Let's face it—after enduring a 17-game losing streak spanning through most of July, the Seattle Mariners find themselves dead-last in their division by a landslide, a position they have become all too familiar with for most of the past decade.
That said, the M's went from being a potential buyer at the deadline (big bat, anyone?) to a sure seller. If one considers Seattle's surprisingly competitive first half of the season to be an anomaly, then perhaps it is almost for the better that they are in sell mode.
There's a better chance the Mariners hang onto their young, rising prospects and part ways with aging veterans to contenders that need a rental. Perhaps in doing so, they pick up a few more prospects who end up proving to play a significant role in Seattle's rebuilding process.
While it seems highly unlikely that the Mariners will be dealing prospects for any type of legitimate bat in the next 48 hours, I have compiled a list of five trade scenarios they might be inclined to explore, ones that would be realistic and could possibly benefit both sides.
Erik Bedard has had a surprisingly good season thus far as a back-end starter for Seattle, but his durability continues to be a major concern moving forward
While Erik Bedard hasn't lived up to the hype he was given when the Mariners traded five prospects (including Adam Jones) for him in early 2008, his stock may never again be as high as it is right now.
The Mariners starting pitching has been lights-out almost all season long, and Bedard is a big reason for that. However, as has been a problem in past seasons, Bedard has spent the last few weeks on the DL (although this time, it isn't for the torn labrum that has plagued him in the past) and his replacement, rookie Blake Beavan, has flourished in his new role.
With promising young pitching prospects in recently drafted Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, Seattle has the pitching depth necessary to make parting ways with Bedard manageable. Boston has made no secret of their interest in acquiring a left-handed arm for the back of the rotation, and has been scouting Bedard, who will be closely watched in his return to the mound tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays.
GM Jack Zduriencik has made clear that he expects a decent return for Bedard, but I believe that he should pull the trigger on this deal while he can. While the Red Sox probably wouldn't even think of dealing their top prospect, 3B Will Middlebrooks, the Mariners have expressed interest in their top catching/DH prospect, Ryan Lavarnway (.361 with 13 HR, 40 RBI in 40 games at Triple-A Pawtucket).
The Red Sox already have a young talent behind the dish in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and would be adding pitching depth and an arm capable of being dominant in Bedard. On the flipside, the Mariners could keep Beavan as their fifth starter, and would add a much-needed bat in Lavarnway who could slide in as their designated hitter of the future, or perhaps eventually take over the catching duties for the aging Miguel Olivo.
While Jason Vargas isn't a name that will make you jump out of your seat, he's a very serviceable starting pitcher who has been nothing short of brilliant at times this season. He will give you a masterful start every now and then, and he will also get hit tagged for five or six runs once in a while, too. But for the most part, you know what you're going to get out of Vargas—a well-pitched outing and a chance for your offense to win you the game.
Coming from an offense that has been anemic for the past two seasons, Vargas would be able to showcase his ability to win ballgames a little bit better with a change of scenery. Detroit is in the thick of the AL Central race right now, and lefty arms are hot commodities for contending teams, so Vargas does carry some value in that respect. He isn't a pitcher who is going to strike out the side, but he also isn't going to walk with the bases loaded.
While Vargas isn't an absolute stud who is going to net a return of any huge prospects, I think that the Mariners could land a couple building blocks in a trade. Casper Wells is an intriguing name that could come up in this scenario.
Wells is still relatively young (26) but has been bounced around between the Tigers and Triple-A Toledo since debuting in the spring of 2010. He could add depth to the Mariners' suddenly shaky outfield situation, with an aging Ichiro, a slumping Franklin Gutierrez and a lack of a consistent, everyday starter in left field.
The M's would probably want another bat, and Detroit might be able to interest them in giving a homecoming to Seattle native Ryan Strieby, a 25-year-old first baseman/designated hitter who is currently playing at the Triple-A level. In 100 games at Toledo, Strieby has hit 16 HRs and produced 62 RBI. Seattle could give him a look at competing for the DH position in 2012, depending on how big of a splash the front office makes in the offseason.
It would be extremely hard for Seattle to part ways with a young, emerging pitching talent in Doug Fister, but let's face it, his stat line for 2011 tells us a lot about the Mariners' needs. The guy is 3-12 this season, with a 3.33 ERA. Think that's unfair? Look at his career stats (12-30, 3.81 ERA) and it's plain to see that we are talking about a pitcher who gets very little run support. In fact, going by the numbers, Fister has had the worst run-support in the majors this season.
