The first half is in the books and I think it's safe to say the Mariners have exceeded most expectations by winning 51 games and putting themselves in position to grab a wild-card spot if the season were to end today. Who had that written down in ink?
The pitching has led the way but the offense has taken steps forward, often two steps forward and one step back but steps nonetheless. The defense is vastly improved and the intangibles such as clubhouse chemistry and leadership are off the charts. It's all moving in the right direction and all good, but most likely not good enough if the Mariners want to join in the fun in October.
Moves will have to be made. The offense obviously needs help – big help. While stellar, the starting pitching appears somewhat fragile, even though Hisashi Iwakuma's start against Oakland on Saturday was reassuring that he is on the right track. Roenis Elias has been struggling for over a week now, Chris Young is healthy but is on pace to far exceed his recent innings totals and Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are both untested.
A trade or trades are most likely coming and that means it's hang-on time. Hang on and hope that the right decisions are made because these moves will have the potential to help or hurt the organization for a long time to come. We are all too familiar with the hurt part of that equation.
In the wake of Oakland's recent trade – which brought the A's two top arms in exchange for their No. 1 prospect – there have been calls from the fans for general manager Jack Zduriencik to answer the shot sent across the bow of the good ship Mariner with a similar deal. Whatever it takes. Be bold. If Oakland can give up its top prospect – a prospect that by definition is anything but a sure thing – then the Mariners should be able to do the same thing.
A recent tweet I received summed up a lot of what I have been hearing from fans through various channels.
"I'm tired of our 'future players'. What happened to Ackley? Prospects only go so far. Win now, not later," the tweet read.
Here's the thing: The model that Zduriencik sold to upper management when he was hired was to win and continue to win. It is win now and later and there are moves that could help them with the former but preclude the latter. It's important that mistake is not made again.
Last week, Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com wrote that the Mariners should "step up" and trade for Rays ace David Price. He believes the Mariners have the pieces necessary to land Price and encouraged them to do so in exchange for a package suggested by the ever-present "rival executive" that includes Walker, Nick Franklin and DJ Peterson. Rosenthal went so far as to suggest that the ball was in Zduriencik's court because of the A's move. I hope Zduriencik doesn't see it that way.
The Oakland trade should not force Zduriencik to do anything different than what he was planning before. The Mariners' needs are still the same; that didn't change. The focus should be bat first, starting pitching second or primary if he can't get anything done on the right-handed-bat front. Any upgrade is better than no upgrade provided you are not giving up anything significant that you will need in the near future.
I will come out and say it right here: I hate pieces like this by Rosenthal or other national writers. I hate the "Mariners must ..." columns that date back to "The Mariners must trade Felix Hernandez." Ditto with the "Rival executives say ..." Let's go ahead and remember that if these rival executives are smart they will never miss a chance to push an agenda or throw in anything that could hurt a rival team.
In my mind, Zduriencik must not make such a trade. To me, trading your best hitting prospect for a No. 1 pitcher and fewer than two years is just too close to the Adam Jones/Erik Bedard deal. Did we ever feel good about that?
Maybe when the deal was made, maybe shortly after Bedard was named the opening-day starter that year, but soon after that and for years to come we felt something was missing – offense in the outfield. The 3.16 ERA and 221 strikeouts looked good at the time but never mind what Bedard didn't bring to Seattle, look at what the Mariners lost in Jones. With the exception of one healthy Franklin Gutierrez year we haven't seen anything in the outfield close to what Jones has done in Baltimore since then.
The Mariners are close but they still lack offense. The closest help in the organization for legitimate offense is Peterson, last year's first-round pick, and by all appearances he is very close. Not this-year close but next year may not be out of the realm of possibility.
And to answer the aforementioned tweet, Peterson is not an Ackley-like prospect. When you looked at Ackley as a prospect you saw a guy that should spray the ball around the field while using his speed and versatility. He wasn't considered a middle-of-the-order bat but there was a lot of thought that his power could develop over time.
Peterson is a middle-of-the-order bat. When was the last time you saw one of those in the Mariners' minor leagues? How many do you see now that could be within two years of joining the big-league team? How successful have the Mariners been at finding such a player in free agency or the trade market?
The Athletics' plan is to go for it now. They have a window. Zduriencik's plan has been to keep that window open, to sustain winning. Trading your top offensive talent for top pitching is not an open-window move.
I am not averse by any means to trading prospects. It is probably time we see more of this from Zduriencik. I am not opposed to giving up offense to get offense either, provided you have that offense for more than this year. But what Rosenthal was suggesting just has the feel of not-so-pleasant history.
Zduriencik could be at an interesting crossroads with his vision or plan for this organization. The team is winning and appears to be ready to continue winning. He has a good amount of currency in the form of prospects to make an impact move if the right one is available. That will be the key. It has to be the right one. It has to be a move that helps you now and two years from now if you are going all in with your bigger chips.