The Mariners are, once again, poised to be in the seller’s role as the trade-deadline season rapidly approaches.
In fact, you could say it officially arrived a week ago, when the Cubs sent starting pitcher Scott Feldman to the Orioles. It was the baseball equivalent of “Gentleman, start your engines.”
Yet Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik isn’t quite ready to commit to the rampant housecleaning that many see coming in Seattle. Not with nearly a month until the deadline for teams to make a deal without necessitating waivers.
“I think it’s premature,” he said Thursday in Texas. “More than anything else, I’d like to get a healthy team on the field and see where it takes us. It’s been a strange year with all those setbacks physically.”
The Mariners have indeed had their share of injuries, starting with prospective starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez in spring training, and including the long-term loss of outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and relievers Stephen Pryor and Josh Kinney, plus disabled-list stints for outfielders Michael Saunders and Michael Morse and first baseman Justin Smoak.
But the bottom line is the Mariners have dug themselves such a deep hole that only a major surge would put them among the legitimate contenders by July 31. Such is the dynamic in baseball that teams must essentially decide with two months to go in the season whether or not to disband.
The insertion of a second wild-card team last season makes that assessment even more difficult. Through Friday’s games, 21 of 30 MLB teams found themselves within 61¿2 games of either their division lead or a wild-card berth.
That creates a feeding frenzy for scraps of talent from the handful of teams, like the Cubs, who are definitively out of it. But it also creates the allure of getting back in the race for teams like the Mariners, who despite a recent surge sit 121¿2 games out of first in the AL West and 91¿2 games out in the wild card after Monday’s win over Boston.
“I think everyone has to evaluate where they’re at exactly, and where they’re trying to head,” Zduriencik said. “Who knows? You can get on a winning streak, you never know, and put yourself in a really good position. That’s first and foremost what we would like to do, put ourselves in a position where we can just compete and have a healthy club and see what happens.”
Because most trades don’t happen until the final week of July anyway (with notable exceptions, such as Zduriencik’s Cliff Lee trade with Texas on July 9, 2010), there’s still time for the M’s to see what happens in the next three weeks plus.
Zduriencik said GMs are in the feeling-out stage, with lots of phone calls to lay the groundwork for potential trades. The Mariners aren’t the only team trying to determine the reality of their situation.
“It’s just this time of year,” he said. “That’s exactly what happens.”
No doubt teams are calling the Mariners to inquire about many of their veteran players. With his hitting surge, Raul Ibanez is certain to be coveted by teams looking for an offensive burst. Same with Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, particularly if the latter shows he’s over the quadriceps strain that has sidelined him.
All three are in the final year of their contracts. The return on so-called “rent-a-players” tends to be suppressed, unless a team has a dire need or a bidding war ensues. In the case of Morales, in particular, the Mariners would need to determine whether the package they get would be better than a potential draft pick at the end of the first round next year if they make Morales a qualifying offer and he signs elsewhere.
The Mariners player in the most demand might well turn out to be left-handed reliever Oliver Perez, who has a reasonable salary, dazzling numbers and has shown that he could even be an option as a closer.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan, displaced by rookie Brad Miller, could be appealing to a team looking for a defensive boost. The Mariners have three veteran starters in Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang who could warrant interest.
“In the end, I’m not in the mood to give anyone away,” Zduriencik said. “What I’d like to do is get healthy and see how this goes. Who knows what will happen in the next 30 days?”
Mariners 11, Red Sox 4
One of the dominant themes of the second half for these Mariners will be any signs of progress made by younger players who can contribute to future winning seasons.
And while the past trip saw Nick Franklin and Brad Miller continue to impress, improvements by a couple of more “veteran” talents in Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders could be more telling down the road.
Smoak and Saunders each had a pair of doubles and five hits between them to pace a 15-hit attack in a rout of Boston at Safeco Field.
Raul Ibanez added his 22nd home run of the season and helped chase Jon Lester by the sixth inning of his expected mound duel with Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. A crowd of 21,830 saw the Mariners score five runs off Lester in five-plus innings, then pile it on later against the Boston bullpen.
Smoak finished with three hits, two coming with runners in scoring position — something he’d discussed needing to improve upon. Saunders hadn’t had two extra-base hits in a game since May 15, but came through in some key situations to help Hernandez to a comfortable lead in what had been a 2-2 game in the fifth inning.
Hernandez (9-4) pitched seven innings, allowing just two runs while striking out six. He left with his team up 10-2 before Oliver Perez replaced him to start the eighth and gave up a pair of runs.
The Mariners were mired in an 0-for-25 slump with runners in scoring position when Smoak stepped to the plate in the fourth and lined a double to the left-field corner off Lester to get the Mariners on the board. An encouraging factor for Smoak, a switch hitter, was that the hit came from the right side, where he has been much weaker this season than from the left.