OAKLAND ATHLETICS VS TORONTO BLUE JAYS Athletics pitcher Jeff SamardzijaWith the All-Star Break complete and Major League Baseball’s second half officially underway, nearly all attention turns to the rumor mill as the July 31st non-waiver deadline quickly approaches. The Oakland Athletics set the bar early for contending clubs looking to bolster their roster when they picked up starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs in a blockbuster deal that sent top prospect Addison Russell to the Cubbies. The Seattle Mariners find themselves with a grip on one of the American League Wild Card spots heading into the weekend and are known to be in the market for an upgrade or two, but could they be the next club to make a franchise-altering trade?

Reports throughout the past few days have connected the M’s with David Price and Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays, and on Friday I summed up the latest on the trade talks between the two clubs. There appears to be a real possibility that should the Rays choose to deal during a dismal season they could receive a package including Nick Franklin in exchange for the super-utility player. Reports indicated that the clubs have not only discussed a deal for Zobrist, but have expanded trade talks to include Price as well. As expected however, the inclusion of top prospect Taijuan Walker appears to be a sticking point for the Rays if they are to move their ace, and it’s possible that D.J. Peterson could be involved as well. The cost would be high, but consider the boost Zobrist would add to the lineup and a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Price. That’d be alright, I’d say.

Sticking with the trade talk, Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill gives a run down on several potential trade targets for the Mariners. Although Samardzija, Hammel, and Brandon McCarthy have already been dealt and Seth Smith was re-signed by the San Diego Padres, Churchill mentions Matt Joyce and James Loney of the Rays as potential targets as well outfielders Alex RiosMarlon Byrd, and Josh Willingham.

Alex Carson examined Byrd as a possibility in depth this week and opines that the outfielder very much makes sense for the M’s to acquire. Byrd is owed $8 million for the 2015 season and has an $8 million option for 2016 that he would want exercised in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause to come to the Emerald City — Seattle is one of just four teams that he can block trades to. The veteran outfielder may not be able to replicate his performance from the second half of the 2013 season, but Carson argues that he doesn’t have to in order to be a worthwhile acquisition as even adding a slight upgrade over what the M’s have in-house could still end up paying difference-making dividends during the stretch drive.

The New York Yankees have now released outfielder and former All-Star Alfonso Soriano and I examined whether or not he would be a fit for the Mariners.

James Paxton has slowly been making his way back to the big leagues and made his first rehab start on Thursday with the Everett Aqua Sox. PI’s Brendan Gawlowski was in attendance and reported that the southpaw felt no pain after throwing 42 pitches in two and two-thirds innings pitched; his pitch count was limited to fifty pitches. It’s expected that Paxton will make two or three more rehab starts before he potentially could rejoin the big league rotation.

Over on the fantasy side of things, Steve Simas features the prospects selected for this year’s Futures Game in a two-part Nook Nacks series. In part one Simas profiles a quintet of players including Julio Urias who is property of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. In part two he has analysis on another five players including Mookie Betts who has since been promoted to the big leagues by the Boston Red Sox and Enny Romero, a left-handed pitcher in the Rays organization.

Prospect Insider’s Mariners of the month for June were a pair of the club’s All-Stars: King Felix and Kyle Seager. Fernando Rodney and Robinson Cano also represented the M’s at the midsummer classic. For the rest of baseball it was another pair of All-Stars, Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, picking up the honors of PI’s players of the month for June.

Sticking with the major league side of things, Churchill presented his mid-season report card for the Mariners a couple weeks ago. While it’s no surprise to see Hernandez and Cano with A’s beside their names, they aren’t the only one to receive high praise for their first-half performance. Relievers Fernando Rodney, Dominic Leone, and Yoervis Medina all received top grades in a bullpen that has no doubt been a strength of Seattle’s this year.

Churchill also rounded up some of the M’s international free agent signings earlier this month when the signing period began. The biggest deal Seattle has given out so far belongs to Brayan Hernandez, an outfielder from Venezuela, who received $1.85 million.

PI’s Chris Hervey has a scouting report on Jamie Schultz who is a pitching prospect in the Rays organization as well as plenty of other notes on Rays and Toronto Blue Jays prospects that are definitely worth checking out. I also got a chance to see Miguel Castro and Ryan McBroom who are with the Blue Jays short-season Single-A club while Gawlowski has reports on Alberto Tirado and Franklin Barreto, also top prospects with the Jays.

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Tyler Carmont

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