With the major league baseball non-waiver trade deadline looming on Sunday at 1 p.m. local time, Erik Bedard's start tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays looms large.
Because he's one of the few trade chips the Mariners have to offer teams looking to make a run for a postseason berth.
Bedard will make his return from the disabled list tonight at Safeco Field in front of a large group of interested scouts. Representatives from several teams including the Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers will be on hand to see if the talented but not-so-durable lefthander looks healthy after spending the last two weeks on the DL with a sprained knee.
If he can show them he's healthy, show them a fastball at 90-91 and that snappy curveball, they will bite. He doesn't even need to get a win or go seven innings. Scouts realize he's coming off the injury. They also don't grade him on just this one start.
For much of the season, Bedard looked like an above-average American League starter. Despite a 4-6 record, he has a 3.00 ERA and has 85 strikeouts in 90 innings pitched. His surgically repaired shoulder has shown no signs of causing problems.
Since he's a free agent at the end of the season, he’s the ultimate rental player for an interested team. And because he likes Seattle so much, the Mariners could trade him at the break and still possibly re-sign him as a free agent.
There are reports that Mariners scouts have been at the games for Boston and New York's AA and AAA teams.
As for the rest of the team, most people want the Mariners to adopt this mentality ...
But it isn't that simple. What do the Mariners have to sell? Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson, Jack Cust? This isn’t a rummage sale.
People are coveting Seattle’s pitching - Bedard, Brandon League, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister probably have the most value to team’s looking in a race for a postseason spot.
The question Zduriencik must ask is will this possible move will make the team better in the near future.
“When you're giving up something else that's strength of yours, you've just weakened a strength," he said. "We've all sat here and watched our club struggle to score runs. But with our pitching as good as it's been that's why we're in ballgames.
"That's a strength, and that's what we want to keep together. I want to add to it, I don't want to take away from it.
Most people believe that this team was one or two years away from contending, the right trade might solidify that belief. The wrong trade might disrupt that timetable.
“This thing, we said all along, isn't going to happen overnight,” he said.
Here's a look at the players with possible trade value ...
Brandon League, closer
The hard-throwing Hawaiian has blossomed into legitimate big league closer this season in the absence of the injured David Aardsma. League throws a devastating sinker in the mid 90s, and his splitfinger fastball has been much better. He has 23 saves and 27 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings pitched. Zduriencik didn’t really sound too keen on the idea of dealing League.
"When you're talking about pitching, you got your closer, it’s a tough thing to find,” Zduriencik said. “They don't grow on trees.”
But League’s value may never be higher than it is at this moment. But as teams get desperate to add relief help over the next few days, they may up their offers to the point where Zduriencik can’t say no. It will take a lot it sounds like.
Team president Chuck Armstrong has come out and said League isn’t going anywhere. If Armstrong vetoes Zduriencik on a possible League trade, knowing how much Zduriencik is asking for League, then the team has bigger problems then feared.
Doug Fister, pitcher
Don’t let his 3-12 record, Fister has pitched pretty well this season. He’s certainly pitched better than his record indicates. But that’s what happens when you have the worst run support in all of the American League. At just 27 and under club control for the next two years, it makes Fister more attractive to teams. But it’s also what makes him attractive to the Mariners. He’s young, he’s cheap and he’s shown a competitive side that Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge love. Of the likely trade candidates, he’s the least likely to go besides maybe League.
Jason Vargas, pitcher
A few weeks ago, the interest in Vargas was high. But that has waned in the wake of his last two starts – losses to the Blue Jays and Yankees. In those two starts, he pitched a combined seven innings, giving up nine earned runs on 12 hits and walked six while striking out two. That’s not exactly what the several scouts on hand wanted to see. The Mariners might be more amenable to dealing Vargas than Fister. Vargas is arbitration eligible next year, and his salary will likely jump up to around $5 million per season.
Adam Kennedy, infielder
The 35-year-old veteran has been a pleasant surprise. He signed as a minor league free agent and basically forced Jack Wilson and Chone Figgins to the bench by outperforming them at the plate. His numbers - .253 batting average, 7 homers, 32 RBI – aren’t overwhelming. And yet, he’s been one of the Mariners better contributors at the plate. Kennedy gives you a professional at-bat and can play three positions. He’s got postseason experience.
He’d be a fit for the Milwaukee Brewers, who just lost second baseman Rickie Weeks for at least a month, with a severely injured ankle. Obviously, Kennedy couldn’t come close to Weeks’ numbers, but he might be a better option that rookie Eric Farris. The Mariners would have no problem dealing Kennedy. He isn’t a part of their immediate future and it would be a favor to Kennedy to put him on a postseason contender.