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July 31, 2009 at 4:20 PM

Jack Zduriencik says Mariners ”are in a pennant race” but has no immediate plans to add a bat

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The photo above shows Ian Snell, who will start for the Mariners on Sunday in-place, as expected, of the traded Jarrod Washburn. Snell actually has family in Tacoma, so he should feel right at home.
“I think a fresh start will be good,” Snell said. “I get a change of scenery and a winning club at once.”
More on Snell later.
Interesting conference call with general manager Jack Zduriencik, who insisted his team is still competing for the AL West despite having just traded his second-best starting pitcher for a pair of prospects.
“The one thing that I would like to point out is that we are in a pennant race,” Zduriencik said. “We are on the outside looking in in a pennant race.”
But there was a long pause by Zduriencik when he was asked, by an AP reporter, whether his moves this week had made the team better. The pause was so long that the reporter who’d first asked the question, Gregg Bell, had to ask if Zduriencik was still on the line.
“We have brought back three pieces to join our major league club,” Zduriencik finally said, meaning Snell, shortstop Jack Wilson and Luke French, part of today’s Washburn deal.
French is expected to start in Garrett Olson’s spot next Wednesday, Ryan Rowland-Smith goes on Tuesday.
Zduriencik also added that Adrian Beltre should be activated next Tuesday in Kansas City, while Erik Bedard may be back at some point after that. In other words, the team will have a different look to it moving forward.
Nobody should be too hard on Zduriencik about these points. It’s one thing to make savvy moves at the trade deadline when your team has been all-but-mathemmatically eliminated from contention. Quite another to flat out admit to fans that you are pretty much finished in a season when many of them are still under the impression the M’s have a shot.
The Mariners under Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong, needing to sell tickets at Safeco Field in August and September, have always been leery of giving fans the impression they’ve waved the white flag. They kept Richie Sexson and Jose Vidro around far longer than anyone dreamed last season, frankly because they were worried the team would be even worse without them and maybe lose 120 games instead of 101.
Many teams around baseball still think that way. They would rather have an 83-win season than a 75-win campaign in which they trade away top players. Look at the Arizona Diamondbacks and how they held on to some pieces at today’s deadline.
Zduriencik didn’t. He made the right move. He’s just not going to sell it that way.

Zduriencik was asked by another reporter whether he had any plans to add a bat to the team he had insisted was still in a pennant race,
“It’s a little bit difficult to answer because I do think we’ve made some moves that are positive moves,” Zduriencik finally answered.
He listed off the Ryan Langerhans move, as well as the additions of Jack Hannahan, Michael Saunders and Jack Wilson. All of those players, it should be noted, were in the lineup last night when the Mariners had just one single before the ninth inning against a rookie starter with an ERA over 6.00.
“We’ve tried to do some of those things,” he said of addressing the offense. “It takes two parties to be able to do that and when you wind up doing something, you’ve got to give something up.”
Fact is, contenders will rarely trade their second-best pitcher for a fifth starter and a Class A arm both under the age of 23. They rarely fail to add an impact bat of some sort for an offense when it’s among the worst in the majors.
But making this team better for the stretch run was never the goal. And really, these deals don’t need words to be evaluated. They are what they are and you can tell that by lookiing at them. No talk or explanation needed. And they were good deals — today’s and the one with the Pirates two days ago — when looked at in tandem.
The goal today was to try to deal Washburn, a two-month rental, to the Tigers for his remaining salary and bring back some value. The goal both days was to keep the Mariners reasonably strong now while building for the future.
Mission accomplished.
Zduriencik actually alluded to the present and future theme several times.
“You have to weigh the whole thing and keep the big picture in mind,” he said. “Not only in the short term but also in the long term.”
As we’ve been mentioning, the acquisition two days ago of Snell seemed the first part of a two-pronged effort and we saw its conclusion today. Snell steps into Washburn’s spot, with French fitting the back of the rotation.
And the addition of Mauricio Robles, who is listed as being from Felix Hernandez’s hometown of Valencia, gives the team a potential diamond in the rough, I mentioned earlier that Robles had been with Team Venezuela at the WBC. He wasn’t actually on the final roster, but was kept as one of two reservists for the squad in the event of an injury. That’s quite an accomplishment for a 20-year old in Class A.
“He’s got a very nice arm, a very aggressive kid,” Zduriencik said, “The numbers are very good. He’s 20 years old playing in High A ball. He’s a step away from AA.”
You should know that Zduriencik draws a very firm line between big-leaguers and prospects, He isn’t one to be over-the-top in gushing about a Class A pitcher. But his description of Robles today sounded a lot like the one he gave me on Phillippe Aumont back in April when he decided to make the No. 1 pick into a reliever.
Just food for thought. Not saying he’ll make Robles a reliever. Just that he seems impressed with him. Maybe more than he lets on.
Anyhow, Zduriencik today did what he said he would do all along. The Mariners won’t fall apart in August and September because of these moves. They won’t be better enough to go on a 10-game winning streak and soar back into this thing, but they should also stay around .500 by year’s end.
And they should be a better club by 2010, especially up the middle if Wilson comes back and likely in a deeper rotation should Snell and French fill out their roles as expected.



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