The Mariners are playing the role of potential buyers instead of their traditional role as sellers in the Trading Deadline Flesh Swap.
And that’s all the reason the rumor mongers need to blow in at full decibel level.
The consensus is that the M’s need a starting pitcher to shore up the back end of the rotation and possibly a right-handed setup man to take some pressure and wear off closer J.J. Putz.
Ya want pitching? We got pitching, say the flame-fanners. And with 11 days remaining until the trading deadline, the Mariners have a dry-season forest-fire’s worth of flames to fan.
Mark Buehrle is off the market, but Dontrelle Willis is still out there, luscious and ripe for the picking as a Roma tomato.
Or how about any one of three Baltimore Oriole pitchers supposedly gettable – Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and Jeremy Guthrie?
Word is that almost everyone on the Giants’ pitching staff not named Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito are available for the asking, and most of the speculation involves 32-year-old Matt Morris (7-5, 3.86 ERA).
The imploding White Sox are reportedly ready for a yard sale. The word is that Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez and Jon Garland can be had.
The Astros won’t part with reliever Brad Lidge, but righty Chad Qualls has been mentioned as possible bait. He not only has 46 strikeouts in 47 innings, he also has the distinction of currently serving a three-day suspension and having to pay a $3,000 fine for throwing a baseball into the stands. Think he doesn’t have a little fire in his belly?
All the rumors are fun to talk about and have wildly varying amounts of credibility. Some are so far out there you couldn’t find them with an electron telescope.
But maybe the Mariners should go with the one scenario that’s the least popular with the trade brainiacs.
Do nothing. Or very little.
Any moves pitched to general manager Bill Bavasi almost certainly involve young phenoms Adam Jones, Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement. Yet, as the M’s stand now, the loss of any one outweighs the positives of a temporary fix. Such a swap smacks of Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb.
The M’s, to almost everyone’s amazement, are 53-39 and just two games behind the AL West-leading Angels. They’ve done so despite Richie Sexson’s season-long mommying up to Mendozaville, the thunderbolt distraction of Mike Hargrove’s resignation and the early-season flameout of Jeff Weaver.
On the plus side, Ichiro Suzuki is having his best year as a Mariner. Jose Guillen may be the biggest surprise, having found a home in Seattle, with 12 homers and 55 RBI. Just as important, he has so far beaten down his reputation as a clubhouse pain.
Miguel Batista leads the starting staff with nine victories. Felix Hernandez has come back from two stints off the DL to be spectacular at times. Horacio Ramirez is 5-0, with a 2.27 ERA at home. Weaver has shown signs of coming around.
Yes, the bullpen is overworked. The M’s need more from its starting rotation. The feeling here is that they’ll get it.
If Hernandez stays healthy, he can get into a run few others can. Jarrod Washburn gobbles up innings. If Weaver continues his improvement and Ramirez figures out how to pitch away from home, the rotation may not need another body.
Putz is the best closer in baseball, but he can’t do it alone. The setup men have to keep Putz from entering games in the eighth inning. George Sherrill is usually lights-out in that role from the left side. Chris Reitsma has the setup role from the right side almost by default, but the return of Mark Lowe may well solidify that area.
Lowe is due back in the next week or two, coming off two surgeries to his right elbow. If he can approach his form of last year (1-0, 1.93 ERA, 20 strikeouts, nine walks), Seattle can stand pat in the bullpen.
If Seattle’s pitching holds up, it might well have enough offense to keep up with the largely punchless Angels. If Sexson’s history holds, he will greatly warm up in the second half of the season, which means runs galore.
Many want Bavasi to immediately call up Jones and Balentien, both of whom are tearing up the Pacific Coast League. But the M’s have stayed with the Angels with the veterans they have. Why rock the boat? They can get some experience with the big club in September, likely while in a pennant race. Then they can make a push for a spot next season.
The M’s have weaknesses. Aside from Ichiro, they’re glacially slow on the basepaths. We’ve addressed holes in the pitching.
But the Angels have their own problems. And if the M’s catch them and win the division, that’s a huge season and an even more enticing 2008. They’re close. Real close.
Too close to let trade’s temptations knock them off a promising course.
Sports columnist John Sleeper: firstname.lastname@example.org