By Brent Stecker
The July 31 trade deadline is just days away, and the Mariners haven't tipped their hand as to what their strategy is. In a way, it's representative of the team's standing – it's coming off a season-high eight-game winning streak, but its playoff chances are still a long shot, and the recent injury to rookie catcher Mike Zunino leaves them with two little-known journeymen to handle the pitching staff for perhaps the rest of the season.
The Mariners sit five games below .500 (50-55) and are in third place in the American League West, meaning it's conceivable that they could buy or sell at the deadline. But if you ask ESPN senior baseball writer Jayson Stark, which "Wyman, Mike and Moore" did on Friday, there's only one real option for the Mariners.
Kendrys Morales is a free agent after this season, and with a .278 average and 58 RBIs, playoff contenders may be willing to part with prime prospects to trade for him before Wednesday's trade deadline. (AP)
Though the Mariners struggled offensively early in the season, veterans like designated hitter/first baseman Morales and outfielder Raul Ibanez have helped turn them into one of the highest-scoring teams in the league over the last month. They, along with outfielder Morse, who was activated from the disabled list Monday, could be quite valuable for contenders looking for additional offense down the stretch.
"There's no offense on the market. There are no bats. Teams are desperate for offense, and if Kendrys Morales were out there, the Rangers would be all over him and the Pirates would be extremely interested," Stark said. "There's no doubt that the Mariners could get a return for Kendrys Morales, and if Mike Morse comes back and proves he's healthy, he becomes a big piece because there's so little power."
Ibanez, who is having an historical year with 24 home runs at age 41, would pose a low risk for Seattle if general manager Jack Zduriencik chooses to shop him, according to Stark. And considering his huge postseason with the Yankees last year, when he hit three home runs in the ninth inning or later, teams are well aware of his clutch hitting.
"If you were watching the last October, we don't have to convince anybody Raul is fine hitting on the big stage," Stark said. "He can play off the bench, you can throw him in the field (and) it's not that embarrassing. He's a great guy, he fits into any clubhouse. He would have big value. And you know what? If you traded him and you wanted to re-sign him, he'd come right back. I don't see what the downside is to trading him other than people seem to like to have him around, and I know he's a good influence on young players."
The Mariners also have a valuable trade chip in their bullpen with left-hander Oliver Perez (2.35 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 52 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings), though their asking price is apparently pretty steep.
"I think there's a really good market for Oliver Perez right now, and Jack's not that interested," said Stark. "He's asked for a really high price on that guy."
Should the Mariners entertain any offers before the 1 p.m. Wednesday deadline, the previous trades in the MLB over the last week suggest they'll have plenty of bargaining power.
"In general, I think rent-a-players are not gonna be a very valuable commodity in this market, but we've already seen it with Matt Garza – the Cubs did surprisingly well in that deal (with the Rangers)," Stark said. "Even K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez), that was a guy who signed weeks after every other free agent on the market, and the Brewers got a real prospect from the Orioles for him.
"I think the Mariners are (thinking about the bigger picture). In Jack's eyes, there is a value in finishing .500 or winning as many games as this team can possibly win. A lot of people would downplay that, but that's the way they're looking at it. I understand it. (But) if this were the stock market, if this were an equity market, I would sell."