Thanks to unexpected winning, Jarrod Washburn and his Mariners have turned this season's rebuilding project into a summer game show.
SEATTLE — Thanks to unexpected winning, Jarrod Washburn and his Mariners have turned this season's rebuilding project into a summer game show.
Deal or no deal?
Last August, Washburn heard he could be traded to the Minnesota Twins. The veteran left-hander was excited at the potential of playing a couple hours from his hometown in rural Wisconsin. But top team executives scrapped the plan, and a disappointed Washburn stayed.
Last month, it appeared rebuilding Seattle would trade the expiring contracts of Washburn and fellow veteran pitcher Erik Bedard, plus perhaps Gold Glove third baseman Adrian Beltre, because the latter is in the final season of a contract that is paying him $13.4 million this year.
Now, Bedard is coming off injury and has yet to prove he's worthy of a good deal. Washburn is pitching as well as anyone in the league. Beltre had shoulder surgery and is out at least into August. And the surprising Mariners have surged into contention.
Now acquiring veterans before the July 31 deadline for trading without waivers seems just as likely as losing them. The offense could use another bat or three — it spent most of the first half of the season as the lowest-scoring unit in the majors.
What does Washburn, who is 6-6 with a 2.96 ERA while finishing a contract that is paying him $9.85 million this season, expect to happen?
"Hopefully, we keep winning and I'm here," he said before the All-Star break that ends Thursday when Seattle plays at Cleveland. "If I end up getting moved it'll probably mean we haven't played good ball these two next weeks and something negative is happening here."
The Mariners know negative. They haven't been to the postseason since 2001. Last year, they fired general manager Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren while losing 101 games.
First-time GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu arrived for a start-over season. They brought in a new coaching staff, new first baseman, new designated hitter, new closer, new shortstop, new left fielder, new center fielder and a new approach — stockpile young prospects in the minor leagues instead of signing overpriced free agents.
A quick start slogged into a middling May and June. Then came a surge of 16 wins in 25 games, including five wins on a treacherous nine-game trip through the powerful Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
These revitalized Mariners are 46-42, four games behind the Angels in the AL West. That's 11 more wins and 14 games better in the standings than they were at this time last year.
It puts Zduriencik in a quandary: buy in the trade market to win now, or sell veterans to restock the farm?
"It's a tough situation," said Wakamatsu, who was in St. Louis Monday and Tuesday serving as a coach for the AL at the All-Star game. "I told Jack at the start of the year, 'My job is to put pressure on you.' I think we've done that."
Zduriencik would give you his checking account information and Social Security number before he'd reveal potential moves. All he will say is the overarching goal is still to add prospects to the depleted minor league system.
Dealing Washburn or Bedard would likely bring plenty of those.
Like Washburn, the 30-year-old Bedard is left-handed, a valued commodity in a pennant race. But he was out from June 8 until last week because of inflammation in his pitching shoulder, then struggled to get through 5 2-3 innings against Texas on Sunday.
Bedard is finishing the $7.75 million contract he signed for this year to avoid arbitration. He has said he wouldn't mind staying and that he isn't thinking about the trade deadline. Last month he claimed he didn't even know when it was.
Wakamatsu has a simple answer to what to do with the man for whom Seattle traded five players to Baltimore last year and now has a 5-2 record with a sterling 2.63 ERA in 13 starts.
"I'd keep him," the rookie manager said.
Yet he knows it's complicated. Do the Mariners keep him in an attempt to make the playoffs this fall, then lose him to free agency with the possibility of gaining compensatory draft picks? Can the Mariners count on the brittle Bedard to pitch into the seventh or eighth inning? Will he even qualify statistically as a top-grade, Type-A free agent worthy of those extra draft picks, given his many injuries the last two seasons?
Some answers will come during the next two weeks.
"We talked about creating an environment here," Wakamatsu said. "You heard Washburn say, you heard Bedard say, 'I want to come back.' That's a good feeling for me, when guys want to continue. Not only them, but when it gets around the league, it's healthy for the Seattle Mariners."
Much healthier than it was here 12 months ago.