BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 07/16/2014

Should the Mariners deal or protect the farm?

The Mariners rarely find themselves in contention for a playoff berth with 71 games to play. The question: Should they make deals before the deadline or stand pat? Vote here.

With closer Fernando Rodney having saved an American League-high 27 games, the Mariners are 2½ games ahead for the second wild card. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

At 51-44, the Mariners have compiled their best first half since 2003, two years following their last playoff appearance (2001) and two years before the dawn of the Felix Era. They roost eight games back of Oakland in the AL West after taking two of three over last weekend, and 2½ ahead of Kansas City and Toronto for the American League’s second wild-card berth.

Led by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners have sufficient pitching to make a playoff run if they get there. But they desperately need a right-handed bat to provide Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, their two best hitters, with the kind of support they have failed to receive from Justin Smoak (.202), Brad Miller (.204), Corey Hart (.214), Dustin Ackley (.225) and even Mike Zunino, whose 13 home runs are offset by a .206 batting average, including .211 with runners in scoring position.

“If we continue to pitch the way we’re pitching, and if we stay healthy from an offensive standpoint, we’ve got as good a shot as anybody,” manager Lloyd McClendon said in his final press briefing before the All-Star break. “Do we have challenges? Absolutely, we have challenges. We all know that. But I know this: When you can shut down other teams, it makes those challenges a little easier to climb. So far, our pitching’s been shutdown-type pitching, so we’ll see.”

Not to quibble too much with McClendon, but the Mariners are no guarantee to win even when they receive shutdown pitching. In six of his 20 starts, Felix Hernandez pitched at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer runs, only to come away with both of his losses and four no-decisions due to a lack of run support.

The Mariners sport the fifth-best record in the American League even though they rank 14th in batting (.245), 15th in on-base percentage (.300), 12th in slugging (.377) and 15th in OPS (.677). Underscoring the most glaring need, the club’s right-handed hitters are batting .220, worst in the majors and second worst in MLB.

The Mariners last winter passed on Nelson Cruz, who signed with Baltimore and has 28 home runs. Kendrys Morales passed on the Mariners, inking with Minnesota. The  likely-to-be available right-handed bats include Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, Dayan Viciedo, Carlos Quentin and Josh Willingham.

Since none of the named is considered much of a difference-maker, the answer might be for the Mariners to seek another pitcher. Tampa Bay’s David Price, who couldn’t pitch in the All-Star game due to injury (opening the door for Fernando Rodney), is the candidate most often mentioned, and the Mariners can afford him in the relative short term (the rest of this year and next). Whether it’s Price or someone else, this much makes sense: If the Mariners can’t boost their run production, they should bolster their run prevention.

Any deal for Price or a pitcher of his pedigree would involve prospects. One major league exec suggested to CBSSports.com a package involving Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin and third base prospect D.J. Peterson, the 2013 first-round draftee.

The Mariners can go one of two ways: trade precious prospects for an opportunity to win now, or stand firm in the belief, expressed by RHP Chris Young Sunday, that, “Our best baseball is ahead of us. We’re pleased with where we are, but we’re not satisfied.”

Since it’s practically historic when the Mariners are in playoff contention with 71 games to play, since they’ve won 50 by the All-Star break for only the fifth time while demonstrating they can hang with the elite (the Mariners are 34-24 against teams with records above .500), it’s imperative that they seize the day and do a deal, or deals. Given their history, the Mariners might not have this chance again until 2024.

However, the Mariners have spent each day since throwing GM Bill Bavasi out the door carefully rebuilding their farm system. Should they plunder it for what might only be a one-game playoff, especially if they probably won’t be able to sign Price or his near-equivalence long term? The Mariners don’t have much of a recent history of turning multi-player trades to their own advantage, either, Smoak and Jesus Montero serving as Exhibits A and B.


