CLEVELAND — Unlike seasons past, the Mariners were in an unusual position at the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline.
They were buyers.
With a winning record and legitimate hopes at a postseason berth as the second wild card, general manager Jack Zduriencik supplemented his offensively challenged club by adding established major-league outfielders Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia via trade Thursday before the 1 p.m. deadline.
The Mariners’ first move of the day was to acquire Chris Denorfia from the Padres in exchange for minor-league outfielder Abraham Almonte and reliever Stephen Kohlscheen.
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Denorfia is far from a marquee name and his .242 batting average (60 for 248) with one home run and 16 RBI in 89 games with San Diego with the Padres isn’t an eye opener. But he is a quality hitter against left-handers with a career .301 average to go with a .809 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
“We need offense and he’s a good hitter,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Right now, my plan is to play him and play him often. I’m not sure if it’s going to be a strict platoon. I can’t say that. He’s pretty adept against right-handers as well. He’s a professional hitter with a nice track record.”
McClendon hopes he’ll play closer to his career numbers in a new environment.
“These situations usually give you a shot in the arm,” McClendon said. “Hopefully, that’s the case here. I know he’s excited about coming here with a chance to win.”
Denorfia will be a free agent after this season, so his time with the Mariners could be brief.
“I did talk to Jack (Zduriencik) and expressed how excited I was at the opportunity over the next two months,” he told San Diego reporters. “I’m going to try and be myself and try to have some quality at-bats against lefties coming off the bench.”
Almonte started the season as the Mariners’ every-day center fielder, but struggled, hitting .198 in 27 games. He was hitting .267 with 10 doubles, six homers and 31 runs batted in in 72 games with Class AAA Tacoma.
Kohlscheen split time with Tacoma and Class AA Jackson. He appeared in a combined 23 games, all in relief. He was 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA and six saves with Jackson and 2-0 with a 3.28 ERA in 15 appearances with the Rainiers.
About 30 minutes before the deadline, word leaked that Seattle had acquired Detroit’s starting center fielder Austin Jackson as a part of a three-team trade that sent Tampa’s ace pitcher David Price to Detroit. The Tigers sent left-hander Drew Smyly and minor league shortstop Willy Adames to Tampa. The Mariners sent infielder Nick Franklin to Tampa as well.
The addition of Jackson gives the Mariners a veteran every-day center fielder and top of the order presence. McClendon was more than familiar with Jackson, serving as his hitting coach since he was a rookie with the Tigers.
“I think defensively he’s one of the top three center fielders in all of baseball,” McClendon said. “He gets those kinds of jumps and he plays in the biggest center field in all of baseball in Detroit. Offensively, if you look at his numbers, this guy is pretty accomplished. In a couple of years, he’s had close to 200 hits. He’s good at the top of the order. He can steal bases. He’s a veteran hitter now.”
Jackson was batting .273 (102 for 374) with 25 doubles, five triples, four homers and 33 RBI in 100 games.
McClendon said Jackson will likely lead off.
“He’ll be great in that clubhouse, and his teammates will love him,” McClendon said. “I think we are getting him at the optimal time.”
Franklin was caught in the logjam of middle infielders. He finished last season as the M’s starting second baseman, but the acquisition of Robinson Cano left him without a position. He lost the competition to start at shortstop to Brad Miller this spring. In two separate callups this season, he hit .128 (6 for 47) with a triple and two RBI. He was hitting .297 with 16 doubles, nine homers and 47 RBI in 75 games with Tacoma.
“Obviously, we get more right-handed, which is something we’ve been hoping for a while,” McClendon said. “Not only we get right-handers, we get experienced right-handed hitters.”
The Mariners also did not have to give up top pitching prospects Taijuan Walker or James Paxton or prized hitting prospect D.J. Peterson, which Zduriencik refused to do.
“They’re not there yet,” Zduriencik said. “But to give up to give up pieces that are long term, that are going to be part of this thing going forward, it just didn’t make sense. I just wasn’t willing to do it.”