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

July 2, 2007 at 9:17 AM

Should the M’s buy big?

Now that all of Seattle is consumed by baseball and conspiracy fever this morning, let’s throw some trade talk out there.
Turns out the Mark Buehrle sweepstakes may be back on again. Remember how we talked last week about how a long-term Buehrle deal with the White Sox would not necessarily preclude an in-season trade? Well, it looks like White Sox general manager Kenny Williams felt the same way. Problem is, the Buehrle side wants a no-trade clause and Williams isn’t having it. The competition will be tight if the New York Mets go after Buehrle heavily. But could he make the difference between Seattle winning and losing a championship? I say, yes. The M’s already have a playoff type bullpen. Adding a starter of Buehrle’s caliber improves the starting rotation significantly. And I’m not just talking about the regular season. I like Seattle’s chances in a short playoff round with a rotation of Buehrle, Felix Hernandez and one or the other of an improved Jeff Weaver and a solid Jarrod Washburn. Especially if they happened to face an AL East foe. But now I’m really getting ahead of myself.
Yes, I would like to see Buehrle stick around beyond this year. That’s something the team would have to try to work out before pulling the trigger on a deal. But what if they couldn’t? Would any of you sacrifice Adam Jones, a guy who has never done anything significant at the big-league level, to take a shot at winning it all — yes, I’m saying all — this season? Because if the M’s get to the post-season, with this bullpen, anything is possible. The burnout factor becomes much less a concern over the short term. And adding Buehrle increases those playoff odds. Would you take that shot now if you were the M’s and trying to re-ignite the passions of baseball fans in Seattle? Would you do it if it you knew making the playoffs would all but guarantee that Ichiro signs here again? This is not a simple question to toss aside.
But remember the downside. Remember how the Randy Johnson era would never have existed in Seattle had the Montreal Expos not mortgaged their future and made that 1989 deal for Mark Langston. On Aug. 2 of that year, the Expos were in first place with a three-game lead and the Langston deal seemed to be paying off — despite his slow start with that club. They had just taken the first three games of a four-game series in Pittsburgh, a place they never played well. They made it to the 12th inning of the fourth game, tied 0-0, when the Pirates scored to win it.
Montreal went on to lose seven in a row and was three games out of the divison lead before that streak ended. Needless to say, the Expos did not make the playoffs. They spent 49 days in first place that year, but finished fourth, 12 games out, with an 81-81 record. And they were leading the division with less than two months to go! So, no, nothing that has happened yet with the Mariners truly means anything, other than the fact they will likely be “buyers” as the trade deadline approaches.
So, would you deal Jones in a package for Buehrle?
Assuming they don’t, I still think the M’s should try to acquire bullpen help. I agree with those of you who point out that free-agent relief signings, or trades for expensive arms, don’t always work out. But sometimes they do. Billy Koch helped the Oakland A’s to the playoffs in 2002. Keith Foulke, in my opinion, should have been the World Series MVP for the Boston Red Sox in 2004. I understand the logic that says George Sherrill might make a fine set-up option from either side if Brandon Morrow doesn’t get his command sorted out. Or that Mark Lowe could eventually become an eighth inning guy again.
But why wait that long, or take that gamble, on Lowe? And yes, Sherrill could do the job facing righties. But how much better would this bullpen be if you could afford the luxury of only using Sherrill as a situational lefty? I would like to see an Eric Gagne, or a Brad Lidge, coming in to start the eighth. And having Lowe and Sherrill (if needed) and Morrow finishing off the seventh. It would all but guarantee victory if your starter survives six innings. And that is what winning is all about. In the regular season and the playoffs. So yes, I do believe that taking a shot at one of the proven, higher-salaried relievers could pay off far bigger than trying to go the inexpensive route with something less proven. The potential for upside is enormous.
