At 34-42 entering play Tuesday in San Diego the Seattle Mariners are running out of time. Not only are they up against the clock in terms of finding a way to the postseason for the first time in 15 years, but they’re running low on games before they have to make a decision to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. While I don’t believe for one second the club will go into full sell mode — since that means admitting to even the casual fan that the 2015 season is a failure and essentially over with 30 home dates remaining — the Mariners cannot hold onto their pending free agents and get nothing.
Furthermore, the deadline isn’t solely about buying for the current season or selling for the future. Clubs can and have bought for the future, too, and Seattle can at least attempt to do that a little bit.
We’ll have the front office conversation later in the summer but for now, here is who should be shopped in July should the M’s not significantly improve their level of play and climb the standings in the meantime. For the record, I believe they need to go at least 18-10 leading up to deadline day in order to justify buying.
The only untouchable is Felix Hernandez. Not because it would make zero baseball sense to shop him, too, because it would, but he’s the face of the franchise and is the first superstar ever to choose to stay in Seattle when he could have waited and signed for even more money once he hit the open market. Plus, teams do need stellar starting pitching to win, and he’s just 29 years of age.
Robinson Cano cannot be traded without his consent, and thanks to his struggles this season is as immovable as it gets with eight years and $192 million left on his deal.
Everyone else should be discussed. Not trade, necessarily, but discussed. Including Kyle Seager. Seager, however, like Hernandez, is more part of the solution than an asset to acquire said solution. The chance a club offers enough to pry him away from the Mariners is very small.
Austin Jackson, CF
Clubs always need centerfielders and Jackson’s recent surge at the plate — .295/.342/.455 in June — could make him a decent trade chip if he continues well into July. He’s a free agent after the season will be owed about $2.6 million over the final two months of 2015.
If Jackson finishes the season closer to his June production the Mariners would be in a position to tender him a qualifying offer and receive draft-pick compensation when he signs elsewhere. The risk here is that Jackson’s market fades if his bat does in August and September, which creates a scenario where he’s more likely to accept the offer, which will be north $15 million.
Jackson is the one pending free agent the M’s may benefit from keeping beyond July 31. It all will depend on the offers. Receiving a player that can help right away and in 2016 is likely to be more valuable that a compensation pick, at least in the short term, and the M’s don’t need to completely rebuild the entire roster.
J.A. Happ, LHP
Happ is not qualifying-offer worthy and cannot even pitch himself into such a status. He’s a back-end starter who may get multi-year offers next winter but even a two-year pact is unlikely to bring back $15 million or more. In fact, there’s really no chance at all that occurs.
Happ will interest contending teams that need innings covered and don’t have a need for a frontline starter, or cannot afford the trade cost or salary to acquire one. The return won’t be much, but this is the kind of deal where I’d look for a bullpen arm that has one year or less of service time and can help in the later innings right away. The M’s might even be able to take a flyer on a toolsy outfielder looking for a change in scenary. You know, the Drew Stubbs profile. Might be able to get both of the above.
Nelson Cruz, DH/OF
Cruz is due $42 million over the three years succeeding 2015, not including award and all-star bonuses, but is the type of power bat that will undoubtedly draw interest this summer if Seattle will have such conversations.
Of course, the Mariners could win with Cruz, if not in 2015 then next season, and Cruz does have limited no-trade protection (8 clubs) through 2016. It’s idiotic to not have talks about Cruz, though it’s realistic to bet that Cruz’s value to the M’s in 2016 will be greater than his present trade value.
Mark Trumbo, DH/1B/OF
Trumbo will earn about $2.3 million for the final two months of the year and should interest mostly American League clubs that need some pop in their lineup. He is under club control for another year but likely will earn upwards of $9 million via the arbitration process, a number that may not make sense for Seattle — or anyone else for that matter. In vacuum, however, a one-year, $9 million commitment doesn’t seem all that steep, provided Trumbo can produce his career line.
Oddly, I think if the M’s do field calls on Trumbo they should essentially attempt to reverse the deal they gave up to get him. Get a viable No. 2 catcher that can play 3-plus days a week, if necessary, and avoid being a a detriment at the plate and behind it, plus perhaps a bullpen arm with five or more years of control remaining. (you see where I am going with these deals?)
The Mariners could hang onto Trumbo for 2016 and use him at first base, replacing Logan Morrison, who will become a little more expensive next year, and may be set for a prohibitive salary over $4 million. I don’t believe both players fit, and there are scenarios where neither are ideal, of course.
Charlie Furbush, LHR
Furbush has had a terrific season, despite his strikeout rate dipping well below the past two years’. He’s cheap in 2015 — $1.3 million for the entire season — but could double that in 2016. Such a salary isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Vidal Nuno is more than capable of filling Furbush’s role — .190 BAA vs. LHB — and will not be arbitration eligible until after 2016.
Clubs always are looking for bullpen help and Furbush’s performance versus right-handed batters this season make him even more attractive. Furbush isn’t a dump-the-player situation this summer, but perhaps as part of a bigger trade package can help Seattle acquire a player they need for the future, or even right now in a buy-mode scenario.
