Tube Socks Again? Merry Christmas from the Mariners!

Cust rhymes with bust? Uh-oh!

It’s that time of year again, when the instead of the shiny new remote control car we always wanted (Justin Upton, Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey III etc.) the Mariners decide to get us something a little more crappy practical: underwear, fleece pajama pants and tube socks! Here’s a look at what the M’s left under the tree for their fans this holiday season:

Jack Cust: With a limited amount of cash to spend this offseason (thanks for nothing David Aardsma’s hip) Jack Cust will likely be the Mariners’ biggest acquisition in both impact on the field and all-around girth. While Cust isn’t exactly a household name outside of the AL West, he is a suitable replacement (Cust posted a .272-13 HR-52 RBI-.395 OBP line in 2010) for Russell Branyan, and does two things that the Mariners struggled to last season: draw walks and hit home runs. If all goes as planned, the M’s new DH will start the year hot and allow me to cash in on my garage full of “I lust for Cust” t-shirts. Jackpot!

Miguel Olivo: It’s hard to belive that the Mariners could do worse at catcher in 2011 than the Rob Johnson/Josh Bard/Adam Moore monstrosity that they put on the field last season, but with the signing of free agent Miguel Olivo, it looks like they’ll give it a try. Olivo had a memorable first go-round as a Mariner during the 2004-2005 seasons in which he hit .200 and .151 respectively, so it’s easy to see why the front office was enamored with him. Olivo is a decent defender behind the plate but he never met a pitch he didn’t like (career 800/125 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and his power doesn’t translate well to Safeco Field. This is going to be a regular dumpster fire…

Brendan Ryan: It appears that Sauron, not Jack Zduriencek, is running the Seattle Mariners because with the addition of Brendan Ryan to a lineup that already includes Jack Wilson the M’s now lead the league in goblins. Why couldn’t we have at least signed a goblin that can hit? The St. Louis Cardinals were eager to jettison Ryan after a season in which struggled at the plate, hitting just .223 with 2 HR’s and 36 RBI’s, and the Mariners obliged (they hate offense after all) by sending away Mikael Cleto for the slick fielding utility man. Hopefully for M’s fans Ryan will simply serve as a stopgap until Dustin Ackley is called up because another season like the last may prove too much for the fragile Seattle psyche. WNBA Championships only do so much for a city.

Time to throw away the wrapping paper…and any hopes for a successful 2011 season.

Advertisements

Mariners Monthly Roundup: August “Mediocrity Reigns” Edition.

 

Despite being surrounded by a bunch of yea-hoos, Ichiro has continued his indomitable march towards history.

Record: 12-14 (Overall 51-80)       

A.L. West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle       

Top Hitter: After slumping below .250 in July, Ichiro rebounded to post a .307 average in August including a two home run game at Yankee Stadium (they were against Javier Vasquez however, so they don’t really count). Though Ichiro’s had a down season by his standards (on pace for career lows in HR’s, runs, triples and his second lowest OPS) the Mariners top-of-the-order mainstay is still on pace for a record 10th straight 200 hit season. In a season so wrought with disappointment, it’s nice to have someone to look forward to. Bless you Ichiro. Bless you.  

Top Pitcher: Who’d you think it was gonna be, Sean White? Felix Hernandez continued a dominant season with his best month of the year, posting a 3-2 record with 0.82 ERA, .137 batting average against and 51 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings. Despite suffering through some of the worst run support in baseball, King Felix has planted himself firmly in the Cy Young discussion by ranking 1st in innings, 2nd in ERA, 1st in K’s, 4th in WHIP and 3rd in complete games. Felix’s value to this team can’t be overstated–without him they would be utterly unwatchable. As is they’re just mostly unwatchable…  

Biggest Surprise:  Brandon League arrived in Seattle during the offseason in a controversial trade that sent talented but erratic starting pitcher Brandon Morrow to Toronto. The hard-throwing Hawaiian was supposed to be one of the best set-up men in all of baseball, but in the first half of the season he posted a 3.86 ERA and was responsible for many of the Mariners’ most painful defeats (“Oh, we’ve got a three run lead? I guess I’ll walk the bases loaded and then cough up a gopher ball). Since the All-Star break though, League has been in the zone, including August where he posted a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings. I’m not saying it was a good idea to trade Brandon Morrow, but it is nice to know that we weren’t entirely fleeced. Right? Right?  

