Once upon a time, before April turned into May and the season went sour faster than John Calipari’s honeymoon at Kentucky, I was a baseball fan who watched baseball games.
I’m still a fan, and I still watch, but it’s weird to follow a team while hoping most of the players are on the trading block – the sooner, the better. It’s weird because even though I don’t care whether the Mariners win or lose anymore, I want them to excel individually, so their market values will be enhanced in a deal for prospects I don’t know from Adam Moore.
If that sounds mean-spirited, sorry. I want what’s best for the long-term future of the team, and what’s best for this team’s long-term future is for general manager Jack Zduriencik to follow through on all trades that Bill Bavasi either couldn’t make, or wouldn’t make, a year ago.
In 2008, the odds of the Mariners contending after 48 games were only slightly longer than they are now. (They were 18-30 and 91/2 games out of first, compared to 22-26 and six games out.) And yet, Bavasi’s lone trade was a May 27 deal that sent designated-for-assignment pitcher Cha Seung Baek to the Padres for minor-league pitcher Jared Wells.
After Bavasi was fired and replaced by interim GM Lee Pelekoudas in the middle of June, the Mariners’ only deal before the July 31 interleague deadline involved another pair of pitchers removed from the radar screen: Reliever Arthur Rhodes went to the Marlins, in exchange for minor-league starter Gaby Hernandez.
The franchise had an opportunity to finally embark on the housecleaning project stalled by a brief, unexpected ascent to contention in 2007, but because there was no permanent baseball boss to call the shots last summer, the opportunity was lost.
Ah, but now Zduriencik is on board, and there’s reason to believe the action behind the scenes for the next two months will be more riveting than anything that takes place on the field.
In the tradition of legendary wheeler-dealer Jack McKeon, I want Zduriencik to be nicknamed “Trader Jack.” Better yet, “The Sultan of Swap.”
Original promotional slogan for 2009: “A new day, a new way.”
Abridged midseason promotional slogan for 2009: “A new day, a new deal.”
So who goes?
Put it this way: Who doesn’t?
Ken Griffey Jr., of course, and Mike Sweeney. They were acquired to bring a veteran presence to a fractious clubhouse, and they’ll be needed for the transition.
Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima aren’t going anywhere, either. Ichiro remains Seattle’s only All-Star candidate, and Johjima’s contract makes him impossible to move.
A couple of the holdovers from the first blockbuster trade of Zduriencik’s tenure – center fielder Franklin Gutierrez and left-handed starter Jason Vargas – ought to be kept.
New closer David Aardsma, stolen from the Red Sox for castaway pitcher Fabian Williamson, has shown he’s more than a name fit for a Scrabble tray. For that matter, such work-in-progress relievers as Brandon Morrow, Sean White and Mark Lowe appear to be more part of the solution than part of the problem.
Finally, there’s 23-year-old ace Felix Hernandez, who despite his three-plus years of big-league service time still is as young as the typical farmhand. He stays.
But that’s it. Everybody else should be on notice. As I was saying, this makes watching the Mariners a surreal experience.
When I see Erik Bedard, for instance, I don’t see a left-handed starter with a 12-to-6 curveball and a 9 p.m. shut-down time. Instead, I see minor-league outfielder Michael Taylor, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound Phillies prospect who has developed a power stroke in Double A.
(Trading Bedard to Philadelphia would have been prudent a year ago, but he hurt his throwing shoulder before the deadline, and the Phillies’ suspect rotation held up through the World Series anyway. Considering how Jamie Moyer likely has reached the point where he no longer can be identified as “ageless” – he’s got an age, and it’s 46 – and the fact even Cole Hamels is struggling, Bedard, a free agent in 2010, figures as a stopgap starter for the defending world champions.)
When I see Adrian Beltre, I don’t see a third baseman who has spent more time in the tank than Morgan Freeman did in “The Shawshank Redemption.” I see a Cardinals prospect such as speedy Single-A outfielder Daryl Jones, who turned down several college football scholarships to play pro baseball.
When I see Seattle’s double-play combination, I see, well, whatever the Mariners can get for Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt. (The Cubs are looking for middle infielders, and Zduriencik could always sweeten the deal by sending a new water cooler to Chicago.)
When I see Russell Branyan, I don’t see a Comeback Player of the Year candidate with the Mariners. I see a Comeback of the Year candidate with the Red Sox, who are spanning the globe for somebody to replace slumping designated hitter David Ortiz. If Branyan is dealt, he’d be worth a package including base-stealing prospect Ryan Kalish, a left-handed hitting outfielder.
I’ve got no grudge against any of the guys whose Safeco Field days might be numbered. To the contrary, I respect the hard work the 2009 Mariners have invested in behaving differently than the 2008 Mariners.
I like this group.
But the Mariners need a major overhauling, and today won’t be too soon for the Sultan of Swap to get the wrecking ball rolling.
John McGrath: 253-597-8742; ext. 6154