This morning’s dissections of the Mike Hargrove resignation have brought nothing in the way of clarification. Hargrove’s explanation that he simply could no longer give it his all is still all we have to go on. I hope he buys that red truck of his and that the front seats are climate controlled and won’t get too hot on him in the summer sun. Other than that, I do, of course, wish him well. It was bizarre not to get the chance to shake his hand and say goodbye. I found Hargrove very easy to deal with as a manager. Enjoyed his sense of humor and appreciation for the things that matter in life. And if he really did do this for his family and himself, then good on him, even if I’d rather he’d waited until the All-Star break.
So, John McLaren makes his full-time managerial debut tonight against an All-Star pitcher. Yes, believe it or not, our old Seattle pal Gil Meche is headed off to San Francisco, but first has a littel business to take care of tonight. Didn’t do sot hot the last time he faced the M’s. The Royals have played better baseball of late, which, come to think of it, is what they said the last time before the Mariners came in here and swept. Then consider this simply the latest installment in a 1,247 part series on how the Royals could win it all by the year 2015.
Seattle did a tremendous job taking out the Toronto Blue Jays in a second consecutive sweep to finish off the homestand. Toronto’s playoff chances now sit somewhere between cooked and fried and they pack it in for 2007 and look ahead towards Year No. 7 of GM J.P. Ricciardi’s “five-year-plan”.
Over here on the more normal side of the continent, where GM Bill Bavasi tries to salvage his job in Year No. 4 of his tenure, the M’s have just about established themselves as “buyers” at the upcoming July trade frenzy. That doesn’t mean the Mariners will be buying. We’ve talked a lot above about what they can do. It’s up to them to decide what they will do. But the one suyre thing, barring a collapse this week, is that the M’s likely won’t be hanging any fire sale signs in their window. I know, I know, some of you are about to jump all over me for not automatically annointing the Mariners “buyers” already. Yes, they have won eight in a row and 10 of 11.
But again, at the risk of repeating myself, let’s get to the All-Star break first. The odds are, this winning streak will end soon. The law of averages says it has to. How the Mariners recover from that initial loss, whenever it comes, will say a lot about where they are headed. If they lose tonight, but go 5-2 or 4-3 on the trip, then boy oh boy, will July be an interesting month.
Lose tonight, then tomorrow, then finish 2-5 on the trip and we could be looking at a very different scenario. Do I expect the latter? No, I don’t. Then again, I didn’t expect the Mariners to finish their last road trip 0-5. So, let’s see how consistent the team plays until the break. Felix Hernandez goes tonight and don’t forget, he manhandled the Royals the last time he faced them. Only a stiff back knocked him out of that game. Same as Meche.
What I liked about the Toronto series, more than the Boston sweep, was that the M’s hung in against some tough pitching. I wasn’t all that shocked when they beat Dustin McGowan in the opener, as I thought he was the most vulnerable of the three Blue Jays starting pitchers and Toronto rarely plays well at the start of a West Coast swing. But when they hung tough against Roy Halladay, as he was pitching another “quality start”, that showed me something. And then to outlast Shaun Marcum yesterday, on a day full of distractions, was to me the most impressive victory of the entire homestand. The M’s, unlike in the Boston series, just took out three consectuive quality pitchers.
They will face more quality arms this week, so a good start tonight by Hernandez is imperative. Seattle has to face Chad Gaudin and Dan Haren to open the four-game series in Oakland and that won’t be easy. But the best thing about the M’s finishing their homestand off 8-0 is that they bought themselves a little breathing room on this road trip. Going 4-3 in the next seven games keeps them, I think, right in the thick of the playoff hunt.
We’ll see what happens with the AL West race. That four-game cushion for the Angels is still rather large and gets really big with a couple of losses by the M’s and two wins by the Angels. Yes, I know the lead shrinks accordingly if those two teams perform inversely — two losses by the Angels and two more wins by the4 M’s. But don’t forget, the Mariners are on a season-defining win streak while the Angels are playing some of their worst ball all season. That’s bound to change to some degree. Or maybe not, some of you will say.
For those of you waiting for the Angels to fall apart, here’s a little boost to the theory. Losing the bat of Mike Napoli for any length of time could be just enough to push that offense under the minimal output needed for even fantastic pitching to win. So, let’s watch and see.

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