July 20, 1997 in Sports

Trade With Tigers Signals Mariners’ Hunger For A.L. West Pennant

Laura Vecsey Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Come on, now.

What were you expecting?

Rocket-launching Roger Clemens straight up for Tacoma shuttler Edwin Hurtado?

Phillies’ flame-thrower Curt Schilling for Yakima’s Bob Wells?

Rangers’ closer John Wetteland for Buhner-buzzed Norm Charlton?

In the baseball dream world of creating an insta-pennant winner, the imagination certainly runs amok. But Friday, Woody Woodward waved some smelling salts under our nostrils.

The Mariners’ vice president of baseball operations could have pulled off a blockbuster trade. Instead, he chose something off the racks that was cut a little more conservatively.

The Mariners traded pitcher Scott Sanders and two minor-leaguers to Detroit for Omar Olivares and Felipe Lira.

In other words, the Mariners started their pennant shopping at Target when we were all hoping they might spree at Saks.

Woodward acknowledged that while a front-line National League pitcher was offered to the M’s in exchange for Jose Cruz Jr., there was a resolute decision not to go too heartily for the postseason gusto.

Not yet, anyway.

Make no mistake: The Mariners’ front office wants a postseason berth as bad as the crazies in the Bunher bone yard. This team was built to win, even if ever since spring training the 1997 Mariners have been considered a work in progress.

The final bricks of a real pitching staff were promised long ago. And while the time has come, there is protocol to follow, which is smart, even if the idea of getting a veteran hurler like Schilling in exchange for the attractive rookie Cruz was summarily nixed by Woodward and manager Lou Piniella.

Starting before the All-Star break, while the Rangers plummeted and the Mariners cooled off from a red-hot June, the Angels have shown their fire and closed the gap in the West. Instead of panicking, though, the M’s have demonstrated their obligation to weigh the future against the present, even when the present offers an incredible World Series opportunity so long as a reliable pitching staff can be implemented.

Let’s accept that the Mariners started small and sensible with their second-half plunge into the wheeler-dealer players-for-hire market.

The M’s have commenced shopping, and that’s a good sign.

“We like this team,” Piniella said. “We added two pitchers without adding any payroll to our roster.”

The deal also gives the M’s as many live arms as an octopus.

“Olivares and Lira are two good starting pitchers and that means they have eight potential starters now,” said Sanders, the former San Diego Padre who never quite got on track in Seattle.

If the Mariners appear to be adopting a safety-in-numbers mentality toward their bullpen, that is not the case.

Rest assured, all ye faithful citizens of Marinerville: The second-half run at the A.L. West pennant has commenced in earnest now that Woodward has made a move.

It was a good start. But the best is yet to come. Let’s hope.

“I’m sure that there will be something else. I’m sure this won’t be the last move they make,” Sanders said.

The promise of bigger and better things to come should not take anything away from what Olivares might bring.

The 30-year-old right-hander is a good guy with a live arm and the chance to provide the Mariners seven or eight innings every fifth day. He’ll pick up a spot after Randy Johnson, Jeff Fassero and Jamie Moyer and make it easier for Piniella to use discretion with Bob Wolcott and rookie starter Derek Lowe.

A new round of second-half tinkering has begun. That should mean better things to come. Usually, based on precedent, the M’s make the right moves when it counts.

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