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August 1, 2011 at 8:38 AM

Mariners made out OK in weekend deals, but we’ll know more come December

There wasn’t much analysis required to know the Mariners were going to be a busy team on the trade and player movement front this past weekend. As expected, the team bid farewell to Jack Cust and made a needed trade of pitcher Erik Bedard, while using the strong seasons of Doug Fister and David Pauley to swap cost-controlled pitching for cost-controlled hitting.
Had the M’s stopped at the Fister and Pauley swap, it would have been disappointing. But the needed Bedard trade did indeed take place and the M’s actually made out quite well considering the limited leverage in GM Jack Zduriencik’s corner.
After all, everybody knew Zduriencik had to move Bedard. He was only going to be here two more months before free agency and his $1 million base salary was attached to $6.35 million in performance incentives if he reached certain inning targets. Those targets were going to start being matched once he returned off the DL. So, the M’s had to find a taker to at least share some of the costs. From what we’ve been told, the M’s and Red Sox are sharing those costs. Exact amounts, we don’t know. But it’s better than Seattle absorbing all costs, then crying poor when it comes time to spend next winter. And Zduriencik managed to get two outfield prospects back with pretty good power numbers in Class AAA and AA for a pitcher who hadn’t pitched in a month, then lasted just 1 1/3 innings in a showcase.
All that, while throwing in only Josh Fields? A guy who was probably never going to pitch in the majors for Seattle? I’d say that was a job well done by Zduriencik.
As to what Zduriencik did not get done this weekend: he took a chance by holding on to Brandon League, who will now be a $5 million pitcher (or thereabouts) going forward with one year of team control left. He will likely also be a Type A free agent next season, which could garner two high draft picks in June 2013 for any team that still holds his rights by the end of next season. (That is, if you want to risk offering League arbitration. If you do that at the end of next season and he accepts, you could risk saddling your team with one year of League at $8 million-to-$10 million in salary for 2013. Something to consider, so the Type A stuff is not necessarily of prime value in any forthcoming trade.)
All told, I’d still try to ship him off at the winter meetings in December if I’m the Mariners. Doesn’t matter that they lack a “bona fide” closer for 2012. This team isn’t going to lose 90+ games this year, then win a division overnight the next season. And even if this team does find itself in the race come early July of next year, I just don’t see this front office doing what it takes to “go for it” prior to 2013. Recent history suggests that. This team was always looking at a five-year plan. Not a four-year plan. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.
There were other things not accomplished this trade season. The M’s would have done best to sell high on Jason Vargas. Unfortunately for them, other teams know he’s going to earn about $5 million next year in arbitration and have seen his numbers decline in the second half. The time to deal Vargas was a month ago. Instead, they had to part with the cheaper, better-producing Fister.
The M’s are also still holding on to Jack Wilson, a guy who could have fetched them something with a strong start to his season. Instead, there was that position switch and his benching after that incident in Texas back in April and then his subsequent gluing to the bench. That’s pretty much eliminated his trade value and now he’s still here.
In theory, you could still trade Wilson in August, since all you’re looking for is to dump remaining salary anyhow and if somebody blocks a deal with a waiver claim, you just let him go. Infielders get hurt in August and teams are always looking for insurance down the stretch. The Wilson trade ship has yet to sail.
Jack Cust? A waste of $2 million. Had a decent OBP when benched, then could not play regularly enough to boost any mid-season trade value. Adam Kennedy? Probably more value to the M’s in helping them prevent another 100-loss debacle than he would have garnered in a trade.
But all in all, the M’s made out OK.
In looking at the weekend deals, I’d say the biggest immediate return they provide the Mariners is the ability to make “impact” trades at the upcoming winter meetings in Dallas.
Photo Credit: AP

