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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

July 20, 2009 at 3:00 PM

A new trade-deadline twist for the Mariners

windsor.jpg

That’s Caesar’s Casino in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, across the Detroit River, looking out my hotel room at the Renaissance Center Marriott in Detroit. It’s a place I will not be going, I hasten to add for the benefit of my boss and my wife — and, no, they’re not one and the same.

First, I want to make sure to direct you to this post I put up earlier today on the Mariners’ blog about whether the Mariners should buy or sell at the trade deadline.

I wanted to throw out another possibility that hasn’t been mentioned much: The Mariners could hedge their bets at the trade deadline, with regards to their two big-ticket items, Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn.

As most of you know, the term “trade deadline” is a misnomer. Trades can be and are made after July 31. They can be made year-round, in fact. The only catch is that after July 31, through the end of the season, anyone who is traded must clear waivers. The next deadline to worry about is actually Aug. 31 — players must be on a team’s roster by that date to be eligible for the post-season. One quick anecdote: When I covered the Giants in another life, they traded for Dave Henderson , the ex-Mariner, on Sept. 1, 1987. The Giants were in a pennant race and one of their outfielders had gotten hurt, if I recall. They picked up Henderson from the Red Sox purely for insurance. Henderson, who had been a post-season hero with the Red Sox the previous year, was not at all happy with the move, as I recall, because he was ineligible for the playoffs. But the next year he signed with Oakland as a free agent and went on to have the best years of his career there.

Just for edification, here are the post-July 31 trading guidelines:

To be traded, a player must clear waivers, a process in which every team in baseball has an opportunity within three business days to potentially foil the deal by claiming the player — and his contract.

Once a player is claimed, the original team has three options: pull the player back and keep him; try to work out a trade with the claiming team within 48 hours; or allow the claiming team to have the player.

If multiple claims are made, the team with the worst record in the same league as the original team gets priority. If the multiple claims are all from the other league, the preference again is based on reverse order of record.

Recent baseball history is sprinkled with significant August deals, which I’ve written about before. The infamous Jeff Bagwell trade — Houston’s Larry Andersen to Boston for Bagwell — took place on Aug. 31, 1990.

In 1995, the Mariners picked up Vince Coleman, who turned out to be critical in their playoff run, on Aug. 15. In 1992, the Blue Jays acquired David Cone, who played a big role in their first World Series championship, in August. The Cardinals got future All-Star Woody Williams from San Diego on Aug. 2, 2002. The Mariners traded Jamie Moyer to the Phillies on Aug. 19, 2006. Just last year, the Mariners came very close to trading Jarrod Washburn to Minnesota in August after the Twins claimed him on waivers. At the behest of team president Chuck Armstrong, they turned down the deal and pulled back Washburn — a decision, it must be said, that has been vindicated by the events of 2009. (Although I’d love to know the players Minnesota offered. I talked to someone privvy to the details in spring training, and though he wouldn’t tell me the players, he did say he was stunned the Mariners turned it down).

Here’s what I’m thinking: If on July 31 the Mariners are in that nether-land where they’re close enough to first place to dream, but far enough out to still have nagging doubts about whether they have a realistic shot at contention (let’s say, five to seven games out), they could hedge their bets on Washburn and Bedard; those are the key players, because they’re the ones that can walk away after the season. They could sit back and see what August brings. Yet that doesn’t preclude Jack Zduriencik from making a “buyers” trade to augment the offense, either. And it doesn’t preclude him from working on a contract extension for one or (perish the thought), both.

Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman told reporters over the weekend that the trade deadline doesn’t hold much value any more. Here’s a Cashman quote from Ken Davidoff’s fine Newsday blog:

“I think over the years, this trade deadline is no longer even in existence,” Cashman said. “…The waiver stuff is not going to prevent deals in August. Guys are going to get through because people are going to be afraid to claim and get stuck with money that they can’t afford. And so the July 31 trade deadline is more of a fictitious one now, anyway.

“It’s not like it was when Steve Phillips (when he was the Mets’ GM) and I were going haywire, claiming everyone on the wire. Those days are dead and buried, because no one can live with a mistake like they used to. Because the economy has changed and has affected everybody both in and out of sports. Although July 31 is approaching, it’ll affect some level of players. Most, most likely, will clear. There’ll be a very large population to pick from as we move forward, anyway.”

To cut and paste from one of my own stories, no team wants to replicate the Padres, who were stuck with the $13-plus million remaining on Randy Myers’ contract in 1998 because they were trying to prevent the Braves from getting him. Because of arm problems, Myers never threw another pitch for them after the ’98 season.

More recently, the Yankees were stuck with Jose Canseco in 2000 because they claimed him off waivers mainly to prevent Boston or Toronto from getting him. Joe Torre said he was “stunned” by the move, because he already had David Justice, Glenallen Hill and Luis Polonia on the roster. The claim cost the Yankees about $1.4 million.

It’s just another angle to think about — July 31 might not be the vital date that Mariners’ fans think it is. There still might well be a market for Washburn and Bedard in August. In the case of Bedard, in fact, his marketability might go up if he proves more definitively that he’s over the shoulder problems that sidelined him for a month.

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