The Seattle Mariners have fallen into a last-place tie with Oakland in the AL West, 13 games under .500 and 13.5 games behind division leading Texas, thanks to their 13-game losing streak.
This club that was a surprise contender for much of the first half is now on pace for 92 losses, leading many to look at the club as sellers as the trade deadline looms. But complicating matters is the fact that many of the club's attractive pieces are young and under team control for reasonable prices beyond 2011.
Rumblings are that Brandon League, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister all are generating interest in the trade market, but while dealing one or all of them is certainly a possibility, the Mariners are going to have to weigh the cost/benefit of unloading one of these arms—all 28 or younger—at the possible risk of weakening the strongest part of the 2012 club: pitching.
General Manager Jack Zduriencik has shown a discerning, even cautious approach to the trade deadline during his first two seasons at the helm for the Mariners, making a low-risk trade with Pittsburgh in 2009 that didn't pan out (but didn't cost much in terms of talent) before getting the deal he wanted with Cliff Lee and Texas last year. The three main pieces from that Texas trade are all now on the 25-man roster, and Justin Smoak—while he has struggled with the bat over the last month—clearly is one of the cornerstones of the franchise.
Though interest was said to be there for relievers League and David Aardsma last season, Jack decided to hold onto both players rather than take a less than perfect deal.
The Mariners do not have a Cliff Lee to trade this year, so we should understand that another big package including a player of Smoak's pedigree—a major league ready top prospect—is not coming back to Seattle in any deal. Unless, of course, the Mariners choose to trade some of their minor league talent along with one of the three big league arms.
A deal including one of the Mariners prospects — possibly someone like Kyle Seager, Josh Lueke or Blake Beavan — could tip the scales enough to return a little more talent if the club makes a deal with the Reds, who have rumored interest in all three arms and possibly Chone Figgins as well. Regardless of who is involved, the team should not expect to get back the Reds' top prospect, catcher Devin Mesoraco. But a player like Yonder Alonso or Yasmani Grandal — both out of the University of Miami — could be a possibility in a League/Fister/plus package.
Alonso's bat appears to be MLB-ready, but he is a first baseman by trade who is playing primarily left field for Triple-A Louisville because of the presence of Joey Votto on the big league club. The Reds clearly aren't very comfortable with him out there, however, as one of their main trade interests is said to be for a left fielder. With his well below average speed, some scouts have suggested that the 24-year old Alonso may be best suited to DH in the big leagues, meaning a trade to an American League club makes sense.
Grandal is a 22-year old switch-hitting catcher with a strong bat that profiles as a good defender behind the plate. As I mentioned above, the Reds have another top catching prospect, Mesoraco, who is believed to have a higher ceiling at the plate. Grandal is a 2010 draftee that has already jumped to Double-A in this, his first full season. Certainly the Reds could hold onto Grandal and Mesoraco hoping that one or the other could bring back a bigger piece of their MLB puzzle, but the fact that it is common knowledge that he is blocked could lead them to deal him quickly before the bottleneck at catcher becomes a problem.
The Reds have several other prospects that may interest Zduriencik and the Mariners — such as third baseman Juan Francisco, switch-hitting second baseman Henry Rodriguez, shortstop Zack Cozart and former International Free-Agent outfielder Yorman Rodriguez—but as he's shown, Jack will not make a deal with the Reds, or any team, just to make a trade. He has a plan to get the Mariners' needs filled, and he has no problem not making a move if those needs aren't met. And with the club having control of League, Vargas and Fister beyond this season, there is little urgency on his part to deal them.
The other players who could leave town for Seattle — Jamey Wright, Jack Wilson and Adam Kennedy most likely, and Chone Figgins and Jack Cust not as likely — would probably only bring back a low-B or high-C type prospect, and in the case of Figgins, would be sent away with a lot of money involved.
The Mariners are in an interesting situation as this deadline approaches, but in the next week we will all have a better idea about what the future looks like.