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June 23, 2007 at 11:56 AM

Decision time looms for M’s

That 16-1 loss to the Reds last night wasn’t the biggest defeat suffered by the Mariners. I’d say the fact the Los Angeles Angels once again came back to win late rates as an even bigger defeat for the Mariners. They are now eight games out in the AL West and — I’m sorry to say — that’s just about it as far as their division hopes go. Any realistic decisions about this team’s future can no longer be made with the caveat that they are still division hopefuls. They are not.
Wild-card? Four games behind Cleveland with the Oakland A’s in front of them. No, that race isn’t looking good either. The truth is, it’s looking more and more like the Mariners are about to become sellers at the trade deadline rather than buyers. That is, as long as the folks making the decisions have this team’s long-term prospects in mind. There is a time for reality and being honest with yourself. A month ago, being four back of Cleveland — or Detroit — might have seemed OK. But another month has passed and that stretch of games against NL bottom feeders no longer looms. Seattle has used up some of its best hope of gaining ground in a playoff chase. The M’s have dropped seven of nine to losing NL teams, the starting rotation — with the exception of two wins over the free-swinging Pirates — has been a mess and the bullpen is dangerously close to not being able to make it through the second half without a serious meltdown. Hence, the decision last night to leave Jason Davis out there to absorb a pounding.
Plenty of fans were clamoring yesterday for the return of Ken Griffey Jr. as either an outfielder or DH. Plenty of you already know how I feel about that, but, in the spirit of open-mindedness, I’ll say that this organization has other decisions to be made before it contemplates that move.
Where does Ichiro fit in this team’s future?
The decision becomes even more important now, with the M’s slipping closer to irrelevance by the day, than it was when Seattle showed signs of contending for something. Adam Jones and Wladimir Balentien are tearing things up in Class AAA. The M’s owe it to themselves to figure out where these guys factor into the future and — if they indeed do — get them some playing time now rather than next year. The earlier they are integrated in to the daily fabric of this team, the quicker they will contribute to a playoff chase in 2008. It’s common sense.
But where do they play? Is Jones the center fielder of the future and Balentien the right fielder? Does Ichiro move back to right field in 2008, with Jones playing center? Do you deal Ichiro at the deadline if the team falls out of wild-card contention (which it is very close to doing)? Is Raul Ibanez the DH next season? Is that how you free up outfield room? Does Jose Guillen get dealt at the trade deadline for something that can help this team in the future? He’s on a one-year contract, after all, and there are guys who can replace him. These are questions the team must start to answer very soon. The front office can hold off, going under the naive assumption it is still a realistic contender. But is that the best move for this franchise’s future? At what point does GM Bill Bavasi cut bait on this season? And is he the one to make that call, given that his contract is up after this season and it’s in his best interest to focus on near-term success?
The folks at have Seattle’s playoff hopes down to miniscule proportions. In the hearts of most serious baseball observers, they were already that slim even before the 16-1 drubbing. It’s time for the Mariners to start dealing with these issues. Moving Ryan Feierabend into the rotation was the first move to take a look at what the future holds. But there are other decisions to be made, other players to be looked at. The longer these issues are put off, the more it lessens Seattle’s chances of serious contention in 2008.



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