SEATTLE – Eddie Guardado had been the subject of trade speculation for too many days. He dealt with it by ignoring it.
It was 21/2 hours before Sunday’s 1 p.m. deadline, the Mariners closer was yukking it up in the locker room, just as he does before virtually every game.
Just 13 hours before, Guardado saw two teammates and buddies, Randy Winn and Miguel Olivo, shipped out – Winn to San Francisco, Olivo to San Diego.
In days past, he’d also seen the exit of catcher Pat Borders, a favorite of all the pitchers because of his vast experience. He’d seen second baseman Jose Lopez sent down to Class AAA Tacoma.
Weeks before, he’d seen Bret Boone tearfully exit to the Minnesota Twins.
It’s an undeniable part of baseball. For most, if your name isn’t Manny Ramirez, it’s the cruelest part. Uprooted families. Altered life plans.
As a prominent target of trade speculation, Guardado had every right to be stressed and testy. But as the minutes ticked away toward the conclusion of the trading deadline, Guardado jabbered and joked, holding court with lounging teammates and several media members.
What else could he do, he’d reasoned days before. It wasn’t as if he had any control over the whims of the suits upstairs.
Someone asked whether he was thinking about the obvious.
“I don’t think,” Guardado said. “Thinking gives me headaches. Mind-graines. Is that the way you say it? I leave the thinking up to you guys.”
Minutes later, in the M’s dugout, manager Mike Hargrove talked of possible trades. It was as though he was ordering lunch at Three Coins.
“I think that, until 1 o’clock, all options are open,” he said. “If something happened, it wouldn’t surprise me. If something didn’t happen, it wouldn’t surprise me.”
It was an unsettling day. Sunny, temp in the 80s, yes, but a forbidding cloud hung over Safeco Field nonetheless.
It took another hour before something happened. And suddenly, the game was secondary to what was going on with the suits upstairs.
At about 12:30 p.m., 30 minutes before deadline, the press box scuttlebutt was that it was Ron Villone, to the Marlins, for two pitching prospects. The word: General manager Bill Bavasi would answer questions shortly before the first pitch.
Bavasi talked of Saturday night’s acquisitions, catcher Miguel Ojeda, right-handed pitcher Nate Mateo, catcher Yorvit Torrealba and right-handed pitcher Jesse Foppert, along with Sunday’s pick-ups, right-handed pitchers Yorman Bazardo and Mike Flannery.
All pitchers, he said, have what he called “plus arms,” meaning they’re hard throwers.
“We think we got three good, young arms and improved our catching,” Bavasi said.
Bavasi went on to say that the Mariners, because of their lowly position in the standings, had little choice but to trade for prospects, rather than veteran players who could help immediately.
Example: Bazardo is 21, and although Baseball America rated him the Marlins’ No. 3 prospect in the organization at the start of the season, he needs to improve command of his pitches.
All new pitchers will start their careers in the M’s organization in Class AA San Antonio, Bavasi said.
“We’re in a bad situation,” Bavasi said. “So we’re trading for kids. And if we’re trading for kids, we should be trading for pitching, backed up by catching.”
After Bavasi finished, it was announced that Villone would be available for questions at 2:15 p.m.
Villone, 35, is hardly new at this. Dressed in workout gear and a blue visor, he stood outside the Mariners clubhouse and calmly addressed the notion of flying across the country to join his ninth team.
“I’d heard maybe a week ago that something might happen,” he said. “But after the last couple of days, so much goes on, I don’t take it so seriously. There’s so many things, you can’t really figure out what they’re talking about. I didn’t try to.”
Outside, the game went on as if Villone no longer existed.
In a way, he didn’t.
By Kirby Arnold
SEATTLE – Having abandoned hope to save a lost season in the past 10 days, the Seattle Mariners continued to build for their future Sunday.
The Mariners completed their trade-deadline work by dealing veteran relief pitcher Ron Villone to the Florida Marlins. In return, they got two right-handed pitching prospects, 21-year-old Yorman Bazardo and 25-year-old Mike Flannery.
In less than 24 hours, the Mariners were the busiest team in baseball, with three trades that brought them four minor-league pitchers, a minor league catcher and a major league backup catcher.
Saturday, they traded outfielder Randy Winn to the San Francisco Giants for catcher Yorvit Torrealba and right-handed pitcher Jesse Foppert, then dealt catcher Miguel Olivo to the San Diego Padres for catcher Miguel Ojeda and right-handed pitcher Nate Mateo.
