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

July 30, 2009 at 9:36 AM

Judging your team’s playoff chances when debating deadline deals

UPDATE 10:27 a.m.: The New York Times is reporting that Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is one of those on a list of 104 players who tested positive for steroids in confidential 2003 screening. Manny Ramirez, busted earlier this year for PED use, was also on the list.
Quite the spirited defense, by some of you, of the playoff chances of this year’s Mariners team. Just got done reading all of the comments from last night’s post and I see that many of you still have pennant fever and have yet to write off the team.
Which is great. The Mariners are the team you support and you should keep on rooting for them to win.
Believe me, I’d like nothing more than to see this year’s Mariners go to the post-season. It’s good for business. Fun for us to cover. Creates all kinds of interest nationally in the stories we write. So, let’s just get that part straight. If it came down to a choice between the Mariners contending and going to the post-season this year and next versus constantly rebuilding for a future always two or three years away, it’s a no-brainer.
But some of you are confusing sentiments over that issue with a very different one. The issue of trying to analyze the moves of a ballclub in the short and long term.
Is Jack Wilson a shortstop upgrade? Absolutely. Did the Mariners get fleeced in yesterday’s deal? No way. They upgraded up the middle and picked up a starting pitcher in Ian Snell (pictured above) who, as we wrote, could help the rotation for the next few years.
Jarrod Washburn? I’ve thought he was underappreciated not just this year in Seattle, but for most of last season as well. The idea of the team moving him now has nothing to do with wanting to run him out of town. It’s about maximizing the value of an asset that your team has. An asset that should have takers, like the Minnesota Twins, for one, on the open market. The Yankees are also interested and I find it hard to believe the Red Sox would not be looking at Washburn as well.
Same as the idea of exploring a Felix Hernandez trade right now. Who wouldn’t want to see Hernandez locked up by the Mariners for the next six years? Makes a ton of sense. And if the Mariners are confident they can do that, before his contract runs out after 2011, then they should not be exploring offers for him. But if they have their doubts, well, the last thing you want is to be in J.P. Ricciardi’s shoes at the moment. The Blue Jays GM just missed his best shot at moving Roy Halladay when the Phillies signed Cliff Lee instead. Ricciard may have overplayed his hand. Now, with only one year left on Halladay’s deal after 2009, his value might start to dwindle. Ricciardi may never get a better package than what the Phillies offered. Because, in theory, the less time remaining on an ace’s contract, the less valuable he is. It’s why the Orioles moved Erik Bedard with two full seasons left on his contract. So, if you’re the M’s, and your 2009 playoff chances are down to 3 percent, what does it hurt to very quietly listen to Hernandez offers right now? To get a half-year, or one-year head start down that road? It doesn’t. It’s good business.
Same thing with Washburn.
Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP

Nobody wants to trade Washburn for the sake of dealing him. Or, to run him out of town. He’s finally putting up the numbers many people thought he might when he signed that big contract years ago.
But here’s the thing, again. His contract is up after this season. And so, if you’re the Mariners, you have to be honest with yourself and gauge your realistic playoff hopes for 2009. If not, then keeping him to play out the string in a season that will most likely result in a third-place finish (we’ll know more about that after this weekend in Texas) does not make good business sense.
The only way it does is if you’re convinced you can sign Washburn long-term. And that signing has to be done in-season. If you let it drag too deep into the off-season, then he becomes a free-agent like any other and can deal with the other 29 teams. At that point, you’d have been better off dealing him for some younger players first, then approaching him this winter like you would any other free-agent pitcher.
That’s why there is the urgency regarding his situation and why folks all around baseball feel the Mariners should try to deal him before tomorrow. It has nothing to do with wanting to get rid of him. It’s all about the team’s playoff chances as of right now.
Fact is, there are few people outside of Seattle who believe the Mariners have a realistic shot at making up the deficit they now face in the standings. Jack Zduriencik referred to his team yesterday as being “on the outside looking in” as far as playoff hopes go. Those who remember 1995 and that great comeback win by the Mariners still cling to the hope that represents, but you have to realize, it was 15 seasons ago.
In the wild-card era, that 1995 Angels squad was the only AL team to ever fail to win a division when leading by six or more games at the trade deadline.
Could it happen again? Sure, it could. Is it probable enough for a team to make sound business decisions based off of it? Not really.
As for the wild-card, the M’s were 6 1/2 games back when they made yesterday’s deals. Yes, they did pull off a late win over the Blue Jays and gained a game. But there are three teams they have to leapfrog over to make the playoffs the wild-card route. It’s why sites like Coolstandings give the M’s a better chance at the division right now than the wild-card.
And for those of you who will counter that you watch baseball for your heart and not your head, that you don’t want business to trump the joys and hope your team brings, the problem is, if you make too many unsound decisions as a baseball team, it can impact your future hopes.
As for the team’s chances of contending next year, well, as we wrote last night, it is possible that Jack Zduriencik feels this team can contend in 2010. And if he does, then holding on to Washburn and extending him does make sense. So would re-signing shortstop Wilson to that $8.4 million deal for 2010. Because Wilson will give you strength up the middle. His bat will seem an improvement over Ronny Cedeno and a terrible bottom third of Seattle’s order, but it’s still an average bat. It’s his glove this team wants.
But there are a whole lot of variables that will have to fall into place for Seattle to contend in 2010.
The Mariners will have to address third base. Jose Lopez does not appear to be the answer there for a team that puts a premium on defense. Adrian Beltre could be re-signed, but that’s also a longshot. He could easily ink a one-year deal with an NL team in a hitter-friendly park if he wants to boost his free-agent value in a short year.
But sure, the Mariners could contend if they throw all of their efforts into doing so. They could go out and sign a free-agent starter with all of that contract money coming off the books and head into 2010 with Hernandez, Washburn, the free-agent, Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith or Carlos Silva or Brandon Morrow. Not too shabby there.
Or, the team could turn around and trade Washburn, which we presented last night as the other alternative. It’s possible that teams just aren’t offering up anything of decent value for Washburn. We already know there are fewer suitors than expected. We’ve seen the Brewers play themselves out of contention and really, they had the young players who seemed the best fit for a deal. The Phillies are also out of the running after signing Lee.
But if the Mariners do hold on to Washburn, they had better be doing so with a pretty good idea they can lock him up beyond this year. His say-so isn’t enough. There has to have been some dialogue already underway, with dollar signs attached. Because if you lose Washburn after the final two months of a season with a 97 percent chance of no playoffs, then the M’s will have wasted a solid trade asset. He won’t get through August waivers, not with his record. And if you try to make a waiver deal with a claimant next month, you lose your leverage because you’ll be negotiating with only the claiming team and not a pool of three or four clubs. And then, the claimant could tell the M’s to “stick it” and force Seattle to let Washburn go for only his remaining salary or hold on to him the rest of the year.
So, again, to summarize. The deals made yesterday were not bad ones. Seattle didn’t give up anything that was going to help the big-league club, except maybe one of those minor league arms and that’s several years down the road in any event. The Mariners added a starting pitcher and solidified shortstop in the short-term. But the moves do seem to have raised more questions than they’ve answered, given how the playoff chances this season have been reduced to miniscule.
So, again, a good start, but waiting for more news to drop. By tomorrow, those answers may be a little more clear.



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