Biggest Disappointment: Jose Lopez brings less to the table than Bob Cratchit. Why the Mariners are still giving at-bats to someone with a .605 OPS is beyond me, because Lopez has been a black hole all season long. There’s little doubt that he’ll be gone at the end of the season; why wait till then to give Matt Mangini or Matt Tuiasosopo a chance?  

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis–underwent surgery August 17th); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation–appears headed for Tommy John surgery); Jack Wilson (out for season–hand surgery).  

Lingering Questions: If the Mariners win a game, and no one is watching, does it still count? Can Felix win a Cy Young with a losing record? Adam Moore can’t possibly be as bad as Rob Johnson, can he? What medication should I take for Mariners’ Season(al) Depression? 

September Schedule: 1 vs. Los Angeles, 4 vs. Cleveland, 3 @ Oakland, 3 @ Los Angeles, 3 vs. Boston, 3 vs. Texas, 3 @ Toronto, 3 @ Tampa Bay, 3 @ Texas, 1 vs. Oakland.  

Overall Grade: (C+) With new manager Darren Brown at the helm the Mariners weren’t completely awful in August, winning four series in a row before sputtering at the end of the month. Still, while the offense was marginally better than it had been, it was still the worst in baseball and made me question why I even bother to watch the M’s play.

Dave Niehaus, that’s why.

Salt in the Wound: Blue Jays’ Brandon Morrow Loses No Hitter, But Raises Doubts About Mariners’ Front Office Decision Making.

Did the Mariners give up on Brandon Morrow too early? It looked that way on Sunday.

This time last season Seattle fans were wearing “In Jack We Trust” t-shirts, petitioning the organization to construct a statue of new GM Jack Zduriencik in front of Safeco Field and writing in his name for governor of Washington.

What a difference a year makes.

Though Brandon Morrow fell just short of a no-hitter on Sunday afternoon against the Rays, his sterling 17 strikeout, one-hit performance still took some of the sheen off Zduriencik’s head and Seattle’s shiny new Bill Bavasi-less front office. Morrow was shipped to Toronto during the offseason in return for power reliever Brandon League who was supposed to bridge the gap between Seattle’s starting pitchers and closer David Aardsma. League hasn’t been bad (8-6, 3.16 ERA) but has consistently faltered in high-leverage situations, and despite a reputation as a flamethrower, has only struck out 40 batters in 57 innings.

The number five overall pick in the 2006 draft, Morrow was flipped from the starting rotation to the bullpen to Triple-A and back again so many times, it’s a wonder he doesn’t have multiple personalities. While the current regime can’t be blamed for the mismanagement of Morrow early in his career, they certainly can be accused of giving up on the young ace too early.

The 26-year-old Morrow is 9-6 on the season, with a 4.45 ERA (a number which would almost certainly be lower if he was pitching at Safeco Field) and 151 strikeouts in 127 innings (a league leading 10.67 K’s/9 innings). A full season in the starting rotation has done wonders for Morrow’s confidence and he’s started to hit the strike zone with more consistency. If he can continue to cut down on the walks and pitch deep into games, Morrow has the potential to become a staff ace in the mold of Bert Blyleven.

With their pitching staff in shambles (Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas are Seattle’s only reliable starters) the Mariners can use all the arms that they can get. Who do you suppose they would rather have right now: an average middle reliever with a propensity for big innings, or an up-and-coming starter with the makings of a future star?

I’m not giving up on Zduriencik and Co., but a 42-70 record and scores of Mariners (Beltre, Silva, Thorton, etc.) finding success elsewhere don’t make it easy to believe things are going to chance anytime soon.

Is it football season yet?

Mariners Monthly Roundup: June “If Only We Played in the NL Central” Edition.

