For the frustrated fans of nowhere-bound baseball teams such as the Seattle Mariners, the final week of July usually is as good as it’s going to get.
August will be tedious, and September will seem a lot like August, except with cooler nights and smaller crowds, but July is supposed to offer the consolation of trades proposed, trades pooh-poohed and trades ultimately consummated.
Who could ever forget the sound and fury that preceded the Mariners’ 2010 dangling of left-handed starter Cliff Lee? General manager Jack Zduriencik was thought to have agreed to a deal with the Yankees built around a heralded catching prospect (some kid named Jesus Montero), only to engineer a trade with the Rangers built around a heralded first base prospect (some kid named Justin Smoak, who returns to Safeco Field this weekend with the Toronto Blue Jays).
Speculation about Lee’s destination overwhelmed anything the Mariners were doing on the field — they were 34-52 at the time of the trade — and once the trigger was pulled, the season slogged on like a retirement party without music.
Five years after Zduriencik owned the most coveted chip on the table, no such intrigue surrounds his next major move, for the simple reason there won’t be a major move. The forecast for the last week of July is calling for the Mariners to be as inactive on the trade front as they’ve been in the AL West standings.
Organizations usually are defined as buyers or sellers. Seattle is neither, a limbo that has nothing to do with the Mariners’ all but expired playoff aspirations. The Mariners are neither buyers nor sellers because neither buying nor selling is a feasible move.
Felix Hernandez, for instance, not only is the face of the franchise, he’s the centerpiece of the franchise’s marketing department promotions. He’s King Felix, presiding over the King’s Court.
Second baseman Robinson Cano isn’t going anywhere, not with more than eight years remaining on a contract that translates into gold for him and plutonium for a GM crazy enough to put himself within 240 million miles of touching it.
Nelson Cruz has some value — batting cleanup in the starting lineup for an All-Star Game never hurts a reputation — but he’s also tethered to an unmovable contract and, besides, why would a team that has trouble hitting want to trade the productive hitter it acquired last winter to improve its hitting?
The other Mariners capable of drawing interest in a meaningful deal (third baseman Kyle Seager, starting pitcher Taijuan Walker, reliever Carson Smith) are big-time talents with long-term futures.
You don’t trade guys like that. You trade for guys like that.
Uh, there is no next. Hernandez, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Walker and Smith are here to stay, and nobody else on the roster brings a return in a trade worth the trouble of arranging a trade.
Hisashi Iwakuma? His solid effort Thursday at Detroit reminded why he’s a top-of-the-rotation hoss when healthy, but the right-hander is 34 and has a recent history of not being healthy.
A free agent next season, Iwakuma profiles as a two-month rental for a contending team desperate for a starter.
Thanks to the Thursday deal between the A’s and Astros, we learned the 2015 value of such a two-month rental is modest.
In exchange for starter Scott Kazmir and his ace-like numbers — 2.38 ERA, averaging more than eight strikeouts per nine innings — Oakland picked up a Single-A pitcher ranked as Houston’s No. 19 prospect and a Single-A catcher ranked as its No. 22 prospect.
Iwakuma would command much less than that, and with all due respect to the likes of J.A. Happ, Fernando Rodney, Dustin Ackley, Logan Morrison, Mark Trumbo and Austin Jackson, Iwakuma is the best the Mariners can offer.
Somebody among this group could be dealt before the July 31 deadline.
Whoever this somebody is, he won’t yield a return in a trade that will be tangible any time soon.
In the meantime?
Here’s to the buyers going for broke this week, swapping prospects for veterans.
Here’s to the sellers going young this week, swapping veterans for prospects.
And here’s to the Mariners, who are in no position to buy or sell but remain adamant in a bedrock philosophy:
There’s always next year, when dreams of a substantial deal before July 31 could be realized.