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July 31, 2013 at 8:01 AM

Which impact player makes sense for Mariners to trade? Michael Morse

Michael Morse has played hurt or been on the DL most of this season and is likely gone for nothing in two months. Photo Credit: AP

Michael Morse has played hurt or been on the DL most of this season and is likely gone for nothing in two months. Photo Credit: AP

We’re just hours away from the 1 p.m. PT trade deadline for deals not involving waivers. After that period, trades can still be made up until Aug. 31, but the players involved must first clear waivers — meaning anyone not costing a fortune is likely to get a claim put in on them.

Up to this point, we’ve heard the Mariners will not be dealing any of their impact bats unless an offer blows them off their feet.

Not sure that’s the best attitude to be taking. The Mariners, no matter what they try to say, are not contending this year. They now have a less-than-great chance at even a .500 season.

A week ago, things were different. They had won eight in a row, had one game left against the Cleveland Indians and then four at home against the Minnesota Twins. The chance to change their trade deadline destiny was there. Had they gone 4-1, they’d be a few games under .500 as of right now with plenty of positive momentum.

Instead, they went 2-3, then lost last night to go to 2-4 since this time a week ago. Their destiny is pretty much sealed where contention is concerned. And now, the offense is reverting back to what it has been so often this year in scoring two runs per game or fewer on too many nights facing too many average pitchers.

Too many times this year, the Mariners had chances to change their fate. And too often, they fell short, whether it was blowing 1-0 leads in the ninth inning at home to bad Houston and Minnesota teams, or an 8-1 advantage on the road in Anaheim. The Mariners are a better club than the last few years. But now that they’ve erased that unfortunate eight-game losing streak with an eight-game win streak, we see pretty much what they truly are: a team six games under .500. A team that has underperformed. A team that won’t be going anyplace but the golf course once September ends.

Teams like those usually don’t look to horde any impact bats on one-year deals come trade deadline time. They usually look to shop those bats and get some return for them.

I understand the Mariners wanting to play for .500 this year and honestly have little problem with it. At some point, they have to convince the ticket-buying, TV-watching public that there is something to this rebuilding plan other than more young players. They have to show that, five years in, they are going to win something one of these years and a .500 season just might do that. It doesn’t matter if it means anything scientifically; this is a ┬ábusiness and selling your customers on your product matters.

Also, the Mariners could get a draft pick back if they make somebody like Kendrys Morales a qualifying offer at season’s end. If he takes it, you get Morales one more year at about $14 million. If he declines, you get the compensatory pick tacked on to the first round. In other words, the equivalent of a pretty good mid-season prospect.

So, I can understand not wanting to move Morales. Especially if the Mariners are worried that pulling him from the middle of the order will hurt their once-again-struggling offense even more and remove all hope of a .500 season.

But there is one impact bat that can be traded. One that makes sense and won’t cost you those other things I just mentioned.

The bat is Michael Morse.

Unlike Morales, Morse will not be generating any draft pick compensation at season’s end. He has been hurt far too often this year and last season as well for the Mariners to risk making him an offer and having him take it and then being stuck paying $14 million for him next season. Want to gamble like that on a player staying healthy? Might as well pick up Franklin Gutierrez’s option at $7.5 million for 2014. After all, he’s a right-handed bat just like Morse is and can play above average defense as well. But no, the Mariners will not be doing that, either.

That means, unless the Mariners sign Morse to an extension, he will be a free agent in two months.

A free agent leaving for nothing.

Unlike Morales, Morse was not around during the recent winning streak and offensive upsurge by the Mariners. So, the argument that pulling him from the lineup would risk impacting the current team is not really there. Morse hasn’t been around for a while and yet the team did really well for a stretch. Now, I’m not foolish, I understand that the team stands to do better down the stretch with a healthy Morse in the lineup. It just depends how long it takes him to get his swing back. He didn’t have it last night and struck out three times. Once he does get it back, he will be ale to help the Mariners in their quest for…what exactly? Oh yeah, a .500 season. No word yet on where the parade route for that will be if it happens, but…OK, I know, I know, I just said it’s a legit goal for a business-minded team to have.

So, let’s say it in English: if you’re the Mariners, you’re pretty much keeping Morse around to try to make things easier for your marketing department this winter in trying to spin another third or fourth-place season.

Now, that can still be a net positive for the team. But it depends on what you’d be giving up as far as a mid-season trade return goes.

Because even though Morse hasn’t been healthy, the fact he’s recently proven he can be an impact major league hitter does give him some trade value. You would think the Washington Nationals — by the way, whatever happened to that perennial contention thing they were supposed to have going as a model for rebuilding? — would like Morse back to try to jumpstart their offense and take a wild-card run down the stretch. Anyhow, we’ll see.

Or, maybe the Texas Rangers, knowing Nelson Cruz is likely to be suspended soon, will want another right fielder/DH in the fold?

Both those teams have good farm systems and could probably give up an enticing package for a player set to leave Seattle in two months for nothing in return.

And in terms of Seattle’s outfield, trading Morse makes sense.

Right now, the Mariners are going to be hard-pressed to find playing time for everybody. Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders are still a part of this team’s future and they should be played extensively the remainder of this year to answer any questions so that the Mariners aren’t using 2014 (a.k.a. Year No. 6 of their plan) to stage even more auditions.

That leaves just one more outfield spot and Raul Ibanez occupies it. Though he’s struggled the past two weeks, Ibanez helped carry this offense most of the year. Like Morales, take Ibanez out of there for good, the offense might head right down the drain as if it’s a plug that’s been pulled. Ibanez is 41 and won’t have all that much trade value on the open market. He’s still not seen as an everyday option for most teams, while Morse — despite his injury history — still is. That’s baseball. You don’t have to agree with it. It just is what it is and perception matters on the trade front.

Not only that, the Mariners will also have to do something with Gutierrez these next two months. If he’s healthy again and you’re paying him, it’s silly not to play him. Especially on a team that needs right-handed bats. So, the outfield is about to get even more crowded.

This is nothing against Morse. If the Mariners want to keep him and try to extend him at a cheaper-than-expected rate, they can go that route and risk having him say no. They can do a lot of things, expecially if nobody wants to give anything up for him.

But I’d suspect that some team out there does. And if that’s the case, of all the impact, one-year bats the team can trade today, Morse is about the only one that would let them have their proverbial cake and chomp away at it too. A guy they can deal, get something significant, and not risk devastating the offense we’ve seen the past month.

It just depends what they believe. If they truly believe what we’ve seen the past month is, as Eric Wedge puts it, “Real”, then they should have no problem dealing Morse away because he was not a part of the revival and is gone for nothing in two months.

But if the Mariners have doubts and feel the offense is poised to drive off a cliff again, then reinforcements are probably needed and Morse represents exactly that.

It will be interesting to see what the Mariners do today. Because what they do — or don’t do — could very well tell us what they really think about the current state of this team.

Comments | More in trade deadline | Topics: michael morse; kendrys morales; raul ibanez; franklin gutierrez

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