“The trades we made for the most part were for young pitching, good arms,” Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said. “I think that’s the smart thing to do.”
The Mariners went into the All-Star break last month hoping a midseason surge would pull them back into playoff contention, leaving them to consider trading away their own minor league prospects for veteran players who could help them this year.
Instead, three straight losses at Toronto and a 1-5 record on their last road trip turned the Mariners’ attention to building for next year, not next month.
“Toronto pretty much sucked the wind out of us,” Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said. “Prior to that, we felt we were making a run and getting better. At the beginning of the season, we felt if we were strong, we would have given up prospects. But when we played as poorly as we did on the road, we decided it was time to talk to other clubs about their kids.”
Despite all the movement, none of the Mariners’ trades was a stunner.
Starting pitcher Jamie Moyer and closer Eddie Guardado remained with the club, although it’s believed Moyer used his veto rights to reject trade proposals with the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves.
Bavasi wouldn’t discuss either of those situations.
“I’d heard Boston was the team (most interested), and I guess the stakes were high,” said Guardado, who has a no-trade clause that prevents him from being dealt to the 10 teams on the East Coast. “I thought I was gone.”
Sunday morning, he approached Bavasi with a friendly “what’s up,” and this time he truly wanted to know.
Bavasi assured him that he wasn’t being traded, that “our standards are high,” Guardado said.
Trades still can be made, but players involved must first pass through the waiver process, meaning other teams would have an opportunity to claim them.
Two Mariners still looking over their shoulders are veteran pitcher Aaron Sele and utility player Scott Spiezio, who’ve both struggled this season.
Sele, 6-12 with a 5.66 earned run average, has lost seven straight decisions and said after a 10-5 loss to the Indians on Thursday that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Mariners move him.
The Mariners would like to promote minor league phenom Felix Hernandez from Class AAA Tacoma soon, but it would require an opening on the starting staff that doesn’t exist.
Hernandez, who missed time last month, started Saturday for Tacoma and didn’t allow a hit in four innings. In his last eight appearances, Hernandez is 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA.
Bavasi said Sunday that he expects Sele to make his next start, scheduled for Thursday. Then he amended that statement, indicating a move is possible.
“At this point, he’s making his next start,” Bavasi said. “Guys do pass through waivers, but as you and I are sitting here now, he’ll make his next start.”
The Marlins will become Villone’s ninth different team in an 11-year major league career. Last winter, he signed a two-year contract with the Mariners – the first multi-year deal of his career – and is making $1.95 million this season.
Villone, 35, was the Mariners’ most versatile pitcher, especially last season when he pitched as a starter, middle reliever, setup reliever and closer. He was used entirely as a left-handed setup specialist this season, going 2-3 with a 2.50 ERA in a team-high 51 appearances.
“I guess I don’t know what to feel, except that it’s kind of odd,” Villone said. “But at the same time, I think I’m going somewhere with a chance to win. That’s the way you have to look at it.”
To replace Villone in the left-handed specialty role, the Mariners called up George Sherrill from the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers, and he pitched two scoreless innings Sunday. Sherrill had a 2.28 earned run average and seven saves with the Rainiers, with 38 strikeouts in 232/3 innings. He came off the disabled list July 15 after missing about six weeks because of a strained shoulder.
When it became apparent the Mariners’ focus had shifted to acquiring young players, they worked the trade market to shore up the depth in their pitching and catching. In the process, they also created an opportunity in left field for minor league prospect Chris Snelling when they traded Winn.
Snelling is expected to join the Mariners on Saturday in Chicago after playing 10 days at Class AAA Tacoma, required since he was optioned there last week. Until then, the Mariners filled the outfield vacancy by calling up Jamal Strong from Tacoma.
The Mariners’ latest pitching acquisitions, Bazardo and Flannery, will be assigned to Class AA San Antonio.
Bazardo has pitched most of this season at Class AA Carolina in the Marlins’ organization, going 8-6 with a 3.79 ERA in 18 starts. He was rated by Baseball America as the Marlins’ third best minor league prospect.
Flannery is 2-3, 3.21 in 45 relief appearances at Class AA Carolina and AAA Albuquerque.
Those two, along with the pitchers acquired in Saturday’s trades, will compete for places on the Mariners’ staff next year.
“In our situation if we were going to be trading, we would be trading for kids,” Bavasi said. “We felt we needed pitching. In this business, pitching is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s always getting painted.”