There's no denying that Doug Fister is a great talent, but nobody deserves such an injustice as he has faced in his brief career with Seattle. Clearly, his pitching has meant a lot to the club, keeping them in many games they probably have not deserved to have a chance at winning. But that's just it. Wins are wins, and for whatever reason, the Mariners can't seem to win games with Fister on the mound. The offense is terrible, and the pitching deep.
Not every team has the luxury of such an effective, deep pitching staff, but the Mariners do. They need to find a way to exploit this to their advantage and, in doing so, bolster their offense for future seasons.
Third base is a position the Mariners need to work on improving, and they could do that by acquiring one of Detroit's top position prospects in 19-year-old Nick Castellanos. Baseball America rated him as the 65th best prospect in the game entering the 2011 season.
Seattle is having a miserable time with Chone Figgins on the hot corner right now, hitting below .200 with next to no power. What's worse is that his usually reliable glove has even disappeared in his time with the Mariners. Castellanos, along with Triple-A prospect Kyle Seager, can provide the M's with some much-needed depth at a position that is supposed to be one of a team's best offensive strengths.
Throw in Chance Ruffin, a young reliever who the Tigers picked up as a supplemental first-round pick from the 2010 draft, and you have an intriguing package for the Mariners that just might convince them to part ways with the talented Fister.
While Adam Kennedy has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Mariners offense this season, (not saying much) he is an aging veteran and is simply not part of the long-term plan in Seattle.
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik has ties with the Milwaukee Brewers, having been their former GM. It is well known that the Brewers, in the thick of a hotly contested race in the NL Central, need to do anything they can to keep pace while their injured Rickie Weeks, as his name suggests, will take a few weeks to return from an injury. Craig Counsell is not going to cut it as a defensive replacement for such an extended period of time.
It's pretty clear that Kennedy isn't the sexiest deadline pickup a team could make, but the Brewers aren't really looking to give up one of their top five prospects here, and they aren't looking for anyone who is going to expect to start on a daily basis once Weeks returns. Kennedy seems to fit this mold perfectly, and his ability to play any infield position gives him a lot of appeal.
D'Vontrey Richardson, a 22-year-old outfielder in A-plus ball right now, is extremely intriguing. The former Florida St. Seminole quarterback has all the tools of a potential stud, but is not the least bit polished and is a definite project. It'd be interesting for the M's to take a chance on developing such a gifted athlete.
Eric Farris is a 25-year-old second baseman, currently playing for Milwaukee's Triple-A affiliate, the Nashville Sounds. A good glove and a speed threat on the base paths, he is the prototypical infielder-type for the Mariners system as of late, and could serve as a solid backup to Dustin Ackley and Brendan Ryan.
This trade makes sense for both sides, as Adam Kennedy isn't a long-term answer for Seattle, but could be a great short-term option for Milwaukee, and he could fetch the Mariners a potential future star without costing Milwaukee the farm.
Brandon League's stock may never be as high as it is right now. Chone Figgins' may never be this low.
League has done an excellent job filling in for the injured David Aardsma as the M's closer this season, earning his first All-Star berth and holding his own among the league leaders in saves.
Figgins, on the other hand, has arguably been the biggest disappointment in the entire MLB this season. Despite being in the midst of a four-year/$36 million contract, Figgy is batting around .180 with one home run while playing sub-par defense at third base.
For some reason, Cincinnati has expressed interest in Figgins. Perhaps they think they can help him find his old form as the role of a pesky lead-off hitter that he filled perfectly for several years in Los Angeles. The Reds have also expressed interest in League. They want depth in their bullpen as they try to keep pace in the NL Central race.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal is one of the top 10 prospects the Reds have. He shows the potential to be above average both offensively and defensively, but is blocked by phenom catching prospect Devin Mesoraco, who has been described by some as the best catching prospect since Joe Mauer. Seattle is thin at catcher with Miguel Olivo getting older and Adam Moore looking more and more like an injury-prone bust.
At age 24, Juan Francisco is currently getting his first taste of the big leagues. Also widely regarded as one of the Reds' top 10 prospects, Francisco is a power hitting third baseman/DH, which is exactly what the Mariners are currently lacking. He could fit in very well on the hot corner and establish himself as a mainstay for years in Seattle, should the Reds wish to shop him in a trade.
Seattle would probably have to pay most, if not all, of Figgins' salary to help this deal work out, but I like it for both teams. The Mariners need to bite the bullet on Figgins—the experiment has failed. His days in Seattle appear to be numbered, as he has been given more than enough chances and hasn't cashed in.
League provides strength in the 'pen for the Reds, and Figgins is given a much-needed fresh start and a chance to revitalize his career in the National League. The Mariners, in return, are given two potential building blocks towards their future, and it doesn't cost the Reds any of their consensus top five prospects.