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YourThoughts

  • RadioGuy

    Go with what you’ve got. Why trade for pitchers when your pitching is already top-notch or for batters who aren’t the kind who’ll be difference-makers in your lineup? If you’re moving flotsam and jetsam like Smoak, Ackley or Montero that’s one thing. But let’s not press the panic button AGAIN by trading our best prospects for a veteran maybe. We’re not that close to playing deep into October.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I would’ve liked to see an outfield of Shin Soo Choo, Adam Jones and Ichiro Suzuki in Seattle for a while, not to mention an Asbrubal Cabrera at short or a Chris Tillman in the rotation. What did we get back for those guys?

    • art thiel

      The M’s trade for a pitcher because all teams are after hitters, and the very few good ones will come at a painful cost in a seller’s market. I get why the Mariners want to double down on a strength.

      Your second half Mariners offense: James Jones gets hit by a pitch, is sacrificed to second, steals third and scores on a sac fly. Mariners win 1-0, 27 times.

      • Bayview Herb

        Perhaps we could trade surplus players that have big league talent such as
        our previous 2nd baseman, Nick Franklin, who was made surplus by Cano and Miller. He is every bit as good as Miller on defense and has shown great hitting at times. Unfortunately, not recently.

  • Tian Biao

    Go for it! These so-called ‘prospects’ probably aren’t any good, given Jack Z’s record. Remember the ‘big 3′ pitchers? Well, the big 3 is down to the big one-half. Ackley was a can’t miss, Smoak was the second coming of Eddie Murray, yada yada. None of ‘em can play – deal ‘em all! Clean out the farm! Let’s get some MLB-level players in here. prospects – bah! I’ve had enough of Jack Z’s ‘prospects.’

    • art thiel

      The casualty rate is high among M’s prospects — as it is for all teams. Which means you’re more right than wrong.

  • Big

    Jack Z doesn’t have a good trading record and is there an impact player out there for the M’s that will build on the teams success for this season and more seasons to come? Building up the farm system was goal one I thought why risk the farm goal for a question mark player? However, if there is a chance for an impact player who will be with the M’s for the future the temptation would be great. Game plans are necessary but so are reflection and change.

    • art thiel

      Well said.

      • Bayview Herb

        Go with what we got and look carefully at the free agents next winter. We may only be one player away from the ;playoffs. Too bad about our designated hitter last year didn’t want to come back.

  • WestCoastBias79

    Heathcliff Slocumb.

    • art thiel

      That was three GMs ago.

  • Guy K. Browne

    The name “Adam Jones” answers all of the questions above.

    • Eric K

      the amazing things about the Ms is when they do the prospects for established players trades no matter which side they are on they come out the loser (Choo and Cabrera for Broussard and Perez, Jones et al for Berdard, Soriano for Ramorez are all prosects for vets that backfired.) but then when they do vets for prospects they get Smoak for Cliff Freaking Lee. Even when they do prospects for prospects they end up with Montero.

      Maybe it is just that they are lousy judges of talent across the board.

      • art thiel

        Each deal stands on its own, but cumulatively, they explain why the Mariners have yet to make the World Series.

    • art thiel

      Do the M’s stop trying because of a six-year-old mistake?

      • Guy K. Browne

        Adam Jones was the nadir for sure. My point really had to do with a message that was constant and consistent, “we’re going to do this the right way and build a strong team from the farm up”, a message that was consistently at odds with what was actually happening, which was and has been, gutting the team and the farm of young talented players for a shot at one washed up problem player, and some token pieces of pocket lint thrown in to make it look good (hey, we got 3 for one!…. good right?) It never pans out. Should they stop trying? No, but one strong row of corn does not a strong farm make. The odds of a deep playoff run with the current roster is probably a long shot… at best. Why not stand pat and show the fan base that 1) Things are getting better 2) We’re not going to continue to gut the team for a chance to flame out in a short series.

      • Bayview Herb

        No. Just don’t repeat them.

    • Bayview Herb

      Indeed it does. I was going to mention that but at my advanced age cannot remember names. There were others as well.

  • Bayview Herb

    When I see Mariner rejects starting in the all star game it tells me that we have come a long way not to throw it away as in the past. Stand pat. If they can’t coach up the non producers, look for help in the free agency market this winter. That way, you don’t give up your future.