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July 30, 2007 at 12:54 PM

Huge 24 hours ahead

The first big trade of the July 31 deadline season is upon us. Let’s see whether that will be the only big one, or whether it establishes some type of market price that allows other deals to go down. Some of you had speculated about the Mariners picking up Mark Teixeira as if he’d be some type of cheap dump. You figured we could pawn off Richie Sexson on the Rangers, throw in a prospect, maybe, and that would get a deal done. Not quite. We now see the cost of Teixeira in the real baseball world. A rookie catcher and three prospects on their way to Texas in exchange for Teixeira and salary dump Ron Mahay. No Sexson-like salary albatross headed to Texas. No siree. Just a lot of young talent.
Some of you have read what Larry Stone wrote today about the Mariners and their trade deadline pusuit of Al Reyes in Tampa Bay. And though plenty of people I respect will disagree with this, I like the strategy being employed by the Mariners.
Namely, if you can’t make your starting rotation better than it already is, you do the next best thing. Make your bullpen better. Limit the amount of innings your starters have to pitch in order to win the game.
I’d rather see the Mariners go out and land Reyes than pin their hopes on three right handed set-up types who have never pitched full-time in the role or done so in the heat of a playoff hunt. Yes, the current bullpen has been lights-out for the most part this season. But does that mean it’s untochable? No way.
George Sherrill began having elbow problems at this point a year ago. Who knows whether they will become an issue again in August. He doesn’t think they will but honestly has no idea. If Sherrill goes down at any point, this bullpen is severely messed up. Not only is he arguably the best situational lefty in the game but he has also become something of a “1a” setup option from the right side in combination with relievers like Sean Green, Brandon Morrow and now, Mark Lowe. Would I feel more comfortable with a full-time, proven righthanded setup guy there heading into the playoffs? Darned straight. If the bullpen is your biggest weapon going forward, why not maximize it?
This isn’t about Bill Bavasi trying to save his job, it’s about doing the smartest thing. Adding Kei Igawa to the Seattle starting rotation would not be smart. Igawa appears to be no better than Horacio Ramirez, the weakest link in the rotation right now. Why make a lateral move like that if you can add depth — and certainty — to the strongest part of the team? Just in case? I don’t feel comfortable going forward knowing that the strongest part of this team, the bullpen, is one injury or rookie flameout away from being derailed.
And by extension, the M’s would be derailed as well. Make no mistake about it, without this bullpen the M’s are done. Finished.
Yes, Green is taking care of his inherited runners. But lefties are hitting .302 off him with an .857 on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS). Check out the more balanced numbers Reyes brings to the table. Morrow has had a few good weeks after walking guys left and right (a no-no for any setup man) all season. Lowe didn’t know a few weeks ago whether he’d ever pitch again in the majors. None of these guys has a full season in the majors yet. Are you going to tell me the team is better off rolling the dice on these three than to try to add some veteran depth and insurance in the roll? Are you kidding me?
Hey, we’ll find out soon enough what the best route to take will be. Some of you have asked me why I made no comments about Chris Reitsma yesterday. What else is there to say. I’ve been writing for a month that I am very nervous about the eighth inning setup role for this team. Reitsma was coming off an injury last year and this year and I didn’t think you could bank on him going forward. I’m sure the Mariners now feel exactly the same way. I think Reitsma is still not 100 percent. That’s why I’m reluctant to jump all over him. There is a difference between being physically healthy and mentally able to throw full throttle after an injury. Maybe I’m wrong, but the Reitsma we’re seeing isn’t the one the M’s thought they were signing last winter. I think he’s got more in him. But this team can’t take those kinds of chances in the eighth right now.
Will the M’s be able to pry Carlos Pena away from the Devil Rays? Hey, in a make believe world maybe. Why would the D-Rays make that deal? Right now, Reyes is the best they realistically have to offer the Mariners. And yes, it might cost them a top prospect not named Adam Jones. But that’s life. You can stash away prospects all you’d like, but at some point you have to use them or trade them. The Angels are probably wishing they’d unloaded Ervin Santana for a big bat when they had the chance, though he actually had major league experience (making him more valuable than guys who have only done it in Class AAA).
Interesting how this all could be moot for the M’s in a few days. Talk about pressure on the front office. I mean, get swept here by the Angels and the season is over. Boy wouldn’t that be a bitter pill to swallow, having dealt a prospect for an aging setup man. But baseball history is full of such moves, good and bad. And I have a feeling the season could very well be determined both on and off the field beginning in the next 24 hours. I’ll be at the game with my family tonight, watching from just behind the plate as Kelvim Escobar battles Miguel Batista. Should be exciting!

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