The Mariners are, once again, poised to be in the seller’s role as the trade-deadline season rapidly approaches.
In fact, you could say it officially arrived Tuesday when the Cubs sent starting pitcher Scott Feldman to the Orioles. It was the baseball equivalent of “Gentleman, start your engines.”
Yet Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik isn’t quite ready to commit to the rampant housecleaning that many see coming in Seattle. Not with nearly a month until the deadline for teams to make a deal without necessitating waivers.
“I think it’s premature,’’ he said Thursday in Texas. “More than anything else, I’d like to get a healthy team on the field and see where it takes us. It’s been a strange year with all those setbacks physically.”
The Mariners have indeed had their share of injuries, starting with prospective starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez in spring training, and including the long-term loss of outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and relievers Stephen Pryor and Josh Kinney, plus disabled-list stints for outfielders Michael Saunders and Michael Morse and first baseman Justin Smoak.
But the bottom line is the Mariners have dug themselves such a deep hole that only a major surge would put them among the legitimate contenders by July 31. Such is the dynamic in baseball that teams must essentially decide with two months to go in the season whether or not to disband.
The insertion of a second wild-card team last season makes that assessment even more difficult. Through Friday’s games, 21 of 30 MLB teams found themselves within 6½ games of either their division lead or a wild-card berth.
That creates a feeding frenzy for scraps of talent from the handful of teams, like the Cubs, who are definitively out of it. But it also creates the allure of getting back in the race for teams like the Mariners, who reached the weekend a pretty hopeless 12½ games out of first in the AL West, but 9½ games out in the wild card.
“I think everyone has to evaluate where they’re at exactly, and where they’re trying to head,’’ Zduriencik said. “Who knows? You can get on a winning streak, you never know, and put yourself in a really good position. That’s first and foremost what we would like to do, put ourselves in a position where we can just compete and have a healthy club and see what happens.”
Because most trades don’t happen until the final week of July anyway (with notable exceptions, such as Zduriencik’s Cliff Lee trade with Texas on July 9, 2010), there’s still time for the M’s to see what happens in the next three weeks plus.
Zduriencik said GMs are in the feeling-out stage, with lots of phone calls to lay the groundwork for potential trades. The Mariners aren’t the only team trying to determine the reality of their situation.
“It’s just this time of year,’’ he said. “That’s exactly what happens.”
No doubt teams are calling the Mariners to inquire about many of their veteran players. With his hitting surge, Raul Ibanez is certain to be coveted by teams looking for an offensive burst. Same with Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, particularly if the latter shows he’s over the quadriceps strain that has sidelined him.
All three are in the final year of their contracts. The return on so-called “rent-a-players” tends to be suppressed, unless a team has a dire need or a bidding war ensues. In the case of Morales, in particular, the Mariners would need to determine whether the package they get would be better than a potential draft pick at the end of the first round next year if they make Morales a qualifying offer and he signs elsewhere.
The Mariners player in the most demand might well turn out to be left-handed reliever Oliver Perez, who has a reasonable salary, dazzling numbers and has shown that he could even be an option as a closer.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan, displaced by rookie Brad Miller, could be appealing to a team looking for a defensive boost. The Mariners have three veteran starters in Joe Saunders, Aaron Harang and Jeremy Bonderman who could warrant interest.
“In the end, I’m not in the mood to give anyone away,’’ Zduriencik said. “What I’d like to do is get healthy and see how this goes. Who knows what will happen in the next 30 days?”