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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 30, 2012 at 2:36 PM

Rumors flying as trade deadline nears

These are going to be tense times for the likes of Brandon League, Jason Vargas and Kevin Millwood as Tuesday’s 1 p.m. trade deadline nears. League, in particular, seems to be in hot demand, with reports linking him to the White Sox, Rangers, Giants and Dodgers, among other teams.

The Giants, trying to augment their bullpen, appear to be particularly serious about League, and the name of first baseman Brandon Belt has been mentioned. That would seem a high price for them to pay for a rental player — League is a free agent after the year — but the Giants’ sweep at the hands of the Dodgers may have increased their urgency.

Speaking of the Dodgers, I’m hearing that League isn’t necessarily the only Mariners reliever they are looking at — or even the one they covet the most. That would be Tom Wilhelmsen, their closer. Geoff wrote earlier about why he is their most valuable trade chip, and it still stands true. While I’m sure there is reluctance to deal him, they also have some power arms on the way in Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps, and Wilhelmsen could fetch some blue-chip hitting prospects. It’s something to tuck away as the clock ticks.

I think there’s a good chance Jack Zduriencik will do something — and a decent chance it will be unexpected. No one really saw last year’s trade of Doug Fister to Detroit coming. That took place one year ago today, followed closely by the trade of Erik Bedard to the Red Sox. In 2010, of course, Zduriencik pulled off the Cliff Lee deal with Texas on July 9 (and lo and behold, Lee is reportedly back on the trade market as the Phillies look to clean house. Amazingly, that would be his fourth trade since July 29, 2009. In 2009, Zduriencik traded Jarrod Washburn to Detroit on July 31 (for Luke French and Mauricio Robles — not a deal that has rocked their world), two days after he sent Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno and three minor-league pitchers to the Pirates for Jack Wilson and Ian Snell. Three years later, we officially rate that as a trade that helped no one.

Lee would obviously be the most coveted arm remaining on the market, followed closely by James Shields (if the Rays decide to trade him) and Ryan Dempster (but he seems earmarked for the Dodgers). Jason Vargas would then loom as quite an appealing option to a team needing pitching help for the stretch drive — and 19 teams are currently within five games of a playoff berth, so there are a lot of teams needing pitching help. It will be interesting to see if the Mariners trade Vargas, or decide he’s too valuable to their own future. It seems plausible that they could work out a contract extension in lieu of a trade — one that lowers Vargas’s next year’s likely salary via arbitration in exchange for some long-term stability on his part.

I would think that virtually every Mariner veteran could be in play, from Miguel Olivo to Brendan Ryan (Jon Heyman of CBS tweeted a little while ago that the Mariners turned down the Yankees bid for Ryan). Once Ichiro has been traded, no one is off limits, right? And as Dave Cameron and others have pointed out, the Mariners could also be buyers, of sorts, if they can get a veteran hitter with service time remaining, such as Josh Willingham.

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