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August 1, 2008 at 10:07 AM

A little move, lots to analyze

Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, it’s time to look back at what was reasonably expected and what has transpired.
It became evident pretty quickly that, for all of the Mariners’ tough talk after the firings of Bill Bavasi and John McLaren in June, they were not going to trade Ichiro. No matter how much sense it made at the time. Nor were they going to trade J.J. Putz at a time his trade value had dropped to its lowest point since he was still a minor league starting pitcher.
But this team had some intriguing options. A while back, we made a top-five list of the most likeliest Mariners to be traded. In the end, those players did indeed figure most prominently into trade discussions.
Here they were, in order of likeliest to be dealt:
Arthur Rhodes
Erik Bedard
Jarrod Washburn
Raul Ibanez
Adrian Beltre
Let’s look at the five and see what lies ahead:
1. ARTHUR RHODES: He was the no-brainer trade of the group and the Mariners made out fairly well in picking up Class AA starting pitcher Gaby Hernandez for him. Mariners manager Jim Riggleman admitted yesterday that the team had known since spring training that a healthy Rhodes would likely be traded if Seattle fell out of contention. No surprises here. The Hernandez haul was good, but not overwhelming. Relievers often command their highest prices at the deadline, rather than the off-season when they are more abundant. Think back to last summer when teams wanted Wladimir Balentien or Jeff Clement for a righthanded veteran set-up man. Remember how the Texas Rangers scored three Red Sox prospects, including major league starter Kason Gabbard, for closer Eric Gagne? A decent minor league starting pitcher seems like it would be about the going rate for a 38-year-old situational lefty. When teams want to take a shot at winning, knowing how fleeting a playoff berth can be, they are often ready to give up more than seems worth it for relief pitching. The worth is all in the post-season, not in the one-for-one value of the players.

2. ERIK BEDARD: Any shot at dealing him vanished when he failed to take the mound again after July 4. His shoulder impingement would seem to be more serious than the team has let on. Bedard is not scheduled to even play catch again until Sunday, two weeks after his MRI exam. At this rate, he will likely not start a major league game before September. And after that, it may be a while until he rounds back into form. In other words, the odds of him being traded this winter just went down. Teams will want to know what they are dealing for and it seems unlikely a handful of Bedard starts against AAA-laden lineups in September will change that. At this rate, he looks destined to remain in Seattle for another year, until the next trade deadline rolls around.
3. JARROD WASHBURN: As expected, there were teams ready to take on all of his remaining $13.7 million in salary through 2009, which would have seemed impossible back in May. But the Mariners held out, quite ambitiously, for more. They did not get it. There is still time to dump Washburn for salary before Aug. 31. Washburn’s next couple of starts could play a key role in seeing whether his value holds. If he gets routed tonight and in five days, the Yankees may no longer want him. Or, if Sidney Ponson picks up his game in New York, same thing. The Mariners can still deal Washburn for prospects not on a 40-man roster. Such prospects would not be required to pass through waivers first. Gaby Hernandez, acquired in the Rhodes deal, was not on the 40-man roster. A player or two of his ilk could be interesting to the Mariners. But then again, such a deal could still be scuttled by a team putting a waiver claim in on Washburn. At that point, the deal would be off. The Mariners would have to pull Washburn back, and try to deal him over the winter, or else let the claiming team keep Washburn and pay his salary. Also, if the Mariners tried to trade Washburn for more valued prospects on a 40-man roster, those players would likely be snatched up in waiver claims as well. The reality is, the best way for the Mariners to receive players in a Washburn deal was going to be before yesterday’s deadline, or later this coming winter. Right now, in August, because of what I just outlined, it seems unlikely they will receive more than a salary dump and maybe a token prospect. But it was worth calling New York’s bluff and dragging this stalemate all the way up to the deadline yesterday to see if the Yankees flinched. If the Mariners really wanted salary relief all along — and were just bluffing to see if the Yankees caved — they can still get that salary deal right now. It’s not like the Yankees were offering anything serious beyond money relief. But if Seattle wants some decent players as well, that will likely have to wait until the winter. And Washburn will have to keep producing. Oh yeah, and the team will have to pay him another $3.5 million or so to finish off this season.
4. RAUL IBANEZ: This was another controversial trade not made. We still don’t know who those two 40-man roster players were that the Toronto Blue Jays were dangling. But we have seen the names of players the Mariners sought from the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets and it would have been quite a haul had Seattle pulled it off. Now, the Mariners have no chance of dealing Ibanez this season. His salary is low enough that he would be claimed off waivers in any attempted trade. And, as with Washburn, the quality of players coming back would likely have to be inferior to what Seattle could have had before yesterday. Otherwise, those trade returns would almost certainly be claimed off waivers as well. So, the plan now could be to let Ibanez leave this off-season and claim two high-level compensatory draft picks if he signs elsewhere as a Type A free agent. That involves keeping his around now, where his presence in left field is blocking another younger, perhaps quicker, defender at that position. Someone like Wladimir Balentien. It will be interesting to see whether Ibanez sees any designated hitter action the final two months to free up outfield room. Not promoting Balentien and playing him in the outfield would seem a foolish waste of a development opportunity by a team headed nowhere. The compensatory draft picks for Ibanez are not a sure thing. He has to be offered arbitration by the team first. If he declines and leaves, the Mariners get the picks. If he accepts, they have to keep him another year and lose the picks. Some have suggested the team wants to bring Ibanez back next year. If so, then not trading him yesterday was a strategical blunder. He could have been dealt as a two-month rental and then brought back as a free-agent signing next season. In that scenario, the Mariners could have picked up some trade returns for him. What would be the point of keeping him around for two meaningless months this year? Judging by the fact he is still here, it is very likely these final two months for Ibanez will be his last with the Mariners and that he will seek to play out his remaining years with a contender.
5. ADRIAN BELTRE: As expected, he received plenty of interest but it was always going to be impossible to dump his $16 million in remaining salary through 2009 as well as receive top-shelf trade returns. That would be too much for just about all but a small percentage of franchises to absorb. And unlike with Ibanez, there was no player ready to step in and replace Beltre at third base on a regular basis. Seattle quite rightly expected some top returns for a Gold Glove third baseman with 25-homer power. Those may be easier to acquire by the winter, when Beltre’s salary becomes a more manageable $12 million and the market of potential suitors expands. You could still theoretically dump him for salary before Aug. 31, but then the Mariners would be seriously short-changing themselves on the returns front. They can’t do that here. Beltre is one of their few tradable players with any real value and they have to try to maximize that. It seems unlikely he’ll re-sign after 2009, so it will be best to deal him this off-season. Seattle could wait until next summer, but then he gets the stigma of a rent-a-player. There is also a chance Beltre could slump in the first half of 2009, as he has been known to do before. In which case, his value would drop even further. Trading him this winter, either alone or in a package, seems to be the best bet for this team.



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