HOUSTON – For the Seattle Mariners, the second half of the season (or technically, the final 41 percent of the season) will be filled with significant story lines.
• Will there be another wave of youngsters coming up from the minors, the likes of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton or Stefen Romero?
• Is Justin Smoak’s resurgence for real, or another in a long line of false positives?
• Can Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero do something – anything – to revive hope that they still have a chance to achieve the success once expected from them?
• Will Franklin Gutierrez ever stay healthy long enough for the Mariners to extract some value from his undeniable skill set?
• Can Felix Hernandez make a run at a second Cy Young Award?
But before all these matters play out, the team must resolve a more immediate quandary: To trade, or not to trade?
The Mariners, as they resume play today against the Astros in Houston, are in a weird position. On the surface, they line up solidly in the seller’s camp. At 43-52, they would have to go 38-29 (.567) the rest of the way just to reach .500.
And for all you dreamers out there, they would have to play .701 ball (47-20) to get to 90 wins, which would be the starting point to entertain the notion of contention. Last year, it took 93 wins to wrap up a wild-card berth in the American League, and right now 92 is shaping up as the minimum number.
So, in other words, that’s not happening short of a miracle, despite the offensive surge before the All-Star break. But if Jack Zduriencik’s words are to be taken at face value, he will be a reluctant seller, if one at all.
That could be posturing, of course. It wouldn’t help club morale much if guys know they are on the trade block. And it wouldn’t help maximize trade value for opposing teams to know the Mariners planned to clean house.
Yet it’s quite conceivable – indeed, even probable – that the Mariners really don’t want to delve into wholesale trading, with all the possible ramifications.
This decision has a subtext, of course: Is the intrinsic value of gunning for, say, a .500 record more important than the possibility of beefing up the talent level in the organization?
When you have jobs on the line – both Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge are certainly vulnerable if this season careens out of control – it makes it that much more complicated. That’s why the call on whether to trade Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales, Oliver Perez and/or Joe Saunders will be fascinating. And not at all cut and dried, despite what advocates in either camp will tell you.
If a .500 mark is deemed some sort of magical symbol that will determine whether suitable progress in Zduriencik’s rebuilding plan has been made, then you keep them all and go for it. But if the conclusion is that .500 isn’t much different from .450 and the ultimate goal is to maximize the chances of competing down the road, then it’s plausible that any or all of those guys will be traded.