Smart trades to make the difference

Slogging through the baseball blogs as the July 31 major league trading deadline approached, one perceived a theme about how Seattle Mariners management had somehow taken the team out of contention for a pennant this year.

Then there was a counter perception. If you looked at the American League West standings as August dawned, you realized that the M’s have played 4-6 ball the past 10 games while their apparent pennant competitors, the Angels and Rangers, have each played 8-2. It leaves Seattle (53-50) nine games back from Los Angeles and six behind Texas, which has beaten the M’s in two straight games and could emerge from the current series with a four-game sweep.

Through all this, M’s General Manager Jack Zduriencik hasn’t caught, thrown or hit a baseball during a game. What he has done is watch patiently as the days waned before the trading deadline, dealing late in the cycle for players who may well be part of the team’s nucleus during the better years soon to come. Already, Seattle’s new shortstop, former Pittsburgh Pirate Jack Wilson, is showing the most quality play at the position since Alex Rodriguez and Omar Visquel wore M’s uniforms. The veteran obtained by trade with Pittsburgh mid-week threw from his knees deep in the hole in Texas on Friday and would have nailed the baserunner had Russell Branyan not muffed the throw at first base.

Yes, Jackie-Z parted with resurrected lefty Jarrod Washburn, whose four-year M’s contract was due to expire in two months anyway. But the G.M. also brought in a pair of promising southpaws (Luke French and Mauricio Robles from Detroit for Washburn) and a righty, Ian Snell, from the Pirates. French and Snell are already scheduled as starters for Seattle, Snell having excelled at triple-A Indianapolis and French having pitched well against the M’s last month.

So it’s not quite true that management has given up on the season, much less the team. If anything, the players themselves succumbed, getting swept at home by Cleveland the last weekend of July. It’s possible that they could put together a pennant run during the remaining two months of the campaign, but only barely possible. It happened during the team’s miracle season of 1995, but doesn’t seem likely now.

Instead, fans will have to be satisfied with the idea that Zduriencik and his scouts know quality acquisitions and good deals when they see them. As to the latter, not only did Pittsburgh relieve the M’s of dealing with light-hitting shortstop Ronny Cedeno and ineffective minor league catcher Jeff Clement. The Pirates even agreed to pay much of what is owed to Wilson and Snell this season.

Call it the baseball equivalent of the “cash for clunkers” car program, but with one significant difference: Wilson and Snell aren’t clunkers. Even the bloggers seem to concede that point.

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