BY LARRY STONE / SEATTLE TIMES COLUMNIST
The Mariners improved themselves with their two deals Thursday, though it is questionable they did enough to solve their dire offensive problems.
On a whirlwind deadline day that featured a steady stream of significant trades, the Mariners weren’t one of the teams making the huge splash.
But they played the role of middle man in a whopper of a trade, sending Nick Franklin to the Rays as part of a three-way deal that resulted in Tampa Bay’s ace, David Price – a rumored Mariners target – landing with the Tigers.
The Mariners walked away with center fielder Austin Jackson, who will slide right into the center field job and lead-off job, providing an unquestionable upgrade over James Jones.
While promising early, Jones was in a major slump (.236/.257/.264 in his last 43 games, 2 for his last 35). Jackson, just 27, has a career .277/.345/.413 line, and even though those numbers are down slightly this season, he still has a .330 on-base percentage. That immediately moves him into third-place on the Mariners behind Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager (excluding Chris Taylor’s 13 plate appearances).
They get Jackson for this year and next, when he will be arbitration eligible after making $6 million in 2014. Jackson will be eligible to become a free agent after the 2015 season. Contrast that with Franklin, a former first-round pick who will have six years of club control by the Rays. But Franklin was blocked by Cano at second base. The Mariners had clearly made the decision that Franklin was their third-best option, at least, at shortstop behind Brad Miller and Taylor.
So that made Franklin very expendable. Yes, he could haunt them – he should have a high comfort level going home to the Tampa area – but this is a pretty good return by Seattle for that risk.
I wonder how close the Mariners came to getting Price themselves, considering what the Rays wound up getting – Franklin, Drew Smyley and minor-league infielder Willie Adames. I’ve got to think that if the Mariners had packaged Taijuan Walker with Franklin and maybe another piece, they could have gotten a deal done for Price. That’s either an indication they weren’t willing to do so (they knew they couldn’t re-sign Price after next year) or perhaps that Walker’s stock has fallen in light of his injury and inconsistencies this season.
At any rate, the Mariners came out of the trade deadline with their top prospects, minus Franklin, still in hand – Walker, James Paxton, D.J. Peterson, Brandon Maurer, et al. But they only moved the needle incrementally on the worst offense in the league. In addition to Jackson – reunited with his Detroit hitting coach, Lloyd McClendon – they got another right-handed bat, Chris Denorfia, from San Diego.
That cost Abraham Almonte, their Opening Day center fielder and leadoff man, and minor-league pitcher Stephen Kohlscheen. Denorfia is a good player having a poor year, but historically he has hit well against left-handed pitching. That’s a big need for the Mariners. Denorfia is hitting just .253/.311/.326 against lefties this year, but for his career he’s 301/.367/.447. The Mariners can now run out two righties in the outfield, as opposed to having to go with Dustin Ackley, Jones and Endy Chavez, all lefties.
All in all, the Mariners are a better team today than they were yesterday. Whether they’re good enough to overcome a three-game deficit in the wild-card standings remains to be seen.
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