Latest on M’s trade rumors

 The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is now less than 48 hours away and several teams are still trying to determine whether they want to bolster their club for the stretch run or point their thoughts towards 2015 and beyond. Obviously the addition of a second Wild Card slot has greatly changed the dynamic in both leagues and we saw a relatively quiet final few days of July last year. This year could be different however as there are plenty of teams willing to deal and some top tier pitching talent available, but the market is barren for impact bats — something the Seattle Mariners and others are in dire need of. Let’s take a look at the latest news on the rumor front.

Jon Lester has emerged as a hot commodity as his club, the Boston Red Sox, have gone from entertaining the possibility of trading him, to marking their price for the southpaw at “two grade-A prospects” as reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. On the weekend I argued that dealing Lester would be in the Red Sox best interest and with news that he has been scratched from his scheduled start on Wednesday, it would appear that a deal is imminent, though nothing is official. Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan makes a case for the Pittsburgh Pirates to make a play for the 30-year old.

The Mariners were reported by a few different outlets as one of the clubs interested in Lester and ESPN’s Jayson Stark notes that Seattle’s front office is under a lot of pressure to improve the club in the coming days. Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune has mentioned several times on Twitter that the M’s are still a long shot to acquire the ace, however. Of course anything is possible, but if Boston is really after a pair of top prospects, they probably won’t be coming from the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners were reluctant to deal top prospect Taijuan Walker for David Price, who is controlled through the 2015 season, which makes it enormously unlikely that Walker would be dealt for a rental.

Speaking of Price, the Tampa Bay Rays are “talking and willing” to deal their ace, sources tell Jon Heyman of CBSSports.The latest rumor on that front is the St. Louis Cardinals hypothetically sending top prospect Oscar Taveras, starter Shelby Miller, and the club’s first-round competitive balance pick in 2015 to the Rays in exchange for the lefty. The Cardinals have been connected to Price several times now given the fact they have depth to deal from and could use another starter since youngster Michael Wacha isn’t expected back in the rotation until September. Again, Dutton has mentioned on Twitter that the Mariners still appear to be long shots in the Price sweepstakes.

The Rays continued their hot streak Tuesday night with a 5-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and now sit just one game under .500 on the year. It’s been an incredible last two months of baseball for Tampa Bay and we’ve often heard that their reluctance to deal Price has to do with the club having a legitimate shot at another playoff run. The American League East is still susceptible despite the Baltimore Orioles Toronto and especially the Blue Jays playing well of night. A potential Lester deal could drastically affect the Rays’ chances of cashing in on Price this week, and could increase the chance he remains with the club that drafted him.

[pullquote]Byrd, 36, has a .273/.321/.482 triple-slash on the year alongside 20 home runs; good for a 122 wRC+. His batting average on the year is slightly higher against left-handed pitchers though he has hit more home runs against right-handed pitchers.[/pullquote]

On the offensive side of things, Marlon Byrd continues to be a name linked to the Mariners. A few days ago Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill reported that the M’s might have a standing offer to the Philadelphia Phillies for their outfielder and the names of Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, Gabriel Guerrero, and Austin Wilson are believed to be involved in discussions. Again, Seattle is reportedly one of the four teams Byrd can block a trade to and it’s believed he would want his 2016 option for $8 million to be guaranteed in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause. It’s still possible the M’s could get Byrd without the guarantee, but it appears that talks between the two clubs have cooled for the moment as the Phillies debate their next sequence of moves.

Josh Willingham is another outfielder that has been loosely connected to Seattle over the past few weeks, and according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports, the Mariners are indeed discussing the 35-year old with the Minnesota Twins. Willingham appeared on Churchill’s list of potential trade targets for the M’s a few weeks ago, and does make sense for the club. The right-hander owns a 136 wRC+ against left-handed pitching on the year and a 129 wRC+ for his career while still holding his own against righties. He has predominantly played left field over the past several seasons — where he’s been slightly under average according to UZR — but hypothetically would be able to spend some time in right or possibly even at first base depending on how the pieces fit. Willingham will be a free agent this winter and is owed around $3 million for the remainder of the season.

Seattle already hooked up with Minnesota for a trade in the past week when they re-acquired Kendrys Morales in exchange for reliever Stephen Pryor.

The Mariners managed to defeat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 on Tuesday night and are back to being four games above the .500 mark. They still sit two games behind the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot while the Los Angeles Angels still have a firm grasp on the other spot with a 6.5 game lead over the M’s.

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