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July 14, 2008 at 9:50 AM

Trade winds blowing

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Sorry I haven’t posted since right after yesterday’s game. Had to write today’s stories, then drive to the airport in Kansas City, hop a flight that left about two hours after final pitch, connect to another flight in Houston that was due to take off 45 minutes after my first flight landed (across the mile-long airport) and finally arrive in Seattle and back home just before midnight. But it worked. I’m here. Just did my weekly Talkin’ Baseball segment on the Mitch in the Morning show on KJR AM 950 a couple of days early. Jayson Stark of ESPN had a scheduling conflict this week, so we swapped time slots. Our conversation today had plenty to do with the July 31 trade deadline and ranking players.
Here’s how I would rank the M’s players most likely to be traded:
1. Arthur Rhodes
2. Erik Bedard
3. Jarrod Washburn
4. Raul Ibanez
5. Adrian Beltre
I say this with regards to what both Jim Riggleman and Lee Pelekoudas said in today’s story wrapping up the pre-All Star portion of the schedule.
“I don’t feel that we’re going to be moving people just to move people,” Riggleman said. “Some of our higher-profile players that some teams might be interested in, they’re not going anywhere unless we are just overwhelmed with something that you just have to listen to.”
As for Pelekoudas: “We want to make changes. I think that’s what we said a month ago. Whether they occur in the next two or three weeks, or in several months, remains to be seen. We’re not going to make change for change’s sake.”
You can read those quotes different ways. Some of it sounds like posturing, trying to drive up the price of players by saying you’re not going to hold a fire sale. But some of it is grounded in reality. This team has a terrible offense power-wise. The two offensive players drawing the most interest right now are middle-of-the-order hitters who have been productive when it comes to power. Get rid of them, the offense could be decimated and this team has a shot at losing 110 games.

