (psst, Langerhans CAN hit LHPs). Start Griffey in LF and- no, just kidding, let that old man sleep, and wake him if you need a PH in the 9th.
Take your starting lineup and bat the guys based on their numbers. Go ahead and bat Ichiro leadoff. Have the two other highest OPS hitters bat 3rd and 4th. Take the next highest OBP and bat that guy 2nd. Then sort the 5-9 hitters by slugging %. If you want, put the fastest guy or the best remaining OBP at #9. Do this every night even if it means putting someone in a lineup spot he doesn't seem to belong in. What, the guys you're batting 3rd belong there now? Is that how the M's landed dead last in offense?
Here's a sample of what I'd consider an optimal hitting lineup given stats as of 5-31-2010. Langerhans would, as he's done a few times this year, play 1B, Sweeney would DH and Bradley would play LF. You could mix/match that around and have Bradley DH, Sweeney play 1B and Langerhans play LF if you'd like.
Here would be the optimal lineup that benches Milton Bradley, which may not be in the team's best interests as despite his numbers he's actually a good hitter, but is true to the hitting numbers as his are among the team's lowest:
The bullpen: Wak ought to put the relievers on a rotation and use them regularly regardless of the situation. Put Shawn Kelley in that pressure situation. Pitch Sean White in the 7th even if we're up 6 or down 7. Go ahead and bring Aardsma in for the 9th in a tie game or if we're down one.
This is admittedly an idealist proposal: There's no way Wak's getting away from the closer role. In any case, I'd ideally keep a loose rotation of three tandems of relievers (one durable middle man and one short reliever), with each day's designated tandem working in relief of the starter after he faced 27 batters (the entire order three times).
The middle men would be more durable and expected to work multiple innings to bridge the gap between the starter and short reliever, while the short man would be expected to get the last 2-4 outs. Each tandem first lists the long/middle man, then the short man.
Tandem 1: Sean White, David Aardsma
Tandem 2: Garrett Olson, Shawn Kelley
Tandem 3: Ryan Rowland-Smith, Brandon League
This is from the existing pool of six Mariners relievers and is balanced out: White is probably the best of the three middle men and he is paired with the most unreliable of the short men, which ironically is the current closer Aardsma. Kelley and League just happen to be more reliable short men than Aardsma. Likewise, RRS is probably the least reliable of the long/middle men and gets paired with the more reliable short man Brandon League.
This would not be a firm rotation: Sometimes the starter goes the distance, some relievers may recover quicker than others, and adverse situations (like the starter getting destroyed and leaving the bullpen 5-7 innings of relief) may require burning more than two relievers. But given the starters are mostly working deep into games, 6-8 innings, it's not too much to try and stick to a rotation where relievers would be assured of work every 3 games, with 2-3 days of rest between outing. And of course, guys can improve or devolve, and a guy lower on the chain may prove to be more reliable than originally thought, and vice versa.
Tandem One goes on day one, T2 on day 2, T3 on day 3 and then back to T1 on day 4 and so on. And yes, you send them out there in their given order no matter what the score is. If Aardsma enters with a 10-1 lead, whatever. If Shawn Kelley inherits a save situation, so be it. Once the starter faces the lineup three full times, yank him and put in the middle reliever.
Have the middle reliever get to the 9th, whether that takes 2 pitches or four innings (all three middle men have starting experience and can easily stretch out to handle that sort of workload). At least have the middle man face the lineup a full time (9 batters), then put in the short guy to finish. This should work fine at least 90% of the time given this defense, the rotation and the home park. Rarely should the short man come in with 3-4 innings left (if he does, it's because someone got hurt or you're getting annihilated). If that's the case, burn another reliever depending on rest and whatever else and reorganize as need be.
If you have to jack around with the system and overuse guys, just make sure everyone gets as much rest as you can get them. At this point in a lost season it's not so much about winning as it is about getting guys regular work and making sure they stay as fresh as possible over the entire season.
But it's in the Mariners best interests at this point to get away from roles like the "8th inning fireman" and "#2 hitter" and "#8 hitter", because the roles obviously haven't helped this 19-31 team win. What's the worst that can happen if you do? They keep losing? Well, maybe if they do we'll at least learn something new about these players (maybe even something useful) if you get them out of the comfort zones you've insisted on maintaining despite those comfort zones landing you 11 games under .500 in 2010.