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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

June 29, 2007 at 8:22 AM

New home, old friends

As many of you have noted, my old Toronto Blue Jays team comes to town this weekend with a starting rotation in better shape than I’ve seen it at any point in the past seven years. That still hasn’t boosted the Jays beyond .500 and to be honest, the M’s can more or less render Toronto a non-factor in any playoff race with a series victory here. But it won’t be easy.
As I mentioned earlier, the Blue Jays have their three top-performing starters going this weekend. No Julian Tavarez or Kason Gabbard to be found. Forget about A.J. Burnett, the $55-million man who just came off the DL. The hottest arms in Toronto’s rotation, other than Roy Halladay, belong to Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum. Those of you dumping on Felix Hernandez, here’s the scoop on tonight’s starter, McGowan, dubbed the “next Roy Halladay” some four years ago when Baseball America rated him the team’s top prospect. Here’s a BA story from 17 months ago. Look to the right at the charts and you’ll see McGowan listed among the team’s best minor leaguers of the past decade.
McGowan had Tommy John Surgery and missed most of the 2004 season. He’d been up and down with Toronto in 2005 and 2006 and most fans there had just about given up hope on him before he blossomed after a May call-up this season. Not a polished product yet, but you can see where all the hope came from. Tossed eight no-hit innings his last start and finished with a one-hitter.
The key to winning this series for the M’s will be to beat Toronto tonight, with the Blue Jays on their first day out west after losing a series in Minnesota. The Blue Jays typically do not do well early out on the west coast. Maybe it’s a time change thing. Lose tonight’s game, if you’re the M’s, and getting swept becomes a distinct possibility with Halladay pitching tomorrow and a surprisingly effective Marcum taking on Jeff Weaver on Sunday. Do not underestimate Marcum, who has a 1.07 walks-plus-hits-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio and is holding opponents to a .202 batting average. He has gone six or more innings in eight of his nine starts, seven of them “quality starts” with three of them being seven or more innings. His last time out, he tossed eight innings of one-run ball against the Twins in Minnesota.
In other words, the most vulnerable guy the M’s face could be tonight — the kid who just threw the one-hitter. This series could, in many ways, be even more difficult than the one Seattle just finished. A huge test with Toronto trying desperately not to fall out of the wild-card picture.
To answer some questions, yes, Mark Buehrle would be the “real deal” and a rotation upgrade for the M’s. He has a track record of success, has consistently thrown quality starts of seven-plus innings this season (four of his last five outings have been such starts) and is only 28. The seven-inning thing makes him better than any current Seattle pitcher. At $14 million for less than five years, as his new rumored pact would be? A steal. I’m not kidding. There’s a reason the players’ association could nix this package. And yes, an extension like that would make him very tradeable. But at that price, I’m not sure why the White Sox would deal him. Career ERA of 3.79 and has struck out 2.5 times more hitters than he’s walked. Not to mention four seasons of at least 16 wins and no fewer than 12 wins in six full years as a starter. No, wins aren’t everything, especially when you’re talking single digits. But the win totals become more significant when you move into double-digit totals. The fact is, a 15-game winner is becoming a rare commodity in the majors. So yes, he is the real deal.
Sure, I’d like to see a trade for Erik Bedard (I’d have another Canadian to talk to and Chris Reitsma could start a clubhouse hockey pool with him and noted puck nut George Sherrill). One of you emailed me privately to ask if this is still possible, given thge trade rumors last winter. Do I think it’s possible? I really don’t, but if ever a team was to be fleeced, the O’s would be a prime candidate. I seriously doubt such a deal would happen now that Bedard has remained injury-free this season. He had a number of health issues in prior years, but is establishing himself as an ace with an ERA in the low 3.00s. You don’t trade a guy like that if you’re the O’s. Daniel Cabrera would be a more likely candidate but the m;’s would have to give up the farm to get him and he is truly a wild-card commodity. A little better than a “diamond in the rough” but a large risk in terms of whether he’ll ever become what folks expect. Can go seven or more innings on a routine basis, though. If you get the “good” Cabrera, not the one with a 5.00 ERA, he could help.
Matt Morris as a No. 2 starter? That one’s intriguing, though he’s been a career NL guy. That always worries me. It takes a while to adjust to the AL, so if you’re getting Morris for a few months, you don’t have a while. But the Giants do need some bats, so there is a potential trade match there. And his ERA is actually low enough that adding a half-run — factoring in the NL-to-AL switch — still leaves it below 4.00 and that’s good enough. His strikeouts/walks ratio isn’t as high as I’d like to see it this year and at age 32, he’s certainly riskier than a Buehrle from a long-term perspective.
But yes, the Giants would certainly be a potential trade partner with Seattle in any type of deal given their respective needs.
Can’t believe the season is almost half over. Been doing a lot of thinking about the past and present, what with the Blue Jays coming in. Writing this blog has added a whole new dimension to my job and has made my time in Toronto seem like another lifetime ago. Hard to believe I covered that team for nine seasons. To be honest, coming to Seattle has made me feel more alive. It gets tough watching the same team finish third year after year in the AL East. The Blue Jays are actually in second place now but are still a .500 club on the outside looking in where the playoffs are concerned.
One of the first things I told people upon arriving in Seattle last September, when the M’s were still a last place club, was that I saw enormous potential here. I saw a team that was very solid up the middle, with a middle-infield combo set for years to come. Many teams can’t say that. They are set at the catching spot and had an offense I believed could be the best in the AL West. Their bullpen was — and still is — set for years to come. They already have a potential ace in Felix Hernandez. They are willing to explore and sign talent in every corner of the globe, giving them a huge leg up on other clubs — like Toronto — as baseball embarks on a global era. Not to mention a top-notch ballpark and an ownership that is more than willing to spend big dollars. Don’t joke about it. The team has spent nearly $110 million. That is not a pittance in the AL West or any division.
The M’s do have to get better, just like Hernandez. But I believed in September that Seattle was closer to the playoffs than Toronto. I still do believe that, even with the Blue Jays’ rotation revival of late. Not sure it will happen this year. But it’s been a great ride so far and I’m excited about the future of this M’s team. It will be great to see the old press crew from Toronto and to chat with some of the Blue Jays tonight.
But this is home now.

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