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July 29, 2009 at 6:55 PM

Today’s moves by Mariners beckon for something more

This morning’s trade and then another later on went down when I was hopping into a ride to the airport in order to fly to Texas for the start of tomorrow’s series. I am now in Arlington, Tex., which actually feels cooler than Seattle did when I left it this morning.
My initial reaction to the trades was that they were a decent start. Perhaps the first phase a two-pronged plan that culminates with a bigger deal involving Jarrod Washburn.
By landing Ian Snell from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Mariners now have a rotation arm that can help them get through the rest of this season once Washburn is dealt. Snell also figures to be one of the team’s starting five next season and going forward if he can get through some of the issues that have dogged his past performance.
In shortstop Jack Wilson, the Mariners have upgraded that position for the remainder of this season as well. Wilson plays excellent defense and hits a bit better than Ronny Cedeno. The Pirates are also paying most of his remaining money for this year. Chris Woodward stays as the backup infielder, so that’s all fine and good.
But it’s only a start.
Photo Credit: AP

As we mentioned when discussing the Milwaukee Brewers and whether J.J. Hardy would be a fit in Seattle – before the Brewers literally played themselves out of contention and serious talks with Seattle – the addition of Wilson does little to resolve the shortstop position beyond this year. Yes, the Mariners could keep Wilson for next year as well, though a salary of $8.4 million is hefty for what he brings you offensively.
Defense is great, but in this case, Wilson could wind up the team’s second-highest paid position player behind Ichiro next season. That’s not hidden value.
Still, the Mariners have big money coming off the books this winter and they can afford Wilson. So, let’s assume they keep him around. Having a Gold Glove caliber shortstop isn’t a bad thing.
The problem is, Wilson is only around for 2010 and then becomes a free-agent, same as Hardy would have. Now, that’s all fine if the team is actually going to “go for it” in 2010, which, while it is possible, is probably not as probable with oddsmakers as the Mariners would like it.
Don’t forget, Adrian Beltre is likely leaving and would create a big hole at third base. Erik Bedard is very unlikely to still be here. Assuming Washburn is dealt, there are big questions about whether he’d come back.
You’d still have Hernandez, Snell and some guys we’ve seen now, who’ve been up and down from AAA. Maybe Brandon Morrow, if he’s still around. But that’s not the kind of Hernandez-Washburn-Bedard rotation once envisioned back in May of this year.
So, are the Mariners really ready to “go for it” in 2010?
I have my doubts, but it’s one possibility and that’s why a short-term shortstop solution like Wilson would make sense. For this year, though, as much as the team would like to keep casual fans thinking there’s still a race on in 2009, this move should have been made a month ago if the team’s aim was to boost hopes in the second-half.
Here’s another reason why this move might have been made. We’ll know by Friday if it was the reason.
And that is the idea that perhaps the Mariners now have another deal in the works, a much bigger one involving Washburn, where they can land a top young shortstop prospect. We’ve mentioned guys like Alcides Escobar in Milwaukee, though that’s now done as the Brew Crew shies away from “buyer” mode. Forget the Phillies, who just signed Cliff Lee. Tampa Bay is slowly slipping from playoff contention as well, as is Reid Brignac from Seattle’s grasp. Could the Yankees, Twins, or even the Red Sox now put together a deal for Washburn? Let’s see.
That would also make sense. In fact, it would help today’s deals make a whole lot more sense.
We saw Wladimir Balentien shipped to the Reds for reliever Robert Manuel, another move that might free up a middle reliever — Sean White would be a prime candidate, as well as Mark Lowe — to be included in a Washburn package.
Deal for a young, AAA shortstop, then bring Wilson back next season to serve as the primary guy while you break the young player in. Or, if the young player seems ready to step up to the majors this winter, you exercise the $600,000 buyout clause in Wilson’s contract and wish him well.
Otherwise, today’s deal does not seem as brilliant for the Mariners as some of Jack Zduriencik’s previous moves. At face value, it seems a little pedestrian.
Wilson is a short-term solution and an expensive one next year, while Snell is what he is. An arm capable of becoming a rotation fixture, but not a front-line guy.
And the Mariners did give up some pieces to get those two. Jeff Clement was a former No. 3 overall draft pick in 2005 and has been hitting well at Tacoma despite his major league struggles. Yes, his time was done in Seattle as he was a man without a position. But he wasn’t chump change. Ronny Cedeno is a guy the Mariners gave up reliever Aaron Heilman to get and who many fans were raving about last spring. I know his bat was awful in Seattle, but he plays his position well and could amount to something decent down the road. You never know. The Mariners also gave up three young pitching prospects in this move. Yeah, they were years away, but that’s a lot of arms to deal for one middle-of-the-road starting pitcher having trouble reaching his talent level and a shortstop who could be gone by this winter. Not a catastrophic giveaway by the M’s, since they have hard-throwers in the bullpen — which is where some of these arms were headed — at the higher levels of the minors, but a lot of bodies.
For me, the biggest part of today’s deal was pitcher Snell and the fact he gives you an instant rotation replacement should Washburn leave. Right now and down the road. That would be why you “overpay” slightly, which the Mariners appear to have done, to bring him in now. Not a severe overpay, and maybe even a wash down the road. Like I said, the M’s will survive what they gave up.
And it now frees up Washburn to be traded in a much bigger deal without crippling the team too badly the final two months. You do need arms to finish off a season, even one now rendered moot in the standings.
So, I agree with those of you who say you’ll be disappointed if this turns out to be the Main Event of Seattle’s July trade deadline season. The Mariners entered this season with a number of contracts expiring at year’s end and the chance to do some serious rebuilding of this team for the short and long term.
Bedard and Beltre got hurt before they can be dealt. Now, there’s Washburn. Today’s moves, while interesting, hardly make the team a contender. There are still some glaring holes heading into next year and possibly beyond.
It’s possible the market is starting to dry up and that the Mariners won’t get any really good offers for Washburn. That’s a little hard to believe, given how he’s been pitching. The Mariners might have to lower their pricetag a touch. We’ll see. There are still two days of dealing left.
We’ve seen enough good things from Zduriencik so far that he deserves the benefit of the doubt. He’s capable of far more with the pieces he still has left to deal, including Washburn, White and maybe even Morrow and Lowe.
And that’s why, rather than this being the Main Event, it looks to me more like an interesting Opening Act.

Comments | Topics: Chris Woodward


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