The Mariners have managed to stay afloat in recent days, winning back-to-back series’ against the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Still, the team remains two games under .500 and an increasingly distant 6.5 games back of first place Texas in the American League Western Division. Even if they can remain relevant for the coming weeks, the organization remains committed to building towards the future.
Which players should stay, and which should go as the M’s rebuild? We have the answers.
Rob Johnson, C. Johnson may sooner or later get beaten out for a starting job by talented prospect Adam Moore. But that doesn’t mean he’s not worthy of keeping around. Johnson has proven himself as a valuable defensive backstop who has a good rapport with his pitchers and knows how to call a game. Those are valuable assets in a catcher, whether he’s a starter or a backup, making Johnson an indispensable commodity for the M’s of the future.
Russell Branyan, 1B. A veteran who the M’s acquired on the cheap, Branyan has exceeded all expectations by leading the team in virtually every power-hitting category. He’s only on a one-year deal, and will be a free agent by season’s end, but the Mariners need to do what they can to keep the left-handed slugger in Seattle for a few more years. Not as the first baseman, necessarily, but more likely as the designated hitter. Not a bad gig for a journeyman who has played for eight teams already.
Jose Lopez, 2B. Lopez is an enigma who has been among the Mariners’ streakiest players in recent years. From a walk-off hit one night, to an 0-4 performance the next. From a diving stop in shallow right field, to booting a routine ground ball off the heel of his glove. Lopez may not be the league’s best defensive second baseman, but he has to be considered among the better hitters at his position. And on a team struggling for offensive production, that makes him all the more valuable for the future.
Wladimir Balentien, LF. If Balentien doesn’t become the everyday left fielder by the end of July, then either the Mariners are still in the pennant race or Balentien is injured. There’s no reason to think that this guy isn’t a starter in the big leagues. He has always been able to hit for power, and has recently begun to show an ability to hit for average, as well. Add to that a strong outfield arm that makes him a formidable defensive presence at a position usually saved for defensive liabilities, and you have the makings of an above-average left fielder.
Ichiro Suzuki, RF. Ichiro is one of those guys that will always have more value to the team that has him, than the other 29 teams in the league. What the Mariners would seek in return for the face of their franchise would likely be much more than any potential trading partner would be willing to part with. Which means Ichiro is here for the long haul and, like it or not, that’s just how it’s going to be.
Jason Vargas, P. Vargas has zero trade value at this point, and the Mariners shouldn’t even begin to entertain thoughts of getting rid of him, anyways. The left-hander has been an absolute Godsend for a pitching-starved ballclub, and has earned every right to retain a spot in the starting rotation for the remainder of the year. Even he just pitches at an average level from here on out, Vargas will warrant a starting bid again next year, as well.
Kenji Johjima, C. More than anything else, this is wishful thinking. Is Johjima going away anytime soon? Probably not. You can thank Bill Bavasi (or perhaps more appropriately, the M’s Japanese ownership) for signing Johjima through 2011, meaning the M’s would likely have to release their catcher of the present in order to clear a path for the talented young catchers in the organization. The only reason the team keeps trotting Joh out there (at least when he’s healthy) is to try and maximize on their investment so they can flip him to a team in desperate need of a veteran catcher. Maybe one of the Japanese clubs will want to purchase his contract from us.
Yuniesky Betancourt, SS. He’s become more patient at the plate in recent games, but that hasn’t changed everyone’s impression about who Yuni really is. He might be able to make it through the rest of the season, but with trade rumors already surfacing his name on more than one occasion this year, fans will probably see a new M’s shortstop in 2010.
Adrian Beltre, 3B. The only reason Beltre’s name hasn’t cropped up in trade rumors just yet is because he’s had a horrible start to the season. That appears to be changing, however, and if Beltre can produce at his typical level, he’ll be gone by the trading deadline in July. No ifs, ands, or buts, he’s gone. The M’s have a Triple-A replacement in Matt Tuiasosopo, and stopgap options in Jose Lopez (because his defense at second base is that bad) and Russell Branyan (because he can play third, and the M’s have a glut of first baseman in Tacoma).
Ken Griffey, Jr., DH. Everyone knew coming into the season that Griffey was a one-year option. He won’t be back next season by any stretch of the imagination, and barring a miracle turnaround, he will likely retire after the ’09 campaign. Don’t even think about seeing him leave before the end of the season, however. The Mariners would be foolish to release or even trade Griffey, meaning that this swan song will continue throughout the rest of the year.
Mike Sweeney, DH. The other half of the DH platoon, Sweeney has teamed up with Griffey to inject life into a clubhouse that was in absolute shambles a year ago. Give him credit for that, and for providing a decent average at the plate. Unfortunately, Sweeney hasn’t been able to stay healthy when he’s been in the lineup, and that, along with his age, will keep him from making the club in 2010. If we could get this guy to coach, though…
Erik Bedard, P. He’s been pitching lights out, and has actually been talking with the media, too. He dedicated his last victory to the fans (WTF?!), and looks like the ace-caliber pitcher the M’s dealt for last offseason. All that means is his trade value is rising and the Mariners won’t hesitate to move him before the deadline.
Jarrod Washburn, P. When Washburn found out he might be traded in 2008, he all of a sudden started pitching at an All-Star level. Fast forward to 2009 and that above-average performance has continued. Before he regresses to typical Washburn form, the M’s need to get all they can for him and trade him to a team in need of an aging lefty a pitcher that can help lead a postseason run.
Brandon Morrow, P. He’s young, has a blazing fastball, and seemingly no role on this Mariners team. Considering he was a top-five selection in the ’06 draft, he actually has considerable trade value if you could package him in the right move. Of course, most teams would question his health and track record, but who knows what you could get for the guy? Might be worth a shot.
Jeff Clement, C/1B/DH. What’s his role, anyways? He hasn’t been able to catch this year because of a bum knee, but even if he was healthy he might not be catching. So is he a DH? A first baseman? Does he even have a future with this club? Regardless of what position he plays, he belongs in the majors and if the Mariners can’t use him in any capacity, they need to trade him to a team that can, and can offer decent return value in exchange.
Mike Carp, 1B. He’s currently hitting at a .301 clip, with nine home runs, and 26 RBI for the Rainiers. He appears to be the first baseman of the future, so when do we call him up? He can provide pop and average from the left-hand side and has an imminent future in the big leagues.
Bryan LaHair, 1B. The M’s other first base prospect, LaHair is batting .266, with 10 home runs, and 26 RBI in Tacoma. Like Carp, he appears to have a big league future, but with what big league club? Likely not the Mariners, unless he can learn a corner outfield position, which means the M’s need to find a team to move him to.
Chris Shelton, 3B/1B. A former big leaguer who is still young enough (29, on June 26th) to contribute at the major league level, Shelton currently leads the Rainiers in RBI with 44, and is batting .324 with seven home runs, as well. Shelton has been knocking on the door for the past few seasons with other organizations and appears poised for another shot at the big show. The M’s should give him that shot, if for no other reason than to trade him at some point later on.
Adam Moore, C. Moore is supposedly the catcher of the future, but then again so were Clement and Johnson. With a logjam at his position, Moore appears to have a tough road to the big leagues. If Clement makes the move to first base, and the Mariners can rid themselves of Kenji Johjima and his ridiculous contract, the stage will be set for a Moore-Johnson showdown that should prove once and for all who the real “catcher of the future” really is.