The Mariners enter Monday with a 1.5-game lead in the race for the second American League Wild Card spot, but are still a flawed team. Seattle’s offense is near the bottom of the AL by just about any metric and will need to add at least one bat to hold off a number of contending teams.
A right-handed corner outfielder would fill the Mariners’ biggest need, and they have been rumored to be in talks with the Philadelphia Phillies about Marlon Byrd, per Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times.
Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com also reports that the Mariners are talking with the Tampa Bay Rays about Ben Zobrist and David Price.
While those rumors will continue to swirl for the next two weeks, the Mariners promise to offer some surprises at the deadline as well.
The Mariners turn to unexpected sources for outfield help
Even if the Mariners get someone like Byrd (although Jim Bowden of ESPN Insider (subscription required) reports his $8 million vesting option for 2016 might be an issue), they won’t be able to address every hole with trades for major league talent. Michael Saunders’ oblique injury leaves the Mariners needing upgrades in both corner outfield spots, plus a DH if Corey Hart can’t get going soon.
As a result, the Mariners may need to consider other options, particularly for outfield depth that could help this year or beyond.
Seattle has been looking at Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, per Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Castillo will hold a workout on July 26 and is expected to sign shortly after that, according to MLB.com, meaning he could potentially play later this season or at least be an option for next year.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler provided a scouting report for the 27-year-old.
Castillo is short but has a strong, athletic frame at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds. His best tool is his speed, as he’s an above-average runner and one of the better base stealers in Cuba. More of a doubles hitter than a big home run threat, Castillo puts a charge into the ball with a line-drive righthanded swing.
He fits in as the versatile right-handed outfielder the Mariners need. Of course, it’s hard to tell how well Castillo will translate to the major leagues or when he might be ready.
Even a fourth outfielder-type could help the Mariners down the stretch. If Castillo does end up being an impact player, Seattle will regret not picking up a late addition that doesn’t cost anything in terms of prospects.
In addition, Steven Souza of the Washington Nationals organization is a minor league player to keep an eye on. Souza is blocked at the major league level by Washington’s outfield logjam and could net the Nationals a pretty decent return as a sell-high candidate.
Souza has hit .362/.439/.606 at Triple-A Syracuse this season. He’s powerful at 6’5’’ 225 pounds, but he also has stolen 21 bases and offers athleticism in the outfield.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reports that Washington is looking for a young shortstop at the trade deadline to take over should Ian Desmond leave in free agency after the 2015 season, which the Mariners could provide.
The Mariners need a proven major league bat at the deadline, but they also might be tempted to look to other options for depth in a thin market.
Nick Franklin is the shortstop who is traded
With young depth at the position, the Mariners seem likely to trade a shortstop. Jack Zduriencik must now decide which one.
Horrendous first two months of the 2014 season aside, Brad Miller still looks like the preferred long-term option at the position. That leaves Nick Franklin and Chris Taylor as major league-ready shortstops in the organization, plus Ketel Marte is waiting in Double-A.
Of those options, Franklin is the one most likely to be traded. Franklin is blocked at both shortstop and second base, leaving his only potential role in Seattle as a utility man, for which he hasn’t demonstrated a good enough glove.
Still, Franklin has trade value due to his consistently strong minor league numbers and brief period of success in the majors last year. Some organization seeking a middle infielder may be willing to give Franklin a try in an attempt to get his bat to stick permanently at the major league level.
Taylor doesn’t have as much upside as Franklin, but he's still an intriguing prospect. The Mariners won’t know how his bat looks until he gets a shot in the majors, but Taylor plays superior defense to Miller or Franklin and has plus baserunning ability.
Even if he isn’t the everyday shortstop, the Mariners can find a role for a player with those abilities.
Marte, who also has plus speed and defense, is just 20 years old, so he won’t be netting much on his own. If Marte were to be dealt, it would likely be as part of a package for a bigger name.
D.J. Peterson is Seattle’s only untouchable prospect, ending any thoughts of a blockbuster
Although Taijuan Walker is the top prospect in Seattle, according to MLB.com, Peterson is the only one who will absolutely not be dealt. Zduriencik has said he has no intention of trading the 22-year-old third baseman at the deadline.
As a result, the Mariners are unlikely to land a blockbuster trade such as the aforementioned Price-Zobrist megadeal. That’s not to say they couldn’t land one or the other, but it’s difficult to envision completing a trade with that kind of impact unless Peterson is involved.
Even Walker, who would certainty land a big name if dealt, is more expendable due to the pitching depth in Seattle’s farm system.
No other prospect has Walker’s ace upside, and many won’t pan out, but the Mariners wouldn’t be too damaged over the next two or three years if they traded Walker for a player who could help them win now. Walker is just 21 and not as ready to contribute at the major league level as someone like James Paxton, who is a full four years older.
The Mariners can’t afford that luxury with offensive prospects, particularly ones with Peterson’s power, due to the difficulty of attracting home run hitters in free agency. For that reason, Peterson will be staying put at the deadline.
Dustin Ackley’s time in Seattle comes to an end
If an outfielder is brought in, Ackley is likely the player to be replaced. Nearing 1,800 career plate appearances, Ackley has a career .243/.310/.352 line.
It’s about time for the Mariners to move on, but Ackley still has some value as a one-time top prospect. Ackley has even shown flashes in the major leagues, posting a 117 wRC+ and 2.9 WAR in 90 games in his rookie 2011 season.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Ackley is drawing some interest from other teams.
This could be the perfect time for the Mariners to try to get something for Ackley in a change-of-scenery deal.