By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — After a Monday marked by a late-night flurry of trades, the last day of the baseball trading deadline was notable for the Seattle Mariners because of what they didn’t do.
The Mariners didn’t trade starting pitchers Jason Vargas or Kevin Millwood, they didn’t unload more pitchers from their bullpen, nor did they trade any of their prospects for major league-ready talent that could help the offense this year and beyond.
And while it might be easy to say the Mariners, who are going nowhere fast this season, should have just moved every tradable player on the team not named Felix Hernandez and hoped to land prospects for the future, there might just be some wisdom in the Mariners inactivity Tuesday.
It’s one thing to build for the future — or to borrow a favorite metaphor of general manager Jack Zduriencik, to focus on the foundation before building the rest of the house — but that doesn’t mean a team should trade everyone they can just for the sake of making moves.
“Just to do something to do it really didn’t make a lot of sense,” Zduriencik said. “I thought it was in our best interest to try to continue what we’re doing, and the guys who are here are big pieces of this thing. Some of the veteran guys that we have — and we don’t have a whole lot — some of those veteran guys that we have, we needed them. We need them for the growth of the young kids. We need their experience.”
Zduriencik spent the time leading up to the trade deadline walking the fine line between doing what will make the team better, say, two years from now, and making sure it can still be competitive now. Zduriencik traded relief pitcher Brandon League, who will be a free agent next year, not to win more games in 2011, but to get a couple of prospects who at least have a chance at helping this team beyond when League would have likely been here. And Zduriencik kept Vargas and Millwood because, in his opinion anyway, what he could have gotten in return wasn’t worth sacrificing the development that can happen the rest of the way this season, and in the case of Vargas, for at least another year.
“You’re always open to try to do something, you’re always open to trying to make the club better,” he said. “But there is a point in time when you have to say, ‘What makes sense right now? If I pull another piece away from here, everything comes unwoven.’ So as this thing continues to grow, I thought it was important to keep this thing as good as we could.”
Winning a bunch of games between now and September won’t get the Mariners into the postseason, but just as a strong second half to last season changed perception of where the Seahawks are heading into 2012, a winning second half for the Mariners could change the way we view this team heading into 2013. And no, a strong finish to the season wouldn’t indicate that the Mariners are ready to challenge the Rangers and the Angels for the division a year from now, but it would be a sign that they aren’t as hopelessly far away as it seems they are currently.
The Mariners didn’t make any moves to make them markedly better for the rest of this season — though outfielder Eric Thames, who the Mariners got in the trade that sent Steve Delabar to Toronto, would disagree with that, joking that he views the trade “As a win for the Mariners.”
But by not shipping their second best starter off for prospects or trading their closer, the Mariners also kept alive the possibility that they can build some momentum between now and the end of the season. The Mariners are 13-6 since the All Star break — granted, that record is aided by eight games against the woeful Kansas City Royals — and while they won’t win at that rate between now and the end of the season, a good second half wouldn’t be without meaning either.
“The players here, they’re building on something here, they’ve had a couple of good series,” Zduriencik said. “… They’re starting to see some things, they’re starting to grow. Eric (manager Eric Wedge) has said this to you guys all along, you’re going to see some growth, and I think it’s important what we’re seeing in front of us.”
And even if the wins have been slow to come this season Zduriencik sees another sign of progress in the form of interest in Seattle’s players.
“Most of our players, clubs have asked for in some scenario,” Zduriencik said, adding that he told team president Chuck Armstrong, “I know it’s been a tough year with wins and losses, but look at these 15 guys that people have asked for. What does that tell you? That you’ve got some nice pieces, and I hope all of these pieces will continue to grow to be something. If these kids are talented like we think a lot of them are, and we can add to them this offseason and make some kind of deal or do something to supplement what we’re doing, then we’ll do the right thing, and I think we’ll look at everything this offseason.”
Then again, you have to take with a grain of salt anything an executive in any sport says when it comes to behind-the-scenes conversations. There is quite often a lot of spin and manipulation going when teams make that kind of information public, but it is reasonable to take Zduriencik at his word when he says the Mariners have more young players who are attracting trade attention now than when he first took over the job, which is an encouraging sign.
Only time will tell if the Mariners should have been more aggressive before the trading deadline, but by not acting, Zduriencik hopes to have helped a long and quite often painful rebuilding project take a step forward.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.