First, the good news. The Mariners became demonstrably – though just incrementally — better Thursday, without violating the cardinal rule of the trade deadline: Do no harm. At least, none that will haunt you in the future at a rate hugely disproportionate to the value of the addition.
Now, about those additions. The lukewarm news is that the Mariners didn’t do nearly enough to solve their dire offensive problems. They barely dented them. But that was never a realistic proposition in a market dominated by impact arms, with a dearth of such bats.
On a whirlwind deadline day that featured a steady stream of significant trades, the Mariners weren’t one of the teams making the huge splash.
But they played the role of middle-man in a whopper of a trade, sending Nick Franklin to the Rays as part of a three-way deal that resulted in Tampa Bay’s ace, David Price — a rumored Mariners target — landing with the Tigers.
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The Mariners walked away with center fielder Austin Jackson, who will slide right into the center-field job and provide an unquestionable upgrade over James Jones.
While promising early, Jones was mired in a major slump. Jackson, just 27, has a career .277 batting average/.345 on-base percentage/.413 slugging percentage line. And even though those numbers are down slightly this season, he still has a .330 on-base percentage. That immediately moves him into third place on the Mariners behind Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager (excluding Chris Taylor’s minimal plate appearances).
Seattle gets Jackson for this year and next, when he will be arbitration eligible after making $6 million in 2014. Jackson will be eligible to become a free agent after the 2015 season. Contrast that with Franklin, a former first-round pick who will have six years of club control by the Rays. But Franklin was blocked by Cano at second base. The Mariners had clearly made the decision that Franklin was their third-best option, at least, at shortstop behind Brad Miller and Taylor.
So that made Franklin very expendable. Yes, he could haunt them — he should have a high comfort level going home to the Tampa area, and the Rays have a way of identifying the right young players — but this is a pretty good return by Seattle for that risk.
I wonder how close the Mariners came to getting Price themselves, considering what the Rays wound up getting — Franklin, Drew Smyly and minor-league infielder Willie Adames. I’ve got to think that if the Mariners had packaged Taijuan Walker with Franklin and maybe another mid-level piece, they could have gotten a deal done for Price.
One thing you have to say about Jack Zduriencik — despite the likelihood his job is dependent on the Mariners’ finish, he didn’t make a reckless trade to increase his short-term chances. Not that the aforementioned package would have been reckless, but Zduriencik no doubt had chances to deal D.J. Peterson and other young bats, and didn’t do it. Zduriencik warrants criticism for the gaping holes that still exist in the lineup, but if he does go down, it appears, he’s going to go down with his guys and his plan.
The Mariners came out of the trade deadline with their top prospects, minus Franklin, still in hand — Walker, James Paxton, Peterson, Brandon Maurer, Patrick Kivlehan, et al. That leaves the possibility of a significant trade after the season, when more bats presumably will be on the market.
But for the present, the Mariners only moved the needle modestly on the worst offense in the league. In addition to Jackson — reunited with his Detroit hitting coach, Lloyd McClendon — they got another right-handed bat, Chris Denorfia, from San Diego.
That cost Abraham Almonte, their opening day center fielder and leadoff man until his struggles landed him back at Tacoma, and minor-league pitcher Stephen Kohlscheen. Denorfia is a good, useful player having a poor year, but historically he’s hit left-handed pitching. That’s a big need for the Mariners. The Mariners can now run out two right-handed hitters in the outfield, as opposed to having to go with Dustin Ackley, Jones and Endy Chavez, all lefties, as they have done at times.
It seems inevitable that Corey Hart’s time with the team is nearing an end. He’s had a notable career, but with the earlier acquisition of Kendrys Morales, there is no longer a viable role for Hart in Seattle. The decline of his skills, no doubt related to major health issues, has been sad to watch.
All in all, the Mariners are a better team today than they were yesterday. Whether they’re good enough to overcome their deficit in the wild-card standings is an entirely different question.