We’re only a month from the all-star break and folks have already began buzzing about what the Mariners can do to upgrade their chances for contention.
A common theme has been that the team’s best trade chit is Erik Bedard.
Yes indeed. He’s also your best chit if you’re looking to gain some prospects to keep on rebuilding.
But if the trade deadline was tomorrow? No way.
Yes, we talked all through April about how this team would have to unload Bedard and Jack Wilson and others come July 31. But the rules of the game have changed, folks. Rebuild, shme-build. When you’re a half-game out of first-place, the priorities are no longer the same.
No, you can’t throw away the future. Nobody’s asking you to do that.
But you also can’t throw away the present when the stars have lined up to make you a contender. And like it or not, flawed as the Mariners may be, that’s exactly what they are as they embark of a three-game series tonight versus the Philadelphia Phillies, Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee, Sam Perlozzo, Benny Looper…who did I miss?
And that means ix-nay on the edard-bay trade stuff.
The Mariners can’t trade Bedard right now. They don’t hit well enough to get away with it. And unless the D-Backs are going to give you Justin Upton straight up, it’s doubtful the Mariners can acquire the type of impact bat that would make this offense demonstrably better.
Frankly, that’s probably what it’s going to take for the Mariners to keep on contending. They need the current offense to become more consistent. The way it was for most of May and part of June until about 11 days ago.
Since that time, the M’s have had trouble scoring four runs per game. And they need to do that to win.
As good as the pitching has been this year, it’s not good enough to help this team win when it scores three runs or fewer. Well, once in a while it will be. But that’s not good enough.
The Mariners are 23-5 this season when they score at least four runs.
They are 12-29 all other times.
So, which would you rather have?
Believe it or not, the Mariners have lost nine times already this season even when the pitching staff holds opponents to three runs or fewer. So, it’s not all about the pitching. The pitching has been great, but if the M’s rely on that alone, they will probably wind up being a .500 team or worse. And they almost certainly won’t go to the post-season.
But if they find a way to slightly upgrade the offense and their current power upgrades in Miguel Olivo and Justin Smoak can keep on connecting, they will be a better offense than they were last year. And a better offense that scores four runs or more per night can help the Mariners win not only the division title, but the World Series as well.
Still, that all revolves around keeping Bedard.
Throw Bedard out there with Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez and this team can win three of every five the rest of the way if the offense scores at least four. We’re assuming that on days one of the big-three (no caps, that one’s taken) falters, Jason Vargas or Doug Fister can pick up a win. But .600 ball the rest of the way? Just could get the Mariners into the playoffs.
And once there, name me a rotation that can send three better starters out there in a playoff series. OK, maybe the one in town tonight. And the defending World Series champion Giants.
Possibly the Angels, but they’re a long way from making the playoffs with that offense.
That’s some pretty select company. And there aren’t a bunch of AL teams stacking up with the M’s. I’d take those odds and run with them.
Wouldn’t it be a luxury to have either Vargas or Fister taking over in long relief (if needed) from the left or right side? That’s some serious balance. Maybe once David Pauley’s arm starts to fall off, you’ll have Dan Cortes come out of Class AAA throwing strikes in Setpember to be this year’s version of K-Rod circa 2002?
Anyhow, the possibilities are endless.
Still, if you jettison Bedard, all bets are off. You can’t. He’s too valuable to a contender, which is why you’d trade him and get something back. And the M’s are contending. Like it or not. The front office may have to re-write its entire trade script for this summer.
How does this offense get better? Well, it’s already better power-wise than in 2010 because of Olivo and Smoak. That’s a huge upgrade that has led directly to wins. That and Brendan Ryan has helped offset the vanishing acts pulled by Ichiro and Chone Figgins.
I’d say there is room for in-house upgrades here from Ichiro and Figgins. And from Jack Cust in the power department as well. Throw Dustin Ackley into that mix and yes, there is potential for this team to score four or more on a consistent basis.
But trade Bedard, you’ll have to up that offensive ante. Average 4 1/2 runs per game, who knows?
And the Mariners probably can’t do that in one season with the limited trade chits they have. Forget the blockbuster deals for now. Stick with what you’ve got, pray your best-paid on-base players produce with more consistency and that the warmer weather leads to some home runs by Cust to go with those from Smoak and Olivo.
Use that combination of on-base ability plus power and this team will be a step ahead of last year and closer to a respectable offense. And then — and only then — will all of that great pitching really mean anything.
Otherwise, the M’s rotation could wind up as one big symbol of what Felix Hernandez went through last year. Stellar ERAs, but few wins. They could easily lose two of every three the rest of the way like they did to the Angels this week.
So, hang on to that pitching. And hope this offense can come through.