Cliff Lee's tremendous month of June won't make it any easier to say goodbye.

Record: 14-13  (Overall 33-44)

AL West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle.

 

Top Hitter: It’s almost by default that Ichiro claims his place as the team’s top hitter because no one else on the Mariners seemed to know what they were doing at the plate in June. The ageless Suzuki just kept plugging along, hitting .321 in the month with 2 HR’s, 14 RBI’s and 8 stolen bases. Considering that Seattle has a team batting average of .239, Ichiro might be more valuable to the Mariners than he ever has been. Whatever he’s getting paid, he’s worth it. Can you imagine this offense with Ichiro?

Top Pitcher: If June truly was Cliff Lee’s last month as a Mariner he made the most of it. The most coveted trade chip in all of baseball posted a 4-1 record with a 1.76 ERA and an unbelievable four complete games (his 36/2 strikeout-to-walk ration wasn’t too shabby either). Though Lee won’t be able to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs (not single-handedly at least), he should bring in a hearty bounty of prospects from whichever contender acquires his services (Minnesota, St. Louis and the New York Mets are all in the mix). Thanks for the memories Cliff; maybe someday we’ll be reunited once again. Maybe…

Biggest Surprise: Finally given a chance to play everyday, Michael “the Condor” Saunders has shown why he was one of the most highly regarded prospects in the Mariners’ organization, connecting for a team-high five home runs in the month of June. The 23-year-old is still struggling to find consistency at the plate and needs to cut down on the K’s (37 in 112 AB’s) but he provides some hope that the M’s might not be terrible forever.

Biggest Disappointment: Rob Johnson (.200 BA) and Sean White (7.58 ERA) are not major league caliber players. Not today, not ever. Don’t tell me that there are no players in our farm system capable of what those two bumbling idiots are doing at the big league level. Please do something about them Seattle front office. Please?

Griffey Watch: N/A…insert sad face here.

Happy Trails: The Ian Snell Experiment (0-5, 6.41 ERA) wasn’t anymore successful in 2010 than it was last year. The Mariners showed amazing patience with the struggling pitcher, but finally had enough after Snell showed no signs of turning things around, and designated him for assignment. Shockingly, no other team was willing to take a chance on him. Color me surprised…

Injuries: Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery, 60-day DL–early July return); Mark Lowe (lower back inflammation, 15-day DL); Shawn Kelley (right elbow inflammation, 15-day DL); Mike Sweeney (old age, 15-day DL): Rob Johnson (inability to catch balls thrown his way, no known cure).

Lingering Questions: Will Russell Branyan lead the Mariners in home runs for the season despite not joining the team until late June? Will King Felix continue to pitch at a high level once Cliff Lee is traded? Should fans continue to show up to Safeco Field if Rob Johnson is still the starting catcher? What’s Ken Griffey Jr. up to?

July Schedule: 4 @ Detroit, 3 vs. Kansas City, 4 vs. New York, All Star Break, 4 @ Los Angeles, 3 vs. Chicago, 4 vs. Boston, 4 @ Chicago, 2 @ Minnesota.

Overall Grade: (B) It only took until June, but the Mariners finally posted their first winning month of the season–one game over .500!! Despite a strong finish to the month, Seattle actually lost ground in the division as Texas was hotter than, well, Texas on a summer’s day. The 1-2 punch of Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez finally lived up to the hype, but not even dominating performances from those two aces could obscure just how badly the offense has performed all season. With virtually no chance to catch the Rangers in the division, it will be interesting to see what big names the Mariners consider moving at the trade deadline, and what pieces they can acquire to build for 2011 and beyond. This is Jack Zdrunciek’s best shot to prove that he is not Bill Bavasi part deux. No pressure though…

Mariners Monthly Roundup: April “Who Needs to Hit to Win the West” Edition

 

Franklin Gutierrez carried the Mariners offense in April. Can he keep it up all season?

