The Mariners are headed into the All Star break with their heads high, after taking three of four from the division rival Texas Rangers. In doing so, they’ve shown that they can compete with the top teams in the AL West, already 7-6 against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
But while the players take a break, the front office should not.
The Mariners are not a team guaranteed a postseason slot. Actually, there is a lot more explanations for why the team shouldn’t be where they are right now than explanations for their success.
The Seattle media and citizen journalists have been adamant that the Mariners can be both buyers and sellers at the trade deadline. There recent buys, Jack Hannahan and Ryan Langerhans, have been savvy, low cost acquisitions.
Likewise, the trade of Yuniesky Betancourt was an absolute fleecing of the Kansas City Royals.
But the Mariners have several players, in many cases new players, who should be flipped for more modest gains.
Garrett Olson was a highly sought after prospect this offseason. The Padres wanted him as part of a package that could have sent Jake Peavy out of town, and his trade to the Cubs seemed to be the green light for a Peavy trade.
The trade ultimately didn’t happen, and Peavy is on the shelf with a torn ankle tendon. Putting together a package for Peavy would be near-impossible, and likely irresponsible, but the Padres have other players the Mariners may value as well as a glut of left-handed starters that the Padres may covet.
So, how bad do they want Olson?
The Padres have two first base prospects, Kyle Blanks and Allan Dykstra, that could offer M’s fans an interesting insight into the front office.
Blanks is a monstrous slugger and a switch hitter. He’d be more expensive to acquire in terms of prospects and doesn’t walk a ton.
Dykstra, on the other hand, compares more to Russell Branyan. He’s a first baseman who played a bad third base in college. He’s got holes in his swing, but holds the ACC record for walks coming out of Wake Forest.
He’s the guy I wanted the Mariners to pick last year.
Dykstra’s not exactly tearing up a ball, but his .208/.397/.348 line is highlighted by 67 walks.
Olson alone may be enough to get Dykstra as the Padres are very well stocked at first base with Adrian Gonzalez at the big league level, and neither Dykstra or Blanks can play another position in the bigs.
Then there is Jeff Clement.
Clement has lost his spot as the organization’s catcher of the future, with a likely platoon of Adam Moore and Rob Johnson going forward for now. The team also drafted a catcher in the first round.
The Boston Red Sox may have found their replacement for the struggling David Ortiz in—well—Ortiz himself. However, they have been in search of a backup and eventual replacement for Jason Varitek, a hole Clement may be able to fill.
The Red Sox have a trio of pitchers: Justin Masterson, Clay Bucholz, and Michael Bowden, who may be on the move this season.
Masterson can’t seem to find a spot in the Red Sox rotation, but his heavy fastball may look nice as a means to break up the Mariners' left-handed starters in 2009.
Bowden and Bucholz, the “Ryan Anderson and Gil Meche” of the Red Sox pitching trio, have both struggled to stay in the majors. Bowden has had a few cups of coffee in the bigs, while Bucholz rode a strong finish to the 2007 season into a rough 2008.
Bucholz is back in the majors, but perhaps to showcase himself for a possible trade of Roy Halladay to Boston.
That’s all a nice segue to the Mariners' opportunity to buy on some actual big leaguers.
The only pitcher on the market that may make sense for the Mariners to look at is Roy Halladay, and I’d be a proponent for an attempted acquisition.
The team may not have the prospects to trade for Halladay, but they shouldn’t be hesitant as a result of the Erik Bedard trade.
Trading for Bedard, though similar, was vastly different. Halladay is almost assured to be a Type A free agent, and a former Cy Young winner. He’s perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, and would be proof positive for Felix Hernandez that his slider doesn’t need to take place of the knuckle-curve he threw in 2007.
Halladay has been nothing but stellar since becoming an elite pitcher, and eats innings like he’s starving.
But, in all likelihood, another team will be able to offer a better package of prospects, so speculation about Halladay may be farfetched and a waste of time.
The team could still use a bat though.
The unfortunate truth is that the Mariners will likely have to either give up on a promising player or replace a legend to do so.
There are four premier offensive positions in the major leagues: first base, left field, right field, and designated hitter. Those positions are presently patrolled by: Russell Branyan, Ichiro Suzuki, Ryan Langerhans, and Ken Griffey Jr.
While I think that Branyan will have a serious regression in the second half of the season based on his BABIP numbers and career trends in late months and seasons with a lot of plate appearances, I recognize that the team likely has no plans to move him, unless of course they fall out of contention.
I’ve been a long time critic of Ichiro.
I think he’s overrated and a legacy-first player. He’s got a ton of talent, and is the best singles hitter in baseball. The problem is that being the best singles hitter is similar to being the best free throw shooter in basketball, or the best field goal kicker in football.
While Ichiro’s contributions to the team are valuable, his position, salary, and production don’t match up.
That stated, he’s a fixture on this team, and his aforementioned salary will probably be on the Mariners' books for the duration of Ichiro’s career.
However, it is the same loyalty that new Mariners fans have to Ichiro that I have to Griffey. He’s the poster boy of my youth, the kid, and I’d be personally offended if he was replaced this season.
I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling, nor do I think I’m treading on ground that hasn’t been considered by Jack Zduriencik.
So that means that the player that the Mariners acquire will likely have to be able to play the outfield. Other positions of need, namely third base and shortstop, come at a higher price tag both in terms of financial and personnel compensation.
The M’s could take a look at Luke Scott.
He’s the odd-man-out of the Baltimore Orioles' young outfield. He’s always had some power, boasting an ISO around .240 most of his career, and he can play both corner outfield positions.
His walks are about where the team will eventually draw their baseline for corner outfielders.
The Mariners could continue the league’s harvesting of the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield and take a flyer on Delwyn Young. Young’s been a disappointing prospect, but he’s a switch hitter with some power, and could be another reclamation project on a team already filled with never-were’s producing like still-are’s.
But I think the Mariners should choose to eat some crow, and re-acquire Shin-Soo Choo. Choo struggled as a Mariner, but has gone to Cleveland and produced to the tune of .301/.395/.504.
Choo bats left-handed and can play both corner outfield positions. However, the team will have to pay a much higher price than the original trade that sent Choo to the tribe, which brought Ben Broussard to Cleveland.
Apart creating and odd, anti-2007 asymmetry, which saw the Mariners acquire the Cleveland platoon of Eduardo Perez and Broussard at first base, the team could instead start Cleveland’s 2008 right field platoon every day.