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July 12, 2011 at 9:35 AM

Some priorities for the Mariners as the second-half begins

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While the Mariners appear to have fallen out of the AL West race, it won’t make the latter part of July any less interesting.
This team still has urgent matters to tend to, one of which will be cutting the padlock off of their 25-man roster and giving themselves some flexibility to make trades.
Right now, you have three players on that roster — Chone Figgins, Jack Cust and Jack Wilson — who are barely used any more. Figgins, I’m not sure you can do anything about. Though some analysts call him a “sunk cost” and suggest cutting him loose, that’s easy for them to say.
He’s 1 1/2 years into a four-year deal. Once Figgins is released, your losses are crystalized with him. So, until you’re absolutely sure you can’t make a deal for him or salvage something of his career, you’re better off holding on to him. These types of free agent busts look real bad on a GM’s resume. They can erase a ton of goodwill built up with ownership. If you’re Jack Zduriencik, you don’t want to jettison Figgins until you’re 100 percent sure that nothing can be salvaged from that sunk cost. And I just don’t think that time has arrived yet. Maybe it will come this winter. Just don’t see it right now. Because $36 million is a lot of money to eat for 1 1/2 years of minimal production. Better to seek out a possible trade for somebody else’s problem (hopefully for identical money and less personality issues than in the Carlos SilvaMilton Bradley swap this time) or hope Figgins can revive something next spring. You can always release him in spring training if you have to.
But with Cust and Wilson, there are no such excuses. They are two guys the team pretty much refuses to use right now despite having ample reason to do so.

Cust still has one of the best on-base percentages on the team and while that’s not the prime thing you look for in a DH, it’s still of some value. More value than some of what we’ve seen from others rotated into the DH slot.
And with Wilson, if he’s really the “backup shortstop” he should have spelled Brendan Ryan a game or two here and there over the past six weeks when Ryan was struggling to keep his bat above .200 for that stretch.
But that really hasn’t happened.
So, it’s decision time now. If you aren’t going to use those guys you have to trade them. Or, if you’ve botched that by not playing them enough and killing any potential market, you have to admit defeat and flat-out release them.
You can’t have Figgins and Cust and Wilson stick around the rest of the season if they aren’t going to be used. One of the three? OK. But three of the three handcuffs the roster.
And the Mariners will need some roster flexibility going forward.
The team expects to make some trades, I’m sure, between now and July 31 and hopefully acquires some prospects who can be baptized into the majors this season. Better off playing them now so we don’t have to repeat this whole process all over again next year if the team happens to find itself in contention again.
You can call up Luis Rodriguez to be the backup shortstop and sit on the bench. There’s always a possibility L-Rod will factor into this team’s future plans. Wilson clearly doesn’t.
If this team is serious about maximizing value for players via the trade market, I’d look into dealing Brandon League right now. League is an all-star, had one of the best first halves of any closer in the game and is relatively cheap compared to what other late-inning relievers signed for this winter.
But he won’t be entirely “cheap” next year.
League makes $2.25 million this year and should earn close to $5 million next season via arbitration. So, if you’re the M’s now and can flip him to a contender with roughly $1 million or slightly less remaining on his deal, it makes sense to do it. Especially when you got caught short as a team and were unable to jettison David Aardsma before he got hurt. My sources tell me the Mariners had a deal in place to trade Aardsma to the Giants at the deadline last year for prospects, but balked at the very last minute and pulled out.
They are now on the hook for Aardsma’s entire 2011 salary of $4.5 million because he won’t be healthy enough to trade this year. We’ll see what they do with him this winter when he’s arbitration eligible again.
Back to League, the Mariners have a couple of hard throwers in Josh Lueke and Dan Cortes in Class AAA who have been touted as possible closer successors to Aardsma and now League. If you trade League, you can call one or both guys up. Dealing League might create the need to go back to a seven-man bullpen and if that happens, you’ll need the roster room to do it.
So again, you have to get something done now via trade or just release both Wilson and Cust. The Mariners have new priorities with the team 7 1/2 games out of first place and unlikely to get back in it with two teams now comfortably ahead of them instead of just one.
This ferry simply doesn’t have room for all these extra passengers any longer.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins


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