Congratulations to the Seattle Mariners. The annual non-waiver trade deadline came and went Wednesday, and no roster injuries were reported. While that is not exactly worthy of a hearty backslap, in the world of diminished expectations in which the Mariners reside, doing no harm becomes a big deal.
ESPN.com recently surveyed in-season deadline deals for each team and declared that the Mariners’ trade of Doug Fister in 2011 was the best July transaction in the history of the Detroit Tigers. In case your memory banks scarred over, for a premium young pitcher the Mariners received four players: relievers Charlie Furbush and Chance Ruffin, backup outfielder Casper Wells and minor league third baseman Francisco Martinez.
Only Furbush remains on the major league roster. Nice lefty middle reliever, but the guys alleged to be the key parts, Wells and Martinez, have washed out of the organization and Ruffin has pitched 13 innings for AAA Tacoma.
In July 2012, the Mariners traded former school teacher Steve Delabar, a relief pitcher, to Toronto for outfielder Eric Thames, waived this year. Almost no one remembered that deal until Delabar showed up in this year’s All-Star Game. The Mariners also swapped Ichiro to the Yankees for two minor league relievers, only one of which, Danny Farquhar, made it to Seattle.
So approaching this year’s deadline, the discerning Mariners fan offered a shudder that could be registered on the Richter scale.
It’s not that general manager Jack Zduriencik is incompetent, although he owns all the above deals, plus the Michael Pineda-for-Jesus Montero swap with the Yankees that is helping no one at the moment. But Zduriencik and his scouting peeps have done some good work in the draft and with the MLB discard pile.
But as was mentioned here recently, he’s working for an outfit that has been in nearly perpetual dither for a decade, trying to catch up from past mistakes while uncertain whether to be buyers or sellers at the end of July. Same this time around: The recent uptick put the Mariners on the outskirts of the last wild-card spot, but realistically, they have no shot, and would do well to get to .500.
So this time, Zduriencik stood pat. That took some guts. On the other hand, to deal any of his front-liners means he would be walk away from part of his oft-derided “plan.” For the final two months of the season, he decided to walk his talk with this team, even though he has a passel of players on one-year contracts who may opt to depart, leaving the Mariners with little to nothing.
But Zduriencik is gambling that keeping the team together is worth something to those players.
“I hope that this message — the fact that we kept this group of guys together — they realize that, ‘OK, so we believe in what you’re doing. We believe that you guys can compete. And let’s continue to do that,'” Zduriencik told Seattle reporters at Fenway Park before Wednesday’s game between the Red Sox and Mariners. Whether these particular guys — Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, Brendan Ryan and pitchers Joe Saunders and Oliver Perez — go along with the hand-holding is anyone’s guess, but Zduriencik made a key point that informed his decision-making on whether to let someone go that he may want back after the season.
“When you let a guy leave, it’s harder to get him back,” he said. “Once you break your marriage up, and all of a sudden you want to go back and ask that player to come back, at the end, that’s much harder to do. He probably feels somewhat betrayed, and now you’re basically starting all over again.
“The fact that the guys are here — certainly, they have the right to walk. But we also have the right to have the first opportunity to sign them if we choose. I think that’s important to a player, especially if they like Seattle. (If the player says) ‘I’d like to be a part of this thing. I like what’s going on here. Man, it would be great!’ Who knows what’s going to happen? We’re going to be able to maybe have the inside track.”
There’s certainly some wishful thinking there. But among those six players, the only one who would seem to be worth more than a middling prospect in a trade is Morales. And the Mariners throw middling prospects off the 40-man roster like wilted salad. But keeping Morales for the final two months is worth a little something toward building a winner because he makes the lineup effective. How much is impossible to quantify, but Morales at least knows Seattle could have thrown him away, and did not.
Morales is represented by agent Scott Boras, who knows how to drum up a market for his clients better than anyone. At 30, Morales will be in his prime for awhile, so he should fetch big coin in a diminished market for quality veteran hitters.
But for another year or two, the Mariners won’t have to pay big coin to their young crew of hitters. Why not make Morales the beneficiary?
Sure, it’s a gamble. What personnel moves aren’t? Zduriencik has put his stake in the ground with these guys. They’ve shown enough to suggest he isn’t crazy. And if he’s wrong, he’s wrong with whom he brought.
Fishing in the middle of the season and ending up with Francisco Martinez, Casper Wells and Eric Thames suggests staying away from the pond, lest there is a deep passion for taking home old tires.