Photo by Associated Press
The Mariners are in a weird position. They line up solidly in the seller’s camp: at 43-52, they would have to go 38-29 (.567) the rest of the way just to reach .500. And for all you dreamers out there, they would have to play .701 ball (47-20) to get to 90 wins, which would be the starting point to even entertain the notion of contention. So, in other words, that’s not happening, short of a miracle. But if Jack Zduriencik’s words are to be taken at face value, he will be a reluctant seller, if one at all.
That could be posturing, of course. It wouldn’t help club morale much if guys know they are on the trade block, and it wouldn’t help maximize trade value for opposing teams to know the Mariners planned to clean house. Yet on the other hand, it’s quite conceivable that the Mariners really don’t want to delve into wholesale trading, with all the possible ramifications. So the immediate decision at hand for the Mariners in the next two weeks is to decide what happens at the trade deadline, which has a sub-text, of course: Is the intrinsic value of gunning for, say, a .500 record more important than the possibility of beefing up the talent level in the organization?
When you have jobs on the line — both Zduriencik and Eric Wedge are certainly vulnerable if this season careens out of control — it makes it that much more complicated. That’s why the decision on whether or not to trade the likes of Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales, Oliver Perez and/or Joe Saunders will be fascinating. If a .500 mark is deemed some sort magical symbol that will determine whether or not suitable progress has been made, then you will keep them all and go for it. But if the conclusion is that .500 isn’t much different than .450 — both will leave the Mariners outside the playoffs — and the ultimate goal is to maximize the chances of competing down the road, then it’s possible that any or all of those guys will be traded.
It’s a tricky one. As this recent look at Zduriencik’s midseason trades shows, there is no guarantee that the Mariners will get any kind of bonanza for dealing any of these guys, so doing so could end up being a lose-lose. The Mariners lose their veteran foundation, and wound up with nothing much to show for it. But, then again, the Mariners haven’t exactly been world-beaters in the first half, so keeping all these guys and still losing over 90 games (they’re currently on pace for 89) would be a potential lose-lose as well.
There are innumerable examples, however, of impact players acquired at the trade deadline, the most prominent recent case being Chris Davis of the Orioles, picked up in a July, 2011 trade for setup man Koji Uehara. It happens. The Rangers really, really needed relief help, and Uehara helped them get to the World Series. I think it would behoove the Mariners to see what’s out there for all their older players in the final year of contracts, but most especially Ibanez, Morales and Perez. I can understand the inclination to keep those guys, both as role models for younger players (and to lessen the burden on the kids), and because things could get ugly without them. Ibanez is such a beloved player in the midst of such a magical run that it would be nice to see it play out in Seattle. And with Morales, there’s the possibility to getting a high draft pick next year if he stays and is given a qualifying offer in the winter.
But if the Mariners can find a contending team desperate for power hitting, or desperate for bullpen help — and both are realistic scenarios — then it might just be possible to leverage a high return for any of those players. And if Joe Saunders turns in a couple more strong starts coming out of the break, that could be the case for him, too, with a team in a bind for starters. One thing we’ve learned over the years is that when a team is lusting for a postseason berth — particularly a team that hasn’t sniffed it for awhile — they will do things things that they might regret later, all in the name of going for it. Just look at Mariners, 1997, and the Heathcliff Slocumb debacle.
So while Zduriencik is saying now he doesn’t expect to be aggressive at the trade deadline, I’m hoping he doesn’t close that door in pursuit of a strong yet ultimately futile finish.