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

July 27, 2012 at 10:22 AM

Trading Vargas, Millwood would leave Mariners’ rotation in flux

There’s a pretty interesting debate going on right now about whether or not the Mariners should trade Jason Vargas.

One thing to consider — and this is not necessarily an argument to keep him, though I think there’s an argument to be made in that direction — is what happens to the Mariners’ rotation for the final two months if Vargas is traded, along with Kevin Millwood (a pretty good likelihood).

Obviously, the Mariners aren’t going to the playoffs, so it’s not vital that they keep two veterans like that for the sole purpose of providing stability for an essentially meaningless stretch drive. And the Mariners are 6-13 in Millwood’s starts, so it’s not like they would be losing Felix Hernandez. But last year, we saw what happened when the Mariners traded Doug Fister and Erik Bedard at the deadline. The pitching fizzled in the final two months, as the Mariners plugged in people like Charlie Furbush (3-9, 6.83 in 12 starts) and Anthony Vazquez (1-6, 8.90 in seven starts), along with Blake Beavan (5-6, 4.27 in 15 starts). The Mariners’ team ERA was 3.59 in 107 games prior to the July 31 deadline, and 4.51 in 55 games after. Their starters had a 3.56 ERA in the first 107 games, and 5.08 in the 55 games after the deadline. That decline contributed to a 22-33 record (.400) in the final two months.


Of course, it’s not like they were tearing it up before the trade deadline, having just endured a 17-game losing streak that negated a fairly strong three-month start (they were 43-44, just 3 1/2 games out of first, as late as July 6, largely on the strength of their pitching). On July 31, the day they traded Bedard (who had missed much of July with an injury) to the Red Sox, and a day after they traded Fister to the Tigers, there record was 45-62 (.421). From that point on, they turned the team largely over to kids, both in the rotation and in the startng lineup, and the final two months were pretty much an evaluation session.
They’ve advanced beyond that, but if Vargas and Millwood were gone, it would be interesting to see what happens to the rotation, behind Felix Hernandez (presuming he’s not traded, and I still don’t see it). You have Blake Beavan, who pitched so poorly early in the season he was sent down to Tacoma. But he went 4-0, 2.61 for the Rainiers, and seems to have figured things out. He’s coming off a very strong start against Tampa Bay. There’s Hisashi Iwakuma, who has been merely adequate in four starts — a 4.29 ERA and 14/10 strikeouts to walks ratio.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess if Vargas and Millwood are gone. Erasmo Ramirez appeared to be in the midst of a breakthrough (three hits in 10.2 innings over two starts, with 12 strikeouts and just one walk) up to the point he went on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right elbow. He looked good in his first rehab start earlier this week, but an elbow injury is an elbow injury. No guarantees. Similarly, Furbush might have been a consideration to move to move into the rotation, but he’s on the DL, too, with a strained left triceps. It’s tempting to find out what Tom Wilhelmsen could do as a starter, but he’s been so dominating as a closer that I’m sure there’s a hesitance to mess with him.
At Tacoma, Andrew Carraway , who had seemed to be on a major-league path, is also on the DL (strained lat). David Pauley is starting for Tacoma, and so is Vazquez, but those aren’t particularly appealing options. D.J. Mitchell, acquired in the Ichiro trade, pitched decently last night for Tacoma and would be an option. At Double-A, you have the likes of Brandon Mauerer and Anthony Fernandez pitching well, but that’s a pretty big jump.
That leaves, of course, the Big Three. Danny Hultzen is the closest, having already made the jump to Tacoma, but he’s had major command issues (21 walks in 27 innings) that make you wonder how ready he is for the final jump to Seattle. Plus, at 102 innings in his first pro season, Hultzen is probably closing in on an innings limit. Walker had a very struggling June, but bounced back last night with a highly encouraging start, probably his best of the year — six innings, two hits, no walks and eight strikeouts. But he’s 19 years old, and the organization is very wary about rushing him up ahead of his time. Paxton has only recently come off six weeks on the DL with a knee injury that threw off his progress. He has a 2.66 ERA in four starts since returning.
We’ll find out in the next few days if the Mariners trade Vargas and/or Millwood — and what happens to the rotation if they do.

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