Record: 11-12

AL West Standings: Oakland, Texas, Seattle, Los Angeles

Top Hitter: Well, being the top hitter for the Mariners is kind of like being the best Hinder cover band, but that shouldn’t take away from what Franklin Gutierrez did at the plate in April. The constantly improving 27-year-old hit .326 for the month with 2 HR’s and 13 RBI’s and was Seattle’s only real threat in the lineup. Guti came through with a number of clutch hits and is a major reason why the M’s are hovering around .500 instead of being in the AL West cellar after a dreadful offensive showing as a team in April.

Top Pitcher: Dazzling Doug Fister may have had to battle for a spot in the rotation during Spring Training, but he looked like a seasoned vet on the mound in April. The 6′ 8″ righty made the most of his home ballpark and defense with a 2-1 record and stellar 1.67 ERA. Though Fister doesn’t throw hard (high 80’s) he pounds the strike zone (only 5 walks in 27 innings) and makes opposing hitters beat him; they weren’t able to do so in the season’s first month (.208 batting average against). Fister took a no-hitter into the 7th inning against the Orioles on April 19th and gives the M’s a surplus of starting pitching if he can keep up his strong start.

Biggest Surprise: See above.

Biggest Disappointment: Milton Bradley was supposed to the Mariners’ cleanup hitter in 2010 but responded by hitting only .211 in April and continuing to act like a 12-year-old. Something tells me he is due for a big blowup after watching a called third strike with the bases loaded against Tampa Bay; just a hunch I guess.

Doug Fister looked like an ace in April. But can the offense keep pace with the M's staff?

Griffey Watch: Far be it from me to second guess one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, but it looks like Ken Griffey Jr. should have left while he was ahead after the 2009 season. Through the first month of the year Junior was hitting just .228 with only one extra-base hit (a double) and 4 RBI’s in 57 AB’s. He can’t catch up to even pedestrian fastballs and spends most of his time looking lost at the plate. Jack Zdurinciek and manager Don Wakamatsu will have a tough choice to make with Griffey if he doesn’t start hitting, and soon.

Home Run Tracker: Nine (9). That’s not a typo. The entire team hit nine home runs in one month. Somebody better call Avista because the power is out in Seattle.

Injuries: Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery, 15-day DL–possible late May return); Jack Hannahan (strained groin, 15-day DL–Triple A rehab)

Lingering Questions: Will Cliff Lee’s return energize the Mariners? Will anyone besides Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro hit? How long will it be before Mike Sweeney’s hugs lose their charm? Can someone please hit a home run? Just one?

May Schedule: 2 vs. Texas, 3 vs. Tampa Bay, 3 vs. Los Angeles, 3 @ Baltimore, 3 @ Tampa Bay, 2 @ Oakland, 2 @ Toronto, 3 vs. San Diego, 2 vs. Detroit, 3 @ Los Angeles, 1 vs. Minnesota.

Overall Grade: (B-) The Mariners should be thanking their lucky stars that the rest of the AL West struggled through April because Seattle did not look like a playoff team in the first month of 2010. Their pitching is once again among the game’s best but the offense looks even worse than last season–and they were bad in 2009. The return of Cliff Lee should help the M’s, but unless the team starts hitting they’ll find themselves out of contention by the end of May. Seattle needs to regroup fast in order to live up to their lofty expectations. Things could get ugly in hurry if they don’t…

Heaven Isn’t Too Far Away: The Authoritative 2010 Seattle Mariners Season Preview.

Are the Seattle Mariners bound for baseball heaven in 2010?

It was the year 1989 when Warrant penned their classic hair-metal ballad “Heaven”—a song that helped their album go platinum and pushed the band to the forefront of the rock-and-roll consciousness. That very same year another chart topper emerged into the national spotlight—a young ballplayer by the name of Ken Griffey Jr. who energized a sleepy city and brought direction to a long lost franchise.   

Now in the third decade of a storybook career, Griffey has one last, final last chance to bring a title to a championship-starved town and add the only thing missing from an otherwise spotless resume. Does he have enough left in his 40-year-old body to will the M’s across the finish line? Are his teammates up to the challenge?   

