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Don't expect blockbuster moves for Mariners at trade deadline
The Mariners — with one notable exception — don't have the kind of players to offer this year that are likely to do much to dramatically push forward their rebuilding effort.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
The addition of the second wild card this season has thrown more teams into postseason contention — or at least given them that illusion.
One offshoot is that the number of sellers at the July 31 trade deadline is bound to dwindle. That would seemingly make it a strong sellers market for the handful of teams who have deemed themselves hopelessly out of the race.
The Mariners are poised to join that woebegone group again, if they are not already there. Heck, they could teach the secret handshake to newcomers in the veteran-shedding world — like the Phillies, for instance.
It's familiar territory for the Mariners. Last year, they dealt Doug Fister and David Pauley to the Tigers on July 30, and Erik Bedard to the Red Sox on July 31. The year before, they sent Cliff Lee to the Rangers on July 9.
The haul from those trades can be found throughout the Mariners' system, for better or worse.
Justin Smoak, Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush are currently in the majors (along with John Jaso, who came from Tampa Bay last offseason for Josh Lueke, one of the pitchers acquired from Texas for Lee).
The Mariners got 12 lackluster starts this season from Blake Beavan (who was 3-6 with a 5.92 earned-run average), but now he's down at Class AAA Tacoma, as are outfielder Trayvon Robinson (hitting .260) and reliever Chance Ruffin (with a 9.16 ERA). Outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang and third baseman Francisco Martinez are at Class AA Jackson. Chiang has hit .227 with three homers in 92 games since joining the Mariners organization after racking up a .340 average with 18 homers in 88 games at Class AA in the Red Sox system in 2011.
Those moves, in aggregate, have not exactly revolutionized the Mariners yet, which should be lesson one as the trading season approaches. As excited as fans get about loading up on prospects, there is no guarantee that those fresh young faces are going to develop into the catalysts of revival.
Sometimes they do, of course, which is why the examples are trotted out every year — the Jeff Bagwells and John Smoltzes, the Derek Lowes (ouch) and Jason Variteks (double ouch), the Randy Johnsons and Freddy Garcias (that's more like it).
The Rangers' domination was jump-started by their trade of Mark Teixeira to the Braves on July 31, 2007, for a package that included Elvis Andrus, their All-Star shortstop; Neftali Feliz, their All-Star closer turned starter; and Matt Harrison, who is 39-22 since joining the Rangers, including a 9-3 mark this year. They also got catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, since dealt to Boston.
It's unlikely we'll see another deal like that, however, as teams have begun to covet their prized prospects more than ever. Granted, desperation and the smell of a title can cause teams to do crazy things, but the bottom line is that the Mariners — with one notable exception — don't have the kind of players to offer this year that are likely to do much to dramatically push forward their rebuilding effort.
There's Kevin Millwood, who has shown enough flashes — a two-hit shutout at Coors Field, and six innings of no-hit ball against the Dodgers, for starters — to entice a contender. But you're not going to get an "A" prospect, and maybe not a "B," for a 37-year-old who has also been inconsistent, had a minor injury, and was out of the majors most of last season.
There's Jason Vargas, but his trade value has been hampered by a three-game stretch in which he has posted a 9.33 ERA and given up eight homers in 18-1/3 innings. Teams have to be scared of Vargas' numbers away from Safeco Field (a 5.70 ERA in 10 starts with 16 homers allowed in 60 innings). He would be under club control for one more year before free agency, but that's not necessarily a selling point, because he could go to arbitration and expect a raise on this year's $4.85 million contract.
Brandon League has some appeal, but he has lost his closing job and would be a rental player. Brendan Ryan is a fielding whiz but is hitting under .200. Franklin Gutierrez has his history of illness hanging over him. Miguel Olivo is well-respected but won't be anyone's go-to guy. Chone Figgins would have to be essentially a giveaway.
That leaves Ichiro, who is an incongruous fit on a rebuilding team. But as a 10-and-5 player, he has full veto rights and hasn't ever shown any inclination to leave Seattle. And the decision to trade Ichiro is one that would have to be vetted all the way to the top of the organization — beyond the question of what a declining 38-year-old player owed the remainder of $18 million would fetch. I don't see him going anywhere before the end of the season, unless he makes it known he wants to.
That leaves Felix Hernandez, and one of the weightiest questions facing the Mariners' organization — No. 1, in fact. With Hernandez's contract clock ticking — his five-year, $78 million deal is up after the 2014 season — the Mariners must decide whether they can, or should, re-sign him, and if the answer to either is no, when, or if, they should trade him.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX this week fueled the flames by writing that it makes sense for the Mariners to trade Felix for a package of young prospects that could help solve their hitting woes.
I would say it may, but not yet. There will still be many opportunities to trade Hernandez, if that is the decision — like at next year's trade deadline, for instance. Yes, the M's could theoretically get more for him now, when they can sell teams on the fact they'd have him for three stretch drives, rather than two.
But the Mariners owe it to their fans to see if next year, with Hernandez at the forefront, can be a contending one, with some artful offseason moves and some breakthroughs by young players. If not, there's always July 2013 to potentially put Hernandez on the market.
The recent trades of stud pitchers should scare teams to death. None of the three Cliff Lee trades, nor the Roy Halladay trade, nor the CC Sabathia trade, nor the Johan Santana trade have yet come close to being as beneficial as expected for the team sending away the established ace.
That doesn't mean some of the young players won't develop. Nor does it mean that the next such trade can't work out better. It's just cause for reflection while pondering the future of one of the game's great talents in King Felix. There's far from a guarantee the return will match Hernandez's future production.
It's all food for thought as the trade deadline season nears. There will be a frenzy of excitement and anticipation, as always, but don't expect any deals that will reshape the Mariners as we know them.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.