After going 5-4 on the most difficult road trip of the year, the Seattle Mariners suddenly look a team that can legitimately contend for a wide open American League West title.
At 42-39 on the season, and sitting just 3.5 games behind the first place Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, the M's endured a brutal stretch of nine contests that took them from Chavez Ravine (Los Angeles Dodgers), to the new Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees) and finally to Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox) before returning home today.
By producing a winning record over the past week-and-a-half, the Mariners proved they are worthy of the "Buyers" tag as the trade deadline nears. If management agrees with that assessment, the first void they need to fill is at third base.
For a week now, the team has employed utility man Chris Woodward as their de facto three bagger. Woodward has been acting in place of Adrian Beltre, who underwent surgery a week ago to repair a shoulder injury, and will be lost for six-to-eight weeks.
By the time Beltre returns from the disabled list, the M's season could be all but decided. This means the Mariners need to take control of their fortunes and address the gaping hole on the left side of their infield now.
With few in-house options ready to assume the duty (top prospect Matt Tuiasosopo is recovering from his own health problems, while the team appears hesitant to trust minor leaguer Chris Shelton), Seattle will be looking to find a trading partner amongst the deadline sellers. We profile a few players who might just fit the Mariners' need.
Melvin Mora, Baltimore Orioles
The free agent-to-be is 37-years-old and would be the ultimate rent-a-player. That said, he would likely come at a very low cost (maybe one or two second-tier prospects) and is an offensive upgrade over the light-hitting Woodward.
Current line: .260/.321/.640 (BA, OBP, OPS), 2 HR, 22 RBI
Mark Teahen, Kansas City Royals
A man without on a role on the Royals, Teahen has been bumped from his third base gig by Alex Gordon, in addition to being bumped from nearly every other position on the field (first base by Billy Butler, and second base by Alberto Callaspo).
When Gordon returns from injury, Teahen will still be a starter, but at what position nobody knows. And while he might cost a little more to obtain, the left-handed batter possesses the plate discipline the Mariners seek in a hitter (he was chronicled in Moneyball, after all) and could work into the M's future plans thanks to his defensive versatility (he can play third, second, first, left field, and right field).
Current line: .292/.352/.806, 9 HR, 29 RBI
Bobby Crosby, Oakland Athletics
Crosby might be the least likely of possible additions for a number of reasons. First, he's currently in the division with Oakland. Second, he's not a true third baseman (he started out as a shortstop, switched to third, and is now mostly playing first base). And third, the A's tend to seek the same traits in a player that these nouveau Mariners do, so working out a trade might be difficult.
That said, Crosby is a former top prospect who has fallen on hard times in Oakland due to injury and waning opportunity. A change of scenery could do him some good.
Current line: .199/.289/.599, 3 HR, 19 RBI
Freddy Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates
You never want to pin too big a label on a guy, but Sanchez might just be the ideal candidate for the M's third base vacancy. A versatile defender who can hit for average, Sanchez can play three positions capably (third, short, and second), has won a batting title (2006), and is turning himself into a perennial All-Star.
On top of all that, he still has one year left on his contract and could fill a need at shortstop or second base upon Beltre's return. His ability to hit to all fields would play well in Safeco Field, and because he's not much of a power guy to begin with, he shouldn't experience a big drop-off coming to the American League.
Current line: .316/.355/.832, 6 HR, 33 RBI
Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros
A late bloomer who should come rather cheaply, Keppinger is another guy who can play a multitude of defensive positions and hits for average. Consider him a poor-man's Freddy Sanchez, if you will.
In addition to his baseball abilities, the 29-year-old is under club control for another season, and isn't eligible for arbitration until December 2010, making him a financially feasible option, as well.
Current line: .268/.351/.756, 3 HR, 12 RBI
Geoff Blum, Houston Astros
The other half of Houston's hot corner platoon, Blum is a left-handed batter that has seemingly always flown under the radar. A former top prospect of the Montreal Expos, Blum has been a big leaguer since 1999, and continues to hang around as a valuable bench asset and part-time starter.
At 36-years-old now, Blum isn't much of a future option, but he could provide great help in the meantime.
Current line: .266/.333/.667, 2 HR, 24 RBI
Garrett Atkins, Colorado Rockies
The Rockies need to trade Atkins badly, as his value continues to diminish and his role with the club is quickly being phased out.
Though some sources have already linked the M's to the slugger, he doesn't seem like a good fit at Safeco Field. His power numbers have dwindled in each of the past two years, and at 29-years-old, Atkins has aged very poorly. His season-long slump likely wouldn't be cured by a move to A, a pitcher's park, and B, the American League, so the Mariners might be wise to stay away.
Current line: .225/.302/.637, 6 HR, 25 RBI
Ian Stewart, Colorado Rockies
There's almost no chance the Rockies would keep Atkins and deal Stewart, but it wouldn't hurt to ask.
The 24-year-old Stewart is a left-handed hitting power bat that can also play second base, and would be a future star in the eyes of almost any ball club. Were Colorado even going to consider trading Stewart, they would demand a hefty ransom in return.
Current line: .214/.291/.771, 15 HR, 42 RBI