Seth Smith, OF
Like Trumbo, Smith could fit next season, too, and he’s certainly done his job in 2015. He’s due another $2 million over the final two months of 2015 and is guaranteed $6.75 million next season. The club has a $7 million option on Smith for 2017 or a $250,000 buyout.
The Mariners have a decent asset here, and one that might actually bring back more in a trade in December, rather than July, as teams piece their rosters together. Heck, Seattle can use him in 2016, but at some level the M’s should be hard after everyday players for their entire outfield and first base, and moving Smith could help them do so, either directly or indirectly.
Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
Before the season if we fast-forwarded to a 34-42 record entering play June 30 I’d strongly suggest the M’s get what they can for Iwakuma on the trade market. After he’s spent weeks on the disabled list, however, some might thing my reasoning for preferring to hold onto him are because the return probably won’t be worthwhile — which likely is true. But even if the right-hander comes off the DL next week and is, say, 85-90 percent of what he was a year ago, the injury situation may play into the Mariners’ hands.
Iwakuma, as a result of a down year (so far) and injury, is a potential bargain bring-back for 2016, perhaps on a deal laced with incentives for innings pitched. Such a contract protects the club, but rewards a healthy, effective Iwakuma, who then can either hit the open market for one last short-term deal in the states, or return to Japan.
Fernando Rodney, RHP
Of course the Mariners aren’t getting much in return for Rodney, pretty much no matter how well he may pitch over the next four weeks, and if they do deal him they’ll likely be covering most of his remaining salary — a little more than $2.3 million over the last two months of the season — or be forced to take back a similar contract.
If he does find his groove for a few weeks, he may be worth a cheap flier for a club that needs filler with upside.
Dustin Ackley, OF/2B
Ackley still is intriguing despite an awful 2015 — his worst in the majors — and a mid-arbitration contract status. Clubs, including Seattle, love how many hard-hit balls he produces — 45 of 95 mph or more this season — greatly reduced plate appearance totals notwithstanding.
To compare, Seth Smith has 53 more plate appearances than does Ackley, yet has but eight more balls hit 95 mph or more. Nelson Cruz has nearly twice as many trips to the plate as Ackley but just 21 more balls hit 95 mph or more. We’ll talk another day as to why Ackley hits the ball hard but gets so few hits in relation.
Ackley’s probably going to hit at some level at some point, but it’s not likely to be Seattle and the club should move on as soon as possible. This year’s trade deadline may not be the best time to move Ackley in terms of maximizing the return, but if a club eyeing 2016 comes calling, a deal could get done for a potentially-useful piece.
Mark Lowe, RHP
Lowe has pitched legitimately well in 2015, with strong walk rates, above-average strikeout rates and a plus fastball that has touched 97 mph. He’s dirt cheap and clubs that wish to add a sixth-inning arm with experience will have interest in Lowe.
No, the Mariners cannot trade all of their relievers without things getting ultra ugly the rest of the season, but they can afford to move a few. Considering the likely return and club control status, Lowe is the one most likely to be traded.
Tom Wilhelmsen likely will earn more than he’s worth next year — a raise from his 2015 salary of $1.4 million gets him into the $2.5 million range or so — suggesting the Bartender isn’t an ideal fit in the bullpen any longer. He’s not a high-leverage weapon and that kind of money doesn’t fit a middle or long reliever unless that pitcher can spot start and last five-plus innings. Wilhelmsen could help a club that has a void due to injury and needs a bridge.
Joe Beimel could have similar value.
Willie Bloomquist won’t likely interest a contender at this stage of his career, but Morrison might for a club that has a right-handed hitting first baseman struggling versus right-handed pitching.
Franklin Gutierrez also may interest a club with a need for a part-time outfielder, provided the former Gold Glove defender remains healthy and shows he can hit some over the next month.
If the Mariners double-down on this year’s trade deadline — buy for 2016 even if they aren’t really in the race for ’15 any longer — younger players such as Brad Miller, Chris Taylor, any prospect this side of Alex Jackson, and even Roenis Elias or Mike Montgomery could be part of trade discussions. It’s difficult to see the M’s parting with Taijuan Walker at this stage, and James Paxton’s value is not very high thanks to his time on the disabled list.
As you may have figured out, my scheme if I were the M’s would be to rebuild the bullpen for 2016, shed a little unnecessary salary and fill another hole or two, such as tandem/backup catcher or solid fourth outfielder. Such a deadline sets the team up to make significant changes over the winter with as much payroll and impact trade assets available.
Trading Trumbo or Morrison would allow the club to give Jesus Montero one more shot in the majors, and dealing one or more of the current outfielders could open up some late-season playing time for a prospect such as Patrick Kivlehan.
It’s not a fun trade deadline if the Mariners are selling off pieces, but it’s still important they do so, even if the deals have to be made by a lame-duck GM (something we won’t know at the time), or the interim shot caller. Standing pat is not a viable option and there is no excuse. Either you’re close enough to buy or you’re out of it and selling. There is no middle ground.
So, if the Mariners don’t find the magic potion and start winning games — to the tune of a 19-10 record or so leading up to July 31 — jump on the ‘sell’ bandwagon. It’ll help the club prepare for 2016 and may mean a new baseball guy in the front office. And I think we’re all convinced that’s a move that will need to be made.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.