Seattle Mariners Rumor Central: 7/24

With the M's falling further and further from any the divisional race they dreamed of miraculously climbing back into, the fight around both leagues are heating up around them. The Wildcard has added some much-needed spice to the July 31 trade deadline, including as many as a dozen more clubs in the buyers market than there may have been without the Wildcard.

The Seattle Mariners are not one of them. The hometown nine will have to settle for wearing the seller's tag for another season.

The M's have several pieces that might generate some level of interest around baseball and the club is taking phone calls on all of them.

CF Randy Winn: With all the rumors centered around the New York Yankees, the Mariners could receive serious offers from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and even the Boston Red Sox, if they consider playing David Ortiz at first base, sliding Manny Ramirez to DH and using Winn in left field on occasion. Or sitting Trot Nixon versus left-handers and using the switch-hitting Winn in those matchups.

The Dodgers lost J.D. Drew indefinitely with a broken left wrist and could use Winn in center and Milton Bradley in right, or Winn in left and Jayson Werth in right field.

The Yankees need a center fielder and while there are better options that could become available (Juan Pierre), the Yankees may not have what it takes to get the bigger name. If Seattle is offered either Eric Duncan or Phillip Hughes, GM Bill Bavasi will jump at the chance to clear room for Chris Snelling. To get that sort of package, however, the Mariners may need to add more to the package. See below for more on Winn.

The Cubs seem to be happy with Hairston in center field and still have Corey Patterson stewing in the minors. Chicago is a darkhorse in the running for Winn.

Prediction: New York Yankees, and probably with another Mariner player for pretty solid package of a depleted Yankees system.

LHR Ron Villone: An underrated commodity in the Mariners bullpen, Villone's value is highest to the AL East clubs, New York and Boston. The Red Sox designated Alan Embree for assignment last week and would benefit from the veteran presence of Villone in the late innings. The Yankees need anyone that can pitch and are void of a left-handed arm outside of Randy Johnson. When was the last time the Yankees had just one veteran southpaw on their entire staff? The Los Angeles Angels could also have interest in Villone.

The Red Sox have a lot to offer from their farm system and a guy like Manny Delcarmen might be a good fit for the M's in this type of deal. The M's may not want to deal Villone, however, as the 34-year-old has one year remaining on a contract he signed this past winter.

The Yankees, as empty as the cupboard really is, could easily find a worthy match in a deal for Villone.

Prediction: No Trade. If Villone is dealt, it will likely be with another veteran on the M's 25-man roster, such as Randy Winn, in order for the M's to secure a solid prospect or two from the Yankees or Red Sox. Winn and Villone to Boston for Jon Lester and Jon Papelbon? How about to New York for Eric Duncan and Phillip Hughes.

RHRs Jeff Nelson, Shigetoshi Hasegawa: Hasegawa's health and most recent performance may dictate whether there is much interest in him come the final days before the deadline. His contract calls for a vesting option next season but Hasegawa, who will turn 37 on August 1, is not anywhere near the pace it would take to reach the necessary 58 games to automatically vest the $3.1 million option. This only helps any value he may have.

Nelson has drawn interest from a few National League clubs, including the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Both Nellie and Shiggy are more than likely to be August waiver deals, rather than be dealt by July 31.

Prediction: Nelson to a contender, possibly St. Louis or Arizona. Hasegawa's 2005 contract might make him tougher to deal.

LHC Eddie Guardado: The M's best trade chip is their closer – something they have no replacement for if they do send him packing. Inquiring teams, such as Boston, Atlanta, Arizona and both Chicagos, are concerned about his shoulder. The 34-year-old had a tear in his labrum this past winter but has shown no ill-effects of the injury and has been one of the top closers in the game all season long.

The Cubs are falling out of the race somewhat and are now in third place in the NL Central, but could solidify their ‘pen with the acquisition of Guardado. There may not be a trade match in the Cubs system for the right young players the M's would want, and ultimately that makes the Cubs a long shot.

The White Sox might feel the need to add a proven, battle-tested finisher to their bullpen but the Mariners would ask for Brandon McCarthy, and will be told no. No way.

The Red Sox make the most sense, as they look for a way to bridge the game from their starting staff to victory. In hopes that Schilling can return as the ace, closer Keith Foulke, too, remains a question mark. Guardado would cost the Sox at least one of their top three pitching prospects, as well as another prospect in their top 10 or so.

Atlanta is a long shot and Arizona is trying to stay somewhat inexpensive in deals they make, but that can be looked at in both directions. Guardado's mutual option for 2006 calls for a base of $6 million for the team and $4.5 million if the player exercises his option.

Prediction: No Trade. The Mariners would likely make the deal if the Red Sox offered left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Jon Papelbon or a combo including right-hander Anibal Sanchez, but it's probably not something the Sox will want to do. Boston will probably hope Foulke heals fast and take their chances.

LHS Jamie Moyer: The interest in Moyer should rise as the deadline nears. The 42-year-old is a big time competitor who will always be prepared and that could deem Moyer a pretty valuable commodity to teams at the top of the playoff standings. Again, the Yankees and Red Sox make the most sense. This is where a combination of Moyer, plus either Randy Winn or Ron Villone, or conceivably all three, could be sent to the Yankees in order for the Mariners to maximize the benefit of trading their veterans.

George Steinbrenner isn't getting any younger and would probably okay the idea of dealing away the final few pieces in their farm system that have value – if the pieces truly make the Yankees better. The M's could end up landing both Eric Duncan, a 20-year-old third baseman widely considered the top prospect in their system, and Phillip Hughes a big, strong right-handed starter thought to be their best pitching prospect.

Boston's system has pieces the Mariners are probably a little more interested in, with Sanchez, Lester and Papelbon, in that order, being solid prospects. Sanchez's compact, yet explosive delivery project him to be a top of the rotation starter with strikeout capabilities. Lester is a 21-year-old southpaw with a plus fastball and two better than average off-speed pitches, a developing curve ball and a decent change-up. Papelbon has better stuff than Lester at this stage, but is three years older and not that far ahead in his development.

Prediction: No Trade. Moyer has 10-5 rights and may invoke them for any deal. There are thoughts that he could accept a trade and re-sign with the Mariners next season, if he decides to play another year. The Mariners may not get an offer they can't turn down and will not take just any trade to Moyer to ask his permission.

The Mariners are not in the market to add big money players and the word that the club is not going to make any deals unless they make this year's club better… well, that's just plain wrong. Randy Winn is blocking Chris Snelling, and the club needs to find out if Snelling is a keeper for 2006 and beyond. Aaron Sele, Ryan Franklin and Moyer are blocking Felix Hernandez, Jorge Campillo and maybe even Bobby Livingston. Nelson and Hasegawa, as well as southpaw Matt Thornton are in the way of the rehabbing Rafael Soriano, Scott Atchison and George Sherrill, and the surprising Sean Green.

The Mariners front office has not given up, but they have given in. Given in to the though of being buyers, in a way. Any deal that nets the club solid young players will be considered whether they help the 2005 club or not.

Look for the M's to be active up to and through the July 31 deadline, but don't expect a blockbuster.

Wait for the holidays for that to happen.

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