The most obvious statement in this article we’ll get out of the way early; the 2012 Mariners are not contenders, and are most certainly sellers at this year’s deadline. Conventional wisdom placed the pieces the M’s were most likely to sell are Brandon League and Kevin Millwood, with Jason Vargas garnering some interest and the possibility of a middle infielder like Brendan Ryan or Chone Figgins (we can always dream!) being moved. But as of this morning, reports from John Paul Morosi at Fox Sports came out that the Mariners were seeking “young, controllable” hitters from this year’s deadline deals. Names like Josh Willingham (of the Twins), Allen Craig (of the Cardinals), and Brandon Belt (of the Giants) have surfaced, while names like Shin-Soo Choo (of the Indians, who we traded there) and Hunter Pence (of the Phillies) have been dismissed.
In addition to this, the added element of League’s suitors has surfaced, with reports that “multiple teams” are in on League. The Giants have been in a couple rumors as being the team that’s the closest to acquiring his services, and one would hope that a deal comes soon after League’s disastrous outing today against Kansas City. We’ve heard that the Red Sox, Orioles, Dodgers, Tigers, and Royals have all called about Jason Vargas, though its hard to gauge how interested they are in him (and the report on the Red Sox calls that interest “mild”). The Dodgers have also inquired about Kevin Millwood, whom one would assume is the most likely to be traded, though you don’t actually find much activity surrounding his name. So, 2 days out from the trade deadline, what do we make of all these reports?
The first thing to remember, of course, is not every report can be verified, nor is every one true. Its hard to say what the Mariners are going to be able to accomplish (obviously), with it seeming like only League being a sure-fire player to be traded at this point. But the flexibility of the Mariners means that we could be looking at a very different lineup on August 1st, and the report that the M’s are already looking for young bats does send a few signals my way;
1) The Mariners have given up on Justin Smoak, as well as most of our young outfield: It seems that if the reports about Belt are true (and the report says the M’s are “trying hard” to get him), that Smoak may have lost the confidence of the Front Office. So, it seems from the other aforementioned names, have Carlos Peguero, Michael Saunders, Trayvon Robinson and Casper Wells as a unit. It also signifies that Franklin Gutierrez has lost at least the FO’s confidence that he can stay healthy and be a regular player. Plausibly, of course, this doesn’t mean they’ve given up on everybody. Wells and Saunders could still have their names in the outfield mix, and Robinson is being given to show whether he has value at the plate or not (his defensive prowess is not why he’d stick around). However, it is entirely possible that, if not by August 1st, that by April 2013 that we could be looking at a completely different outfield than the one that started 2012 (not just that Ichiro won’t be in right anymore………nostalgia sigh).
2) Jack Zduriencik might think his time is wearing thin as General Manager: When Z was hired, he stated that the rebuild would take “5 to 7 years.” But Mariner fan attendance has been in a steady free-fall, and management might be growing impatient with the return of Z’s wheeling and dealing these last few years. Most of the young players that he has brought in have struggled offensively, and with the Mariners yet-again in dead last in most offensive categories, Z’s job might be up for review sooner than his rebuild timeline. It sounds absurd, given his predecessor’s 5 year reign of awfulness, but Z is perceived to have not fielded a ballclub with a markedly improved offense. So Z’s apparent frantic search for different young hitters might be both to improve the Mariners, and save his job in the process.
3) This is probably only the beginning: The Mariners ballclub still has a ton of uncertainty, especially now that it seems they’re searching for a new 1st Baseman. The M’s have no locks in any position in the outfield it seems, and could use a lot more production out of their shortstop position at the plate. So that the M’s have already made it known that they’re seeking young, controllable bats means that they’re taking the club’s offensive woes seriously. Seriously enough that a big trade could happen in these next two days, and is almost sure to happen before April 1st.
So what does this mean? How should the Seattle Mariners approach the building of the organization’s future in the next two days, and in the next eight months? The first thing that people should accept in this scenario is that the moves the Mariners will make will not (repeat, for the laymen, NOT) make them contenders in 2013. The team is simply too inexperienced, and with too many question marks outside of Ackley, Montero, and Felix, to realistically contend with the Rangers and Angels in 2013. Mike Carp, who is at 1st now, is still a huge question mark, and in my mind is probably not enough of a contributor to move forward with him at that position.
After considering all of that, the Mariners have to do what they haven’t admitted they need to do all along—in order to get a young, controllable, top-level hitter, you need to make a young, controllable, top-level pitcher available. Which means that one of the Big 4 (Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez) is going to probably need to be traded for a return like that to be expected. Most people would say that the M’s should hang on to the first two, and look to possibly trade one or both of the second pair. And in a perfect world, you’d be correct. But with the possibility of trading Felix off the table (the ability to trade the King would basically neglect the need to trade any of these pitchers), one of the top 2 might need to be traded if an established, young, controllable hitter becomes available, someone of the likes of Brett Lawrie or Mark Trumbo. It’s a sad fact of baseball life that you can’t tack on a bunch of fringe prospects anymore to get established talent. GMs have too much scrutiny now, and they need to come back with a clear return to show their fans in order to pull the trigger on a blossoming hitter leaving their team.
The Mariners clearly need young, consistent hitting moving forward to help their organization grow. And in order for that to happen, some of the more reliable up-and-coming pieces might need to relocate to get that growth to start happening. The M’s have too much uncertainty to leave this off the table.