The Mariners took a major step forward last season, finishing with an 85-77 record on the strength of breakout stars like Felix Hernandez and Franklin Gutierrez. Seattle’s GM Jack Zduriencik sensed that 2010 could be a banner year for his team and he spent the offseason creating a championship caliber ballclub, headlined by the additions of former Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee and speedster Chone Figgins. Do the Mariners have enough ammunition to compete in a deep and talented division or are they once again destined for disappointment? Here’s what they’re bringing to the table in 2010:  

Starting Nine (Projected 2010 stats from ESPN.com)   

Rightfield: Ichiro Suzuki (.307-6 HR’s-49 RBI’s-29 SB’s-.350 OBP)   

Second Base: Chone Figgins (.281-4 HR’s-46 RBI’s-35 SB’s-.375 OBP)   

Leftfield: Milton Bradley (.285-15 HR’s-58 RBI’s-.394 OBP)   

Designated Hitter: Ken Griffey Jr. (.239-14 HR’s-41 RBI’s-.341 OBP)   

Third Base: Jose Lopez (.279-24 HR’s-90 RBI’s-.308 OBP)   

Centerfield: Franklin Gutierrez (.280-20 HR’s-68 RBI’s-14 SB’s-.333 OBP)   

First Base: Casey Kotchman (.274-9 HR’s-53 RBI’s-.342 OBP)   

Shortstop: Jack Wilson (.250-4 HR’s-40 RBI’s-.293 OBP)   

Catcher: Adam Moore/Rob Johnson (.250-6-22/.243-5-30)   

The Mariners need Griffey to hit like a kid again in 2010.

Thoughts: While it’s not exactly Murderer’s Row, the M’s lineup should be an improvement over the squad that managed to score only 640 runs last season. Seattle might not have a single player top 30 home runs this year, but playing in spacious Safeco Field the team is better suited to rely on speed and gap power anyway, and it appears the M’s finally have a squad suited for that style of play with Ichiro and Figgins leading the way atop the lineup. The two combined for an astounding 408 hits, 202 runs and 68 stolen bases last year and should cause nightmares for opposing pitchers.

Bradley has the potential to be a solid #3 hitter with decent pop and good patience but he’s anything but a sure thing mentally or physically. Griffey is expected to be in better shape than 2009 after offseason knee surgery and Gutierrez should continue to mature as a hitter after showing marked improvement last year. Lopez wouldn’t draw a walk if you offered him $100,000 for each base on balls, but he’s at least adequate for Seattle at third base and will be an improvement over the injury-riddled Adrian Beltre of last year. The bottom third of the order is better suited for play in the deadball era and will need to exceed expectations in order to avoid letting the rest of the team down.  

Ryan Garko and Eric Byrnes should provide some energy off the bench and talented youngster Michael Saunders is waiting in the wings with the Tacoma Rainiers if Bradley gets stupid or injured (or both at the same time). Hopefully Seattle can avoid handing out too many at-bats to the offensively challenged Jack Hannahan and Ryan Langerhans (both of whom have more holes in their swings than the plot of an M. Night Shyamalan movie). Their lineup clearly isn’t going to carry the Mariners to the pennant, but it ought to be good enough to keep games close…and that’s all Seattle’s pitchers will need.  

Pitching Staff (Projected Stats from ESPN.com)   

1) Felix Hernandez (17 wins-2.95 ERA-1.21 WHIP-203 K’s)   

2) Cliff Lee (18 wins-3.33 ERA-1.22 WHIP-180 K’s)     

3) Ryan Rowland-Smith (10 wins-4.06 ERA-1.31 WHIP-111 K’s)   

4) Ian Snell (7 wins-5.05 ERA-1.59 WHIP-96 K’s)   

5) Jason Vargas/Doug Fister/Luke French (????)   

Can the Hyphenator build of his late season success and complement Felix and Cliff?

Thoughts: The pitching talent drops off precipitously after Hernandez and Lee, and if they could, the team would probably pitch those two every other day (Dr. James Andrews has advised against it). The Mariners have to hope that Erik Bedard makes a speedy recovery from offseason surgery or the club might have to pursue another arm at the trading deadline to stay in contention.  

