Seattle Mariners Trades: Sell the Farm To Flip Wilson?

Casey McLain@caseymclain34Senior Analyst IJuly 30, 2009

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 13:  Jack Wilson #2 of the Pittsburgh Pirates fields a third inning ground ball while playing the Houston Astros during the Pirates Home Opener at PNC Park April 13, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

When the Mariners traded Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, and three prospects to the Pirates for Jack Wilson and Ian Snell, Mariners fans couldn’t help but be disappointed.

There is more than one way to stop a sinking ship, depending on the size of the hole. A pinhole may be stopped by a piece of gum. Albeit not a permanent solution, it can get the job done in a pinch.

The permanent solution, however, is not a bigger, more expensive, older piece of gum.

The Mariners shortstop position has been one of massive debate in the past few years. Yuniesky Betancourt regressed from the second-coming of Omar Vizquel in the eyes of some, to the Cuban answer to Chuck Knoblauch.

But even on Knoblauch’s worst day, he wasn’t the sole problem for his team.

Truth be told, micro-analysis of the shortstop position didn’t begin when Betancourt put on a few pounds, starting swinging at what seemed like every pitch, and seemed to forget where he was on occasion.

In reality, it began when Carlos Guillen was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Ramon Santiago before the 2004 season.

In a move made as a clear cleansing of the clubhouse, as the team wanted to separate Freddy Garcia and Guillen, they traded Guillen for a prospect nearly four years his junior, but one who didn’t have the offensive prowess that Guillen had.

After parts of two seasons and 27 games as a Mariner, Santiago would return to Detroit where both he and Guillen still play.

Since then the Mariners have trotted Rich Aurilia, Jose Lopez, Betancourt, Mike Morse, Cedeno, and now Wilson out to the position, all with some degree of seriousness as to their future at the position.

They also traded Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Valbuena to the Indians, though that was during the perceived dark ages of Mariners personnel moves.

Not long ago, I pledged my undying trust for Jack Zduriencik. He was a half-dozen major moves into his tenure as general manager. Without exception, each move had either panned out or made absolute sense.

Since then, he designated Wladimir Balentien for assignment, opting instead to hang on to Chris Shelton, who personifies a flash in the pan.

I speculated that somewhere lurking was Ramon Santiago’s distant relative, who unknowingly was destined not to contribute to the Mariners future success.

Welcome to Seattle Robert Manuel, may your mid-80s fastballs miss bats, find gloves, or at least avoid causing brain injuries to fans seated in the left-field bleachers.

Balentien is reunited with Bill Bavasi, who undoubtedly teamed with Walt Jocketty, the Cincinnati Reds' new general manager to make a low-cost, savvy (ugh), low-risk, potentially-high-reward move for a semi-contending team.

Needless to say, my confidence in Zduriencik is shaken, if only a little bit.

There are a ton of clear-cut negatives in the Pirates trade: Wilson's old, plays only one position, didn’t hit in the National League (Poor man’s Jeff Cirillo? Double ugh), and has an $8.4 million option for next year.

Snell’s a potential head case, has only one year that profiles as a mid-rotation starter, is short for a right-handed pitcher, and doesn’t have electrifying stuff.

That said, both players present very different positives.

Snell has posted good numbers since requesting a demotion to Triple-A, though his numbers are far less impressive without his seven-inning, 17 strikeout performance to begin his Triple-A tenure.

Also, while Snell’s stuff may not be electrifying, it is certainly possible that even if he fails to become a decent starter in Seattle, he could be a late-inning reliever. With as many closers as there are that seem to be fabricated from team’s heaps of scrap metal, Snell may find himself a valuable trade piece once again down the road.

And while the duo makes a lot of combined money in 2010, the Mariners will only pay each $400,000 this year.

Which is a proper transition into Wilson’s positives, which are undoubtedly more immediate, but perhaps for different reasons.

The acquisition of Wilson doesn’t make sense.

The team was a day removed from being “ready to sell,” and went out and acquired expensive veteran talent.

The Mariners entered the offseason with question marks at shortstop, left field, first base, center field, designated hitter, closer, and in their rotation.

But the budget conscious Zduriencik opted for either cheap or young options at those positions, also trading away and allowing to leave some of the team’s higher paid players.

So why an $8 million defensive specialist shortstop?

Zduriencik is a proponent for solid defense, sure, but trading away what he did to acquire a shortstop on the wrong side of 30, with an $8.4 million option and a snowball’s chance in hell of garnering draft pick compensation upon becoming a free agent? Something’s fishy.

The Mariners weren’t the only team interested in Wilson. The Red Sox were also in discussions with the Pirates on the shortstop, as the team has struggled to replace an injured Jed Lowrie.

One of their failed options at the position, Julio Lugo, was recently traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, with the Red Sox assuming all of his remaining salary.

Surely, in any talks with the Pirates the remaining salary due to Wilson was prohibitive to some extent.

But $400,000 left on an essentially expiring contract is a much more attractive package, both for the trading and receiving team.

But Jack said...

"This was an opportunity for us to acquire a veteran shortstop, a former All-Star player, with leadership qualities and above-average defensive skills," said Zduriencik in a press conference. "As we move forward over the next few years it is nice to know that we have solidified the shortstop position."

Take it for what it’s worth, but in a May interview with John Hickey, formerly of the now-defunct Seattle PI, now of the Seattle Post Globe, Zduriencik said this of a certain recently-departed Mariners outfielder:

"He has surprised me. I didn’t think we had a player as good as he as shown himself to be. He plays good left field, and he hits. It didn’t help at the beginning that he was late. But he came in that first day, and he was all business and ready to go.”

Maybe I’m peaking under the wool Zduriencik has pulled over our eyes, at least I hope so.


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