When contemplating the fortunes of the Seattle Mariners, does anyone else wonder if and when the time will come for the team to be buyers rather than sellers at the July trade deadline?
Usually such thoughts lie dormant at least until the month of June, so a few days ago when a friend of mine asked who the M's should consider trading this summer, I honestly thought he was joking.
Unfortunately even when the Mariners seem to enjoy a fair degree of success, it may simply have been the result of the team feasting on weak pitching (USS Mariner). Meanwhile once you get past Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the starting rotation remains very much a work in progress.
So depending on your view of the situation, the idea of the Mariners making a few trades may not seem terribly far-fetched.
Whether or not general manager Jack Zduriencik agrees remains to be seen, yet if the team continues to struggle over the next four to six weeks, whom should he consider trading?
While it's certainly not much fun to throw dirt on the M's this soon, on the bright side, it's nice for once to avoid including Felix Hernandez on this list.
That said, a few of the players I intend to discuss could be in some ways just as upsetting to see given their significance to both the current starting lineup and the team's future plans. The truth is, other teams will likely be interested in their services in the event they need someone who can hit home runs, eat innings or perhaps play stellar defense.
So without further ado, let's take a look at half a dozen players the Mariners could consider as their best trade bait this upcoming summer.
Allow me to cut to the chase.
The Mariners have a lot of players on their roster with contracts set to expire at the end of this season. While some of these players haven't quite panned out yet for the Mariners in 2013, I could imagine that one particular player will probably draw a lot of attention.
Throughout spring training and during the first week of the regular season, the acquisition of former Mariner Mike Morse over the winter looked like a solid move for Jack Zduriencik, but since Morse injured his finger his numbers have declined.
While recent signs of improvement have proved helpful to the team, the question remains whether Morse's impact is significant enough for the M's to consider signing him long-term.
To date that's been hard to judge, and in time the team could be faced with having to make a tough decision.
Do you trade him away if he's providing the leadership and power you had initially hoped for?
What sort of value will you get in return for him if he isn't producing?
At the end of the day I worry about Morse perhaps more than anyone else on this list simply because the M's might sign him for several years to a deal they may live to regret given his age and durability.
Instead, if the Mariners are still struggling by July and another team looking for power makes the M's a solid offer, I'm actually hoping they take it.
In regards to the situation with Kendrys Morales, it would be tempting to repeat the majority of what I just said about Mike Morse.
Naturally, though, it's not that simple.
While Morales this season has looked decent at times, he still doesn't strike me as an impact player.
Of course, for a contender looking to add to an already solid lineup, Morales could be the perfect complementary piece needed to push for the playoffs and beyond.
Similar to Morse, the question of whether to sell is going to require time and patience, yet I fear the team may end up selling low if his performance doesn't improve.
Even if his numbers at the plate do improve as the weather heats up, I still contemplate whether Morales will generate much attention among National League clubs given the limited number of appearances he's made at first base.
Overall, though, I gather Morales' fate will depend on how several other players in the organization perform in the coming weeks as well.
Beyond Morales and Morse, there are quite a few other potentially moving parts in Seattle, and in the minor leagues that could change the face of the team by summer.
If enough pieces shift just the right way, general manager Jack Zduriencik might be willing to see what he can get for Morales rather than risk seeing him leave Seattle as a free agent this winter.
In spite of what the numbers (ESPN) say along with his struggles on the road this season, Joe Saunders is an experienced left-handed starter signed to a one-year contract.
Going in to this season, the Mariners signed Saunders as a place holder of sorts hoping he could eat innings and perhaps win a few games while waiting on the likes of young lefties Danny Hultzen and James Paxton to graduate from Triple-A.
Unfortunately Saunders has not held up his end of the bargain, and to make matters worse neither Hultzen nor Paxton appear ready to take Saunders spot in the starting rotation any time soon.
Could things change in the course of the next few weeks and months?
Let's hope so, with either Saunders rebounding so the M's can find him a new home or at least one of the two lefties at Tacoma can fill his spot.
Speaking of veteran lefties, how about Oliver Perez?
This time last year Perez looked all but washed up.
Now, he's arguably one of the best relievers in the M's bullpen averaging a strikeout per inning (ESPN) this season and signed at a fairly reasonable price.
While I'm not entirely sure the M's should trade him, I'd imagine more than a few teams will call to ask about him this summer to add to their bullpen.
I will be curious to see if Jack Zduriencik can get decent value for him in return, but if not I fail to see any reason the Mariners should get rid of him based on his work over the past calendar year.
Have glove will travel?
Depending on your point of view, either Brendan Ryan is a defensive wizard or the M's biggest liability at the plate.
For the sake of this discussion let's keep in mind that while it has been well established that Brendan Ryan can barely hit his own weight, the argument about his defense is indeed legitimate.
Ryan was so good last year that if he only managed to hit what was once his career average (ESPN), he may have won a Gold Glove.
At any rate, whether you like Ryan or not, that kind of defense does have value for contending teams with enough offense to compensate his shortcomings at the plate.
Ultimately Ryan may not net any major prospects, but I like to believe he could perhaps get someone in return for his services that for the moment are being platooned with Robert Andino.
Meanwhile if Ryan is traded, whom do the M's have in mind to take over at shortstop moving forward?
Rather than continue working our way through the rest of the fossils on the Mariners roster like Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Bay or Aaron Harang, I figure it would make more sense to discuss a player that is arguably the M's best trade bait this summer.
I'm not saying they would or even that they should consider making a deal here, but you have to imagine that infielder Nick Franklin will likely attract a fair amount of attention in the coming weeks.
Right now Franklin's success at Triple-A Tacoma is quite impressive, but where exactly do you play him?
It's an issue that Dave Cameron at USS Mariner sees as somewhat problematic unless the M's find him a suitor at some point:
The Mariners already traded Nick Franklin once. Assuming they’re not ready to give up on Dustin Ackley, I wouldn’t be surprised if they expected to try and trade him again at some point in the future. Brad Miller is the current shortstop of the future, so Franklin would just be auditioning to play out of position for a while until Miller took his job — which he might be ready to do later this year, if he can stop making so many errors, anyway — and the potential damage that might do to Franklin’s trade value has to be a consideration.
Couldn't agree more, and whether we like it or not, Franklin's value will probably never be higher than it is today.
If another team were to offer one of their top outfield prospects in exchange for Franklin it would be interesting to see how the Seattle front office would react.
Of course, the problem here is how do you justify shipping off a Nick Franklin when the likes of Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak continue to fall short of expectations?
How much time can you afford to give them while letting Franklin languish at Tacoma?
This is where the waiting game becomes critical for the Mariners as they plan for the future, while dealing with the reality of the present once you throw the aforementioned players we've discussed into the mix.
Honestly, I don't envy Jack Zduriencik and can see moves for quite a few of these players creating more problems than they would solve this season.
Moving forward, though, will he be given the chance to work through these issues?
I have my doubts and therefore believe that Jack Z is crossing his fingers that some way, some how the Mariners come to life so he can avoid shipping too many of these players off and hopefully save his job.