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July 9, 2010 at 11:20 PM

Mariners facing some tough decisions in wake of Cliff Lee trade

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Won’t bother with much of a recap other than what I’ve already given you. In the post-game, Don Wakamatsu discussed how the offense needs to do a better job at being patient than it did tonight.
The M’s drew zero walks, swung at some bad pitches and wound up working their way out of potentially big innings. Wakamatsu and coaches will go over situational stats with hitters starting tomorrow, once again, and “challenge” them to do better.
Good on that.
David Pauley found out he was starting after getting here about 3:30 p.m.m he says. Tried to keep the ball down, get grounders and spare the bullpen. Did a good job of that.
But let’s talk about more important stuff.
With Justin Smoak coming in to play first base — which Wakamatsu told me he would on a daily basis after I asked him the question today — and Russell Branyan needed in the lineup as well, what happens to other guys?
I’m talking most pointedly about Milton Bradley and Michael Saunders.
You see, both play left field. Bradley can also be a DH except that, well, Branyan is there.
For now, Bradley is nursing a sore knee. But it won’t stay sore forever. You wonder how sore it is right now. It probably won’t be all that sore after the All-Star Break. And so, what happens then?
Do you keep Saunders here, or send him back to Class AAA? Or, do you plunk Bradley on the bench the rest of the year? Give him the odd start, but severely cut his playing time? It’s not as easy a question to answer as you might think.


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Some will scream, “Play the kid! See what he can do!”
Well, yes, that makes sense to a degree. Except that Saunders, for all the home runs he’s hit, is still batting .216 with a .291 on-base percentage and a .418 slugging percentage.
None of those numbers are off the charts. None are even good enough to keep most left fielders employed on a daily basis in the big leagues.
There’s also the fact that Bradley is under contract for next season. He’s hitting .211/.295/.368 — even worse than Saunders. But he’s under contract for next year, while Saunders has minor league options.
This isn’t like Casey Kotchman, who the team could get rid of at any time. Bradley will be a part of the 2011 Mariners. Do you want to “lose” him now by benching him the rest of the year?
Because, let’s face it, this team’s front office hasn’t exactly been in love with Saunders or most of the prospects to have come up under the Bill Bavasi regime. We were told last winter that the M’s tried to deal Saunders to Philadelphia in the trade that got them Cliff Lee. But the Phillies held out for Tyson Gilles instead.
So, given that info, and Saunders having a sub-.300 OBP, how much more of him do you think this front office really wants to see? I wonder, because the Jack Zduriencik regime has been known to make quick decisions on Bavasi prospects before. Zduriencik hasn’t needed entire seasons to give his thumbs-up, or, mainly thumbs-down. So, I wonder whether Saunders stays, or heads back to Class AAA.
Because if he stays here, what happens to Bradley? Does he become a right handed DH against lefties? Instead of using Branyan?
Does he platoon with Saunders against lefites, maybe? Because I’m thinking, if you really want to test Saunders out, he has to face southpaws as well.
And again, the M’s didn’t pay chump change for Bradley. You can’t just cut him now and pay him through the end of 2011. Or can you?
These are some tough weeks ahead for the Mariners on the decision front.
They also face calls on what to do with Kotchman, who can still serve a role as a late-game defensive sub or a replacement for Smoak a couple of times a week. So, where does that leave Mike Sweeney? As a right handed DH, except for, you know, Bradley and, really, Branyan.
Jose Lopez could get moved if the Phillies, or another desperate team show interest. But I don’t see a trade of David Aardsma or Brandon League anymore. This depleted bullpen will have trouble finishing the season without those two.
Sweeney is not under contract beyond this year, so, if there’s no room, he could be let go. So could Kotchman.
Again, though, for me, this Bradley versus Saunders call is going to be the toughest. And the most interesting to see play out. Should be a “fun” All-Star Break for Jack Z. and company.

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