Look, we can try to gaze into crystal balls and predict whether AAA switch hitter Trayvon Robinson or AA lefty-swinger Chih-Hsien Chiang are ever going to cut it as major leaguers. Heaven knows, some folks have made a cottage industry out of the prospects guessing game and wind up wrong as often as they are right. This Boston Globe story looking at the Bedard trade from a Red Sox perspective doesn’t sit there moping about what the team gave up.
This Dodgers blog feels Robinson was an “elite prospect” so, who really knows? With prospects, it’s largely a guessing game for all but the top one or two picks of a draft.
Zduriencik would tell you as much.
That there’s a huge difference between unproven prospects and proven major league players.
And to be honest, if only one of Casper Wells, or Francisco Martinez, or that PTBN Tigers draft pick from 2010, or Robinson or Chiang makes it as a good, everyday major leaguer, the M’s will probably be satisfied with that.
So, let’s stop pretending we can all figure it out and predict how the “tools” or the “skillset” will pan out for guys who have yet to really taste the big leagues.
Instead, let’s look at what this deal gave the M’s in tangible results we can reach out and touch.
What it gave them was a stockpile of duplicated skillsets for primarily outfielders at the AAA, AA and entry-point major league levels.
And that means, going into the winter meetings, Zduriencik will be in a much firmer position to make the kind of impact trade this club needs without having to sacrifice a Michael Pineda or Felix Hernandez to do it.
By impact, I mean that one player who can make a difference at the major league level. A Justin Upton type of player — not Upton himself, but type of difference maker.
You’ll remember last winter, when the D-Backs were looking to unload Upton and we lamented that the M’s would probably need to give up a bunch of their top prospects to even have a prayer. Guys like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, or Pineda in some two of three combination.
Well, nowadays, Ackley is a proven major league rookie. Pineda is a proven major league rookie all-star. Smoak is a graduate of his first full major league season. They are no longer unproven prospects. Now, there are a new level of guys down below them in the upper echelons of the minors that Zduriencik can use to sell prospects “hope” to teams he wants to deal with.
No, the outfielders garnered this weekend wouldn’t bring back an Upton by themselves. But package them with a proven major leaguer and maybe you have enough where you don’t have to give up two blue chips.
Maybe it’s now one blue chipper, plus several of these new guys — or the other guys they’ve now made redundant — and you get a deal done.
That’s a huge improvement.
And if Wells, or somebody else, pans out as an everyday big leaguer for the M’s as well, then hey, you’re laughing.
But going into this winter, I’d say that League and some of these other outfield guys would make a very interesting trade package. League plus another current major leaguer plus some of these minor league guys would make an excellent package.
Remember, the point would be to bring in proven, impact talent. Not more prospects.
Prospects are prospects. Nothing more. Until they are proven.
Right now, all the M’s have garnered is what stock market veterans would label as “futures”. But futures can go a long way on the market. In fact, the stock market and trade market are very similar things when it comes to human nature. We all have the propensity to buy into hope.
And today, with Robinson, Zduriencik can offer up a .900 OPS outfielder who switch-hits in the upper echelons of AAA and will likely get major league experience in September. In Chiang, he has a 1.000+ OPS outfielder in AA he can dangle to other teams.
Best yet, he has created a competition logjam in the outfield between Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Greg Halman, Mike Carp, Carlos Peguero, Johermyn Chavez, Robinson, Chiang, etc. etc. etc.
Not all of those guys will still be in this organization come August 2012. I guarantee it. I’d be stunned if some are still here in January 2012.
And some of those guys have big league experience. Believe me, that carries weight in the majors for GMs who are looking for more than just to play the unproven prospects game. For every one of you who may think Gutierrez has no value via trade, there will be a front office exec who sees the Gold Glove and thinks he can “fix” what ails the center fielder’s bat.
No, the M’s can’t simply wait for all of these guys to develop. Not if they want to win something at some point in the next three or four years. This club does need an impact trade to fast forward this process along.
And Zduriencik just made that possibility a bit more plausible. Actually, a lot more plausible.
And until one of these prospects “hits” on that lottery payout, that’s the biggest and most honest praise that can be heaped on what was a good weekend for Zduriencik.



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