Seattle Mariners Become Less Recognizable, but That's OK

Chris CluffCorrespondent IIJuly 13, 2009

SEATTLE - MAY 13: Pitcher Brandon Morrow #35 of the Seattle Mariners is cheered by fans as he enters the dugout during the Mothers Day game  against the New York Yankees on May 13, 2007 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. The Mariners defeated the Yankees 2-1. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

It’s getting so we hardly recognize these Mariners, but as long as they stay in the hunt the rest of the season, who cares?

The Mariners finally made a couple of moves that have been a long time coming, getting rid of Yuniesky Betancourt and sending Brandon Morrow to Tacoma. And then they added yet another fill-in to make their infield even less identifiable.

The Betancourt deal was a stroke of luck as the Mariners pulled Kansas City’s top pitching prospect, right-hander Danny Cortes, along with another young arm, lefty Derrick Saito.

Cortes, a 6-6 power pitcher who was the Royals’ minor-league pitcher of the year last season, figures to be in the Mariners’ rotation within the next couple of years—if the 22-year-old’s attitude and maturity aren’t a problem.

Morrow’s demotion to Tacoma was long overdue. The Mariners should have sent him down in April, after he had missed most of spring training.

Instead, they put him in as the closer and he struggled mightily. His ERA ballooned over 9.00 by mid-May and he was demoted to middle relief.

Then he was made a starter, but he didn’t fare much better because he relied far too much on his fastball.

So now he’s headed down to work on his breaking ball, basically to learn how to pitch. 

Garrett Olson will step back into the starting rotation, behind the rock-solid trio of Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn and Erik Bedard.

The moves didn’t stop there, as the Mariners traded Class AA pitcher Justin Souza to Oakland for third baseman Jack Hannahan, who immediately took over the hot corner from Chris Woodward. Hannahan is a solid defender who can’t hit (.218 as Oakland’s everyday third baseman in 2008).

The Mariners are in an odd position—a team in transition that happens to be in contention.

The offense continues to look like a “Who’s That?” of the minor leagues. With Betancourt’s departure, Ichiro and Jose Lopez are the only recognizable position players remaining from the past few years.

It certainly helps to see Ken Griffey Jr. back, even if he’s hitting only .224 with 10 homers. But you have to wonder what the future looks like.

First baseman Russell Branyan has been one of the surprises of the majors this season, with 21 home runs, but the 33-year-old is just a stop-gap player. He might stick around next year, but he’s not the future.

The left side of the infield is now completely new, with Ronny Cedeno replacing Betancourt and Hannahan and Woodward filling in for the injured Adrian Beltre. But the Mariners will be in the market for a shortstop and third baseman after this season.

Franklin Gutierrez is the one young player who should be a big part of the future, anchoring center field with his stellar defense and improving offense. And Rob Johnson could be the future at catcher if he can improve his offense.

Left field has been a revolving door this year, as Endy Chavez (now injured), Wladimir Balentien and now Ryan Langerhans have played that spot. Balentien could be the future, but for now he’ll share time with Langerhans.

Among pitchers, only Hernandez is assured of returning next year, although he might be priced out of the Mariners’ range when he becomes a free agent in 2011.

Because the Mariners are in the hunt this season, they should not trade both Washburn and Bedard. But, if they can get a good, young hitter, they should deal one of them. They can always replace the pitcher with someone out of their solid bullpen or bring back Morrow, especially if he has learned to use his offspeed stuff.

Speaking of trading Bedard, everyone knew the Mariners made a bad move when they sent Adam Jones, George Sherrill and three other prospects to Baltimore last year. It looks far worse now.

While Bedard has been banged up and inconsistent for the Mariners, the Orioles have struck gold with Sherrill, an All-Star closer last year, and Jones, an All-Star this year. They also have star minor-league pitcher Chris Tillman, who has 88 strikeouts in 86.1 innings at Class AAA this season and was invited to pitch in the All-Star Futures game in St. Louis on Sunday.

It was a bad deal, and the Mariners need to get something out of it—whether it’s trading Bedard for future stars like Baltimore did or getting some great pitching from the lefty in a playoff run this season.

The Mariners might be in contention now, but they are still a team in transition. And, as different as they look this year, they'll change even more by next season.

But if it makes them a playoff contender, that's perfectly OK.

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