King Felix will be hard pressed to improve upon his 2009 season, but at only 23-years-old (24 in April), nothing is out of the question for the talented Venezuelan (he’s the odds on favorite for the 2010 AL Cy Young Award). Lee should be able to thrive in a pitcher’s park with a strong defense up the middle, and his impending free agency at the end of the year should provide him with all the motivation he needs. Rowland-Smith is a serviceable number three starter who could turn some heads after a strong finish to 2009. After Rowland-Smith however, things get a little bit murky. 

Ian Snell was consistently inconsistent after being acquired from the Pirates last year and unless he drastically cuts down on walks he’ll never be anything but a headache for the Mariners. Fister, Vargas and French all had moments of brilliance in 2009, but none of them have taken the bull by the horns and grabbed the #5 spot with their performances in Spring Training. Seattle has the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball with Hernandez and Lee and they’ll need to lean heavily on them with question marks throughout the rest of the rotation. A healthy Bedard is paramount to a deep postseason run. 

Bullpen:   

Closer: David Aardsma   

Set-Up: Mark Lowe, Brandon League, Shawn Kelley, Kanekoa Texeira, etc.   

It's everything I always hoped it would be.

Thoughts:  Just like last year, the bullpen should be the real strength of the club. David Aardsma was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last year, and even with the expected regression in 2010, should be an above-average closer for the M’s. If he struggles, the newly acquired Brandon League has the stuff to close games, as does Mark Lowe. Texeira (thankfully no relation to the Yankees’ Mark) has looked sharp all spring and should help to bridge the gap in the 7th or 8th inning. If there is one facet of the team that I’m not worried about, it’s the bullpen.

Fearless Forecast: Call me hopelessly optimistic, but something about this Mariners’ squad has me more excited for Opening Day than I can ever remember. The team has a good mix of veterans and rising stars and a boatload of positive momentum after a surprising 2009 season. The clubhouse chemistry should remain intact with Griffey still aboard, although it may suffer some with the loss of Carlos Silva (aka Felix’s BFF).

The Mariners aren’t great in any one area of the game, but they are solid across the board and should be able to take advantage of a down year for the Los Angeles Angels and capture the AL West in a hard fought battle. With King Felix, Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard leading the rotation Seattle would be unstoppable in a postseason series, because as is proven year after year, pitching wins championships. And finally, after all these years and countless tears, Ken Griffey Jr. and the Mariners will bring a World Series title home to Seattle.

For once Mariners’ fans, heaven isn’t too far away.

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back: Should the Mariners Buy or Sell?

Bedard has pitched brilliantly all season, making him a prime trade target.

Bedard has pitched well all year, making him a prime trade target.

Breezing into the All-Star break with a record of 46-42 the Seattle Mariners have outperformed even the most optimistic of predictions for their 2009 season. Despite a lackluster offense (2nd to last in the American League in runs) the Mariners find themselves only four games out of first in the AL West after taking three of four from Texas over the weekend. The team has thrived in one-run games and has gotten clutch contributions from every spot in the order (Chris Shelton today, Rob Johnson yesterday, etc). Seattle’s pitching has been the linchpin to success, with a fantastic 3.74 ERA as a team (1st in AL). The pitching staff also leads the league in saves, WHIP and batting average against (.246). This season is beginning to look like 2007 for the Mariners, a year in which they scored less runs than they allowed, yet still finished with a record of 88-75. Even though they beat the odds in 2007 to finish on the winning side of the ledger, Seattle still missed the playoffs and fell to 61-101 last year. The L.A. Angels have heated up after a slow start, winning 7 of their last 10 games, and it will likely take 90+ wins to capture the division. As good as the Mariners have been, they probably can’t be expected to win more than 84-85 games. So, do the Mariners gamble that they can overtake the Angels and try to acquire some offensive firepower, or does Seattle trade some of their veterans and start building towards next season?

The Mariners' off-season addition of Gutierrez has them challenging for the division crown. Are there more moves ahead?

The Mariners' off-season addition of Gutierrez has them challenging for the division crown. Are there more moves ahead before the deadline?