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Does that really matter?
Yes, I think it does. A team charging fans full price on tickets has an obligation to put a major league product on the field every night regardless of its position in the standings. This offense is very close to not being of major league caliber. Take Beltre or Ibanez out of there — without a suitable major league replacement coming in — and I think you cross over the line. This team is barely winning any games, even with starters throwing quality starts each and every night. You can’t, in good faith, charge fans full price knowing the team you’re putting out there is only capable of winning once or twice per week under the best of circumstances.
So, that’s how I see it. That’s why I have Ibanez and Beltre rated so low in my top-five.
It makes sense to trade all five of those players I’ve named. But the return has got to be worth it.
This is not the same as with Richie Sexson. Taking Sexson out of the equation was not going to decimate the offense. Yes, he can hit lefties. But he was only going to face them in about 25 percent of the games played by his team. That’s why I do believe the line about his “body language” contributing to his departure. The team was willing to keep him around to help in limited fashion. But in the end, it decided that his limited contributions were not worth the price of any serious clubhouse distraction. This team has had big clubhouse problems this year. Coaches have said so. The outgoing GM and manager said so. A couple of players have alluded to it in private. Carlos Silva hinted at it in public. If you still choose not to believe it, that’s your perogative. I’ll stick with what the guys who are in the actual workplace have had to say. So, yes, the concern about Sexson contributing to another clubhouse problem was both valid and real. This team has finally gotten itself to the point where it looks to be playing as a team and staying competitive in games. Sexson wasn’t adding much to that equation, with just a couple of homers since May 24 and barely any extra-base hits.
Beltre and Ibanez are not in the same boat. They contribute. Not as much as was expected, but they are what passes for contributors in this train wreck of a season.
So, I’d have Rhodes No. 1. Bullpen arms are at a premium come deadline time, especially lefthanded ones. Rhodes showed again yesterday that he can still get guys out in key situations. The M’s have other lefties they can go to. Losing him won’t decimate the team. But he can be of value to a contender and possibly fetch something decent prospect-wise in return.
Bedard is generating interest from other teams. Even as a five or six-inning pitcher in the AL, that still translates to six or seven frames in the NL. It’s becoming clear there is little interest in the M’s extending him beyond 2009 — either from their end or his. His value might never get higher than it is right now. Because there are still teams that consider him an “ace” capable of going seven-plus innings with those one or two runs allowed. If the M’s hang on to him and he keeps going five or six the rest of this season, his value could be diminished. Pat Gillick is planning to retire as Phillies GM at the end of this season. Think he’d rather have Bedard now, giving him a shot at one last playoff run? Or wait until the winter so his replacement GM can look good? Something to consider. I know the M’s are less than pleased with how Bedard has taken the ball this season. Bill Bavasi made a veiled reference to that in his departing press conference. I’m not saying he’s faking any of his injuries or taking too long to recover. That’s been the knock for years on A.J. Burnett, another pitcher drawing significant interest this trading season. I’m simply stating the overall feeling I’ve gotten from members of this organization in relation to Bedard. That would be one reason — beyond mere stats — why the team would want to shop him now. But he has to take the mound again first. Probably twice. That’s a given. When there’s interest in a player and a willingness by his team to deal him, the player is usually dealt. That’s why I’d rate Bedard second.
Washburn is third on my list. His results have been a lot better going on seven weeks now. Once again, a guy who can steadily go six innings in the AL can usually throw seven in the NL. At worst, he’s a solid, middle-of-the-rotation arm in the NL for a price of just under $10 million next season. The money is the one thing that could cause teams to shy away. The M’s might have to eat some. Or, they might not. We’ll see. The one thing Washburn won’t bring in is a top-notch prospect. This would be strictly a money move. I don’t know how convinced the team is that Washburn can keep doing what he’s doing (the last seven weeks, anyway) beyond this year. With little hope of contending next season — and other arms waiting to break into the rotation — it makes sense to move him now, even if the team has to eat a little cash. It’s a lot less cash than it looked like they’d have to eat back in May.
On Ibanez, plenty of interest, but as I mentioned, losing him hurts this offense big. The team loves Ibanez’s professionalism. How he works to his maximum potential each and every day, regardless of his stats, or how the teamis doing. Not every Mariners player has the same ethic and approach. The M’s see him as a guy who can teach the rest of the team how to play the game right. With help, of course. He’s not going to do it by himself. But he’s one possible answer, even at his age. The big question is whether or not he’d want to come back to this mess next season. Or leave as a free agent and try to win a title someplace else. Remember, there is plenty of interest in him right now.
Beltre is the best defensive infielder this team has. He’s usually good for power and average as well. That’s a good combination and makes him one of the more tradeable pieces this team has, even for the money. He’s got one year left on his contract after this one and is thought to want to head back to the Los Angeles area after that. There is a report out in Minneapolis, by a writer I know, whose sources have proved accurate in the past, that the Twins have asked the M’s about Beltre.
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But consider that Beltre is owed about $17 million between now and the end of 2009. If the M’s are holding out for a package of prospects, with that cash, that could be a whole lot for a tight-fisted organization like the Twins to swallow. Remember, you lose Beltre and that’s a big hole in the offense — his numbers with RISP notwithstanding — and on defense. For a team already losing big. It’s an impropbable trade scenario on both sides. That’s why he’s last on my top-five list.
All of the guys I’ve mentioned are worthy and have value. Note that I’ve left Ichiro off that list. It would make sense for Seattle to consider dealing him, as we’ve discussed before on this blog. But he makes too much money right now for a guy whose last extra-base hit was a month ago and who now stays glued to first base after every single because of what we figure is a sore hamstring. Those intangibles he brings to the table are not as evident in right field or on the basepaths. In other words, the returns would not be enough. So, I’m positive he’s staying in Seattle for now.
By the way, Ryan Rowland-Smith has his latest blog post up. Check it out. Here’s my favorite quote from that:
“My favorite guy to watch is Roy Halladay because he is so locked in and hates getting taken out of games no matter what. That guy is a great role model for me, great stuff or not, nothing else matters to him but winning the game!”
Amen to that.



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