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

July 20, 2009 at 8:35 AM

Are the Mariners too legit to quit?

NOTE: I wanted to call your attention to something I just posted on the Hot Stone League blog — an alternative take on the trade deadline.
Larry Stone here. (I don’t want Geoff blamed for my opinions). I’m sitting in the Cleveland airport, waiting out a 90-minute delay on my flight to Detroit. Ryan Divish of the New-Tribune is in the same boat. Actually, I wish we were in a boat. We’d get there quicker.
The question we’re going to ponder today is this: How are the Mariners’ doing it? How in the heck does this team, with all those apparent holes, keep winning?
That question has a corrolary that really is the million-dollar question as the trade deadline approaches: Are they for real?
In reading over some of the blog posts from yesterday, I was struck by one from Axtell as representative of a legitimate point of view. Here’s what he (or she; I don’t think the name “Axtell” is inherently masculine or feminine) wrote:
“Look, this team is still deeply flawed, and is much more than one or two players away from being a viable, deep playoff threat. Bedard and Washburn will both be gone next year, and, instead of hoping against hope that somehow, someway the M’s make it to the world series, let’s be realistic, let’s be opportunistic, and let’s trade these assets for some long term solutions for this club!”
That point is absolutely valid, and one that Jack Zduriencik will have to deeply ponder. Look, the Mariners have a catching combo with one guy struggling to stay above .200, and another that the pitchers apparently don’t want to throw to. They have two makeshift journeymen sharing third base while desperately hoping that Adrian Beltre is a fast healer. They have a shortstop hitting under .200, a second baseman with limited range, and they’ve gotten less offensive production out of left field than any team in the American League. Their prime power hitter, Russ Branyan, is showing worrisome signs of returning to earth. We won’t even mention the offensive struggles of their designated hitters. Beyond the “Big Three,” their rotation is in flux — and one member of the Big Three hasn’t pitched more than six innings in nearly seven weeks (four of which were spent on the disabled list). The bullpen is showing signs of wear from an arduous first half. Oh, yeah, they lead the American League in errors.

Not a pretty picture, when you look at it that way. But there’s another side to this coin, of course. They have three premier position players in Ichiro, Branyan and Franklin Gutierrez, who can and have carried them, and a big bat at second base in Jose Lopez. Their defense, if you discard errors (as most analysts say you should), is one of the best in baseball when measured by statistics like UZR (ultimate zone rating). Their range ratings are off the charts. Their pitching, both starting and relieving, ranks among the best in the league, statistically. They have a bonafide No. 1 pitcher in Felix Hernandez who will assure that they don’t get in any long losing streaks. Jarrod Washburn has been a model of consistency, and Erik Bedard could be as dominant as he was early in the season once his arm strengthens. Not many teams have a 1-2-3 punch like that, which would make them a postseason force if they can somehow find their way into the playoffs. And manager Don Wakamatsu has them buying in totally to his team-first “belief system,” leading to a cohesive clubhouse that gives them bonus points for “intangibles” .
So as the Mariners sit four games behind the Angels (are the Angels vulnerable? Or are they on the verge of running away with the division? More questions to ponder….not to mention the Rangers), do they decide that it’s been a nice run, but for the good of the organization, they need to trade Bedard and Washburn for building blocks to more legitimate contention? Do they embrace the run, keep Bedard and Washburn, use some prospects to get another bat, and go for it? Or do they do some delicate combination of buy and sell, either using one of the free-agent-to-be pitchers to get a bat, or trade a pitcher for minor-leaguers and also use some of their own prospects to get a bat?
It’s a true conundrum. At this point, I’m in the midst of a transformation from the “sell” to “buy” camp. The Mariners won me over, to a certain extent, by holding their own on that road trip against the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox, and by continuing to win. And even though the Angels are torrid right now, I don’t think they’re the same slam-dunk favorites they have been in recent years. Of course, if they land Roy Halladay or Dan Haren (that’s something else Zduriencik has to weigh — the Angels’ potential for making an impact trade), then all bets are off.
I’d really like to see what this team could do with a little more offense. If Zduriencik can get a big bat — and I won’t even speculate on names at this point; that’s a post for another time — I’d go for it, though I’d stay away from “rent a player” types. I’d even consider trading guys like Jeff Clement, Greg Halman and, gulp, Brandon Morrow in the right deal (as well as Wladimir Balentien, no questions asked). But only for an offensive piece that will help them in 2010.
Pennant races are precious things. It’s July 20, and the Mariners are in one. If they can still say that on July 31, I’d be inclined to go for it.



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