New general manager Jack Zdrunciek has shown himself to be a shrewd evaluator of talent, bringing in key players like David Aardsma, Russell Branyan and Franklin Gutierrez through free agency and trades. Zdrunciek seems intent on keeping Seattle competitive this season, already acquiring Ryan Langerhans and Jack Hannahan in trades as well as shipping Yuniesky Betancourt to the Royals. However, the Mariners sent most of their best minor league players (Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, etc.) to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard deal last year and injuries to starters like Adrian Beltre, Endy Chavez and the since-departed Betancourt have exposed the lack of depth in the club’s farm system. Zdrunciek finds himself at a crossroads in the first year as Seattle’s GM, balancing the need to compete this season against the need to build a team that can challenge for the playoffs perennially. While Zdrunciek was with Milwaukee the team had a track record for shying away from big trades (except for C.C. Sabathia last season) and building one of baseball’s best farm systems (Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, JJ Hardy, etc.). Will Zdrunciek stick to this formula with the Mariners?

If Seattle does decide that they want to move some pieces before the July 31st trading deadline they have plenty of players that would attract interest throughout baseball. Pitcher Erik Bedard would likely be the most coveted Mariner, a left-handed pitcher with the potential to be a true staff ace. Bedard has struggled to stay healthy in his career with Seattle, but has been phenomenal in 2009 with a 2.63 ERA and 79 Ks in 75 innings. The Mariners would be wise to shop him around while he is healthy, as Bedard is a free-agent at the end of the year and unlikely to resign with Seattle. Another sell-high candidate for the M’s is surprising slugger Russell Branyan. Given a full-time role for the first time in his career, Branyan has responded by hitting .280 with 22 HRs and 49 RBIs. The power numbers are for real, but his high strikeout rate points to a continued dip in batting average as he is only a .237 hitter in over 2,200 lifetime at-bats. Rounding out the Mariner’s trading chips is the resurgent Jarrod Washburn. Finally pitching like the player Seattle thought they signed in 2006, Washburn’s new splitter has given him the ability to drastically cut down the number of hits he allows, and at the break he sports a 6-6 record with a 2.96 ERA. Like Bedard, Washburn will be a free-agent at the end of the season, and if he signed with another team would only net the Mariners one compensatory draft pick.

Reid Brignac would sure look good in Mariner blue.

Shortstop Reid Brignac would sure look good in Mariner blue.

On the other hand, if Seattle wants to make a run at the AL West title, there are a number of moves that the team needs to make in order to keep pace with the Angels and Rangers. One position that has long been a headache for the Mariners is shortstop. Betancourt was a disappointment before his trade and replacement Ronny Cedeno may play great defense, but he is hitting just .168 on the year. An intriguing option for the Mariners is Tampa Bay minor league shortstop Reid Brignac. Buried behind Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist in the Rays organization, Brignac is a top-tier prospect, and if the M’s can pry him away from Tampa he could become Seattle’s shortstop of the future while helping them contend for the playoffs this year. The addition of Langerhans has provided a temporary spark to the Mariners’ offense, but the team still has a glaring need for an outfielder with some pop. Most teams don’t like to trade within the division, but Seattle would greatly benefit from the power and speed combination of Oakland leftfield Matt Holliday. After a slow start to the season, Holliday has regained the form that made him a runner for up NL MVP in 2007, and with the Athletics firmly entrenched in the division cellar would be available for the right price. If Seattle doesn’t want to meet Billy Beane’s demands for Holliday, the Mariners might want to think about pursuing Washington Nationals OF Josh Willingham (.304 BA, 12 HRs, .419 OBP) who is having a career year at age 30 and would come with a much smaller price tag.

The Mariners and GM Jack Zdrunciek have some very important decisions to make over the next few weeks. Do they owe it to their fans to go out and trade for a big bat and help at third base or shortstop? Or should they move some soon-to-be free agents in order to build for the future? Needless to say, Zdrunciek and Co. will have many a sleepless night between now and July 31st.

What do you think? Should the Mariners buy or sell at the trade deadline?