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July 3, 2012 at 9:43 AM

Most valuable trade piece the Mariners have right now? Try Tom Wilhelmsen

We’re now less than a month away from the July 31 trade deadline and much has changed for the Mariners on that front. Two of the guys the team had hoped to be able to move for some value are no longer doing what they had been.
Kevin Millwood has not been the same since first injuring his groin nearly four weeks ago during that combined no-hitter. Millwood won’t pitch again until the weekend and can probably still be moved at month’s end if he comes back strong. But the return the M’s will get for him has probably been reduced.
In the case of Brandon League, his value has dropped off considerably. League lost his closer job and now is probably not going to get it back before July 31, since he continues to have issues in his lesser role and has since been eclipsed by Tom Wilhelmsen.
And that brings us to the team’s hottest trade commodity right now. Well, hottest outside of Felix Hernandez and the pitching trio of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. But the M’s are not prepared to move any of them. At least, not yet.
But Wilhelmsen is a guy they could look to move for a variety of reasons as the deadline approaches.

The biggest reason is that Wilhelmsen is now doing everything the Mariners had hoped League would do and more. He has established himself as a closer in a way that League had not been able to do the past season and a half.
For one thing, Wilhelmsen has shown he can close out games over multiple innings. That “statement game” he had in Anaheim a month ago, where he set down Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo in the eighth — with the Angels threatening to tie it up — before finishing off the ninth was proof of that.
And now, we just saw him work three games in a row, shutting down the Red Sox over two innings on Saturday, then another inning Sunday, before closing out last night against the Baltimore Orioles.
Wilhelmsen hasn’t given up an earned run since mid-May and has two of the more devastating pitches in baseball with a high-90s fastball and a drop dead curve that’s drawing rave reviews nationally.
In other words, he’s doing everything the M’s had hoped League might do and at one tenth the cost.
So, why on Earth would the M’s be looking to deal him?
Several reasons, the first being that Wilhelmsen was essentially a scrap heap pick up that cost the team nothing. In fact, I’ll flat out state that Wilhelmsen has been the best “find” by GM Jack Zduriencik in his tenure.
Getting Wilhelmsen for “free” means the M’s are playing with house money in his case and you should never underestimate that. Didn’t cost them a draft pick, nor any huge contract.
And other teams will want him.
As I said this morning on my Talkin’ Baseball stint on Sports Radio KJR, contending teams might still pay a premium for Wilhelmsen as an eighth inning setup man, knowing that they would have him under club control for five more years and be able to move him into the closer role starting next season. That’s a huge selling point and why we shouldn’t get too hung up over whether teams would want him in an eighth or ninth inning role for this year.
Think about it. If you have a top notch closer making $7 million this season, you could look to dump that guy this winter and slide MLB minimum guy Wilhelmsen in there as early as next April. That’s mighty attractive and will fetch a closer’s premium regardless of who is handling the role right now for said club.
Also, the Mariners have some potential closers already knocking on the door. Stephen Pryor isn’t quite there yet but showed some positive signs he’ll be ready for late-inning MLB action shortly before he got hurt. You have Carter Capps in the minors right now as well and he’s another guy who projects as an MLB closer sooner rather than later.
Steve Delabar had a good outing last night and is another guy with potential closer’s stuff if he can settle a few things with his repetoire.
So, it’s not like the Mariners don’t have some depth in this area.
And as I’ve mentioned, this team is probably not seriously planning on winning anything before 2015. Maybe in 2014 if a whole lot of stuff takes off but that’s still two years away and we have no idea what Wilhelmsen will look like then. By then, he will begin to cost more as well.
If this team was planning to contend next year, then by all means, you keep Wilhelmsen. But if you’re the Mariners and you’ve got a handful of pitching commodities as trade bait, your current timeline dictates you hold on to your starters as much as possible and look to deal the relievers — no matter how good they are.
And Wilhelmsen is good. For my money, he’s the best part of this team at present. And other teams aren’t stupid. They won’t be lining up to ask for League when Wilhelmsen is right there doing the better job for less money and more club control.
And if you’re the Mariners, it isn’t necessarily the trade return you’re most focused on in any potential deal. Because Wilhelmsen is so inexpensive, he gives you the opportunity to perhaps package him with a pricier piece you’ve been unable to move.
Think about that. In Wilhelmsen, you get a guy who — because of his bizarre career path — is the same age and is performing at the same level you would normally expect out of a closer you’d have to pay 10 times more money to.
So, instead of signing an elite closer to a three-year, $27 million package, you can trade for Wilhelmsen and get a guy for five years. So, how much money would that be worth to a team? Would it be worth, say, the $13 million remaining on the contract for Chone Figgins?
What would you rather pay? Three years, $27 million next winter? Or $13 million right now, then whatever Wilhelmsen earns in arbitration a couple of years down the road? I’m not saying it’s a slam dunk. Just something to consider.
For my money, I don’t think the Mariners move Wilhelmsen for zero in return. Just that, if the pieces coming back aren’t all the M’s had hoped for, there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.
In any event, look for Wilhelmsen’s name to surface plenty in coming weeks. And don’t forget, the Mariners do not even have to move him at the deadline. They will be in roughly the same position with him this winter, still paying him minimal salary and with another half season of experience under his belt.
But for me, the temptation will be there for the team right now, especially if Wilhelmsen can be packaged with a pricier, hard-to-move player.
Stay tuned.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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