7/27/2014 10:00 P.M. ET
Zduriencik, Mariners on hunt as Deadline approaches
In new position as buyer, Seattle interested in right-handed outfielders
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- With Major League Baseball's non-waiver Trade Deadline looming on Thursday at 1 p.m. PT, the Mariners stand out as one of several teams with an obvious need and a potential for deals to be made.
Even after acquiring designated hitter Kendrys Morales from the Twins on Thursday in exchange for Minor League reliever Stephen Pryor, Seattle still could use offensive help -- most notably a right-handed-hitting outfielder -- as it fights for position in the wide-open race for the American League's second Wild Card spot.
While the A's and Angels are clear favorites to claim the AL West title and first AL Wild Card spot, the Mariners remain in position to compete for the final postseason berth with a pitching staff that ranks alongside Oakland's as the best in the league.
Seattle is still in the market for moves, and general manager Jack Zduriencik and his top group of advisers will gather in Cleveland this week -- where the Mariners are facing the Indians in a three-game series -- so they can set up shop at the team's hotel in order to work the phones and be ready for whatever options arise prior to the Trade Deadline.
"We're still in the Wild Card race here, and they've said all along that if we get a chance where we think we're in it, we're going to give you the resources," Zduriencik said after acquiring Morales. "I don't know what else will happen. I have had discussions with other clubs about a lot of other things. Who knows what is around the corner?"
Seattle's challenge all along has been finding the bats to back up a rotation topped by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and a bullpen that has posted the lowest ERA in the AL.
The addition of the switch-hitting Morales should help, if he can continue building on the six-week warmup he received with the Twins after sitting out the season's first two months as a free agent. But the Mariners have ranked near the bottom of the AL in batting average, on-base and slugging percentage all season, so the situation appears to be more than a one-man fix.
Seattle's lack of offensive punch has neutralized some of the outstanding pitching, with Hernandez receiving three no-decisions in his past four starts despite allowing just three earned runs in that trio of games.
The big free-agent signing of Robinson Cano last winter has paid dividends, as the six-time All-Star has posted one of the AL's top batting averages and provided a potent force in the middle of the lineup. But Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, two other offseason additions, have struggled at the plate and with injuries over the first four months.
Zduriencik has been searching for right-handed-hitting help since last winter. The club opened the year with five left-handed position starters, two switch-hitters and two right-handed regulars. But with the two switch-hitters -- first baseman Justin Smoak and center fielder Abraham Almonte -- sent to Triple-A Tacoma after slumping at the plate, the lineup has since replaced them with two more left-handed starters in Morrison at first base and James Jones in center.
That gives manager Lloyd McClendon one of the most left-handed everyday lineups imaginable, with an all-southpaw outfield and infield. Only right-handed-hitting catcher Mike Zunino and now the switch-hitting Morales at DH are consistent starters, though Hart, recently promoted shortstop Chris Taylor and backup outfielder Stefen Romero are available as well.
Despite that imbalance, the Mariners are 22-14 against left-handed starters this year, one of the top records in baseball. And as a team, Seattle has a higher batting average against southpaws than vs. righties. But the team's OPS of .648 against left-handers is lower even than its .681 against right-handers, with both ranking 29th among the Major League's 30 teams.
Bottom line, the Mariners need hitting help wherever they can find it, and the most obvious place to upgrade is the outfield, where Dustin Ackley, Jones and Endy Chavez have played the majority of time. Michael Saunders should help when he comes off the 15-day disabled list once his injured oblique muscle heals in mid-August. Saunders is another lefty who hits southpaws well, but if Seattle has a chance to add a right-hander with some pop, Zduriencik surely will be tempted.
The Mariners have been mentioned in rumors regarding right-handed-hitting outfielders Marlon Byrd (Phillies), Dayan Viciedo (White Sox), Drew Stubbs (Rockies), Alex Rios (Rangers), Starling Marte (Pirates) and even Matt Kemp (Dodgers), as well as versatile utility man Ben Zobrist (Rays).
There also has been considerable conjecture of Seattle as a bidder for Tampa Bay ace David Price, who will be a free agent after the 2015 season. Indeed, a rotation with Hernandez, Iwakuma and Price would be formidable, but there are questions now whether the Rays are even interested in moving Price, as the club has pulled back into the playoff conversation with a recent hot streak.
Additionally, Price's cost would be extremely high and the Mariners need offense more than pitching. With promising youngsters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker both close to returning and a couple quality prospects in Edwin Diaz and Victor Sanchez, Seattle has depth of arms. The team could trade some of that young pitching to obtain hitting, or attempt to lure a star like Price.
But Zduriencik won't want to completely sell out the future for a short-term fix, thus the waiting game to see if demands come down as the Deadline nears and selling teams get more realistic about what they'll require in return for veteran players with contract issues or limited futures.
Zduriencik acknowledges he's talked to the Rays about Price. Then again, he's talked with many clubs about a variety of players. It's part of the process all general managers go through. The Mariners and Twins talked for weeks about various options to set the stage for the Morales deal, which Minnesota GM Terry Ryan agreed on once it became clear his club had fallen out of the postseason hunt.
"We've had discussions with a lot of ballclubs about a lot of players," Zduriencik said. "Until a deal is done, no matter who the player is, they're just discussions. We've talked about [Price]. We've talked about a lot of players."
Whether talk turns to more trades by Thursday's Deadline remains to be seen. But without question, for one of the few times in the past decade, the Mariners are in position to be buyers instead of sellers as July comes to a close.