Can the Mariners Continue to Contend?

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This is a question that Mariners fans have been asking themselves and eachother all season. So far, there really hasn’t been a clearcut answer, but it’s starting to look more and more like a yes.

As of now, the Seattle Mariners are sitting at 35-34, 2.5 games behind Texas and 2 behind LA. On top of that, this upcoming series with San Diego presents an opportunity to gain even more ground, as our division rivals are facing much more challenging opponents.

Pitching and defense have been the two things that have kept us in this race, something we’ve manged to do with virtually no offense. Thinking about that raises one question – what could this team do if they added a bat?

It’s an intriguing question, to say the least. The fact is, we’re holding our opponents to three runs or fewer nearly every game – in fact, we’re 13-3 when we’ve scored more than five runs.

This shows that if the front office could find a way to add one decent, left handed bat to the lineup, it could give the Mariners a serious chance of competing in this weak division. The way our pitching has been, if we were able to score four or five runs in most games, we would be winning all the time.

The one issue a lot of people have with the M’s trying to add a bat before the deadline, is that they don’t want the front office to hurt the future of the organization in order to make an attempt at competing this season. I think that could be easily avoided.

The fact is, the M’s have several pieces that they could afford to give up, without hurting our chances this year or in the near future. The first ones that come to mind are Jeff Clement, Wladimir Balentien, and Jarrod Washburn.

Jeff Clement just doesn’t fit into this team anymore. If he were a good defensive catcher with solid knees he might, but unfortunately it’s beginning to look like all he can do is play first base and DH. We already have Mike Carp, Chris Shelton, Russell Branyan, and Bryan Lahair. We really don’t need anymore first basemen or designated hitters. There are teams out there that do, though, and a player like Jeff Clement with a nice power upside could be attractive to them.

Wladimir Balentien is another guy that we don’t really need. With Michael Saunders sitting in triple A, nearly ready to break into the big leagues, we could do without Wlad. Saunders would fit nicely into this mainly right handed lineup, and also be fine on the defensive end of things.

Same thing goes for Jarrod Washburn. With Jakubauskas and Olson in the bullpen, and Ryan Rowland-Smith nearly ready to get back into the rotation, we could do without Washburn.

Yes, Wash has been good this year, but we’re not going to resign him and it would certainly be worth trading him for a much needed bat. This is, of course, dependant on whether or not Erik Bedard is able to return to the rotation in the very near future.

If we were to trade Washburn for a switch or lefty hitting middle infielder, it would probably take away the need to deal either of the other two guys.

So, what caliber of a hitter do we need? Not all that much. As of right now, Jose Lopez is doing a decent job, so what we should probably set our sights on is a left fielder, or a shortstop. A couple players that come to mind are outfielder Ryan Langerhans, who is currently in the Washington Nationals farm system, and second baseman Kelly Johnson, with the Braves.

Langerhans is probably the best option. With Endy Chavez out for the season, and Wlad being an unreliable right handed hitter, he would fit the team pretty well. It probably wouldn’t take all that much to get him from the Nats, either.

It would be nice if we could just use Michael Saunders, but it’s probably not a good idea to rush him into the big leagues if he’s not ready.

Two other big names that have come up a lot in trade talks this season are Erik Bedard and Adrian Beltre. If the Mariners are still in the race coming up on the deadline, I don’t see either of them getting traded. Beltre won’t resign, but we’re probably going to need him to stay in the playoff run.

As for Bedard, it’s really hazy as to whether or not we have a chance at resigning him – or if we even want to, but he’s going to be essential towards staying in this race, and we can probably get away with holding onto him for the remainder of this season. Even if he walks before 2009, we’ll get a compensation pick out of it in the 2010 draft.

Currently, PECOTA playoff odds give us a 17.5% chance of making the playoffs. The ensuing road trip, in which we play the Yankees, the Dodgers, and the Red Sox, is likely to change that significantly, one way or another.

If we’re able to play near .500 ball in that road trip, it should go a long way towards making things easier for Jack Zdurenciek.

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