SPOKANE, Wash. - It's time to rebuild for the Seattle Mariners…again.
Just a little more than a year ago, on July 5th, 2011, the Mariners were 2.5 games back in the AL West and it seemed they were one move away from being a real contender. They then reeled off a 17-game losing streak, completely destroying any playoff hopes for last year. The lack of competitiveness has dragged on into this season. As the All-Star Break gets under way, Seattle's record sits at 36-51, good for 16.5 games behind the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers.
General Manager Jack Zduriencik has no choice but to once again focus on rebuilding the already young and inexperienced Mariners squad. For a team that ranks 30th in the MLB in on-base percentage and 29th in batting average and slugging percentage, acquiring hitting should be the main focus. But more importantly, who are the Mariners willing to give up to improve their lineup? And who will be there to replace departed players?
Starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas are two players who may be in different uniforms by the July 31st trade deadline. Three-time All Star Hernandez has been the Mariners most prized possession since 2005 when he made his major league debut. Giving up Hernandez would be a huge statement on Zduriencik's part, saying that it is time to rebuild from the ground up.
A more realistic and fan-friendly option would be trading the underrated Vargas, who is scheduled to become a free agent after next season. Although Vargas leads the team with eight wins this year, the Mariners have a farm system teeming with excellent pitching prospects.
Start with 22-year-old Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft. Hultzen posted a 1.19 ERA and 79 strikeouts at Double-A Jackson before being promoted to Triple-A.
Nineteen-year-old Taijuan Walker, who joined Hultzen in Monday's MLB Futures Game, has 71 strikeouts in 70 innings at the Double-A level.
Add in 17-year-old Everett AquaSox right-hander Victor Sanchez to the mix and the Mariners have three pitchers who could be on the short track to playing in Safeco Field 81 times a year. In five starts, the Venezuelan Sanchez is 3-0 with 25 strikeouts. AquaSox pitching coach Rich Dorman said Sanchez has the potential to be a front-line pitcher in the major leagues. Keep in mind, he is just 17 years old.
The Mariners also have young prospects who have already seen time at the major league level. Pitchers Blake Beavan, Hector Noesi, and Lucas Luetge have all shown signs of being good major league pitchers. Luetge did not give up a run out of the bullpen until June 19th this year and currently holds a 1.61 ERA.
Second baseman Dustin Ackley, infielder Alex Liddi, catcher Jesus Montero, third baseman Kyle Seager, first baseman Justin Smoak, and outfielders Michael Saunders and Casper Wells provide a solid young core of hitters for this Mariners team. These inexperienced hitters will learn to be more consistent with more playing time at the big league level.
The pieces are there for the Seattle Mariners. With the right moves and management of the minor league system, there is a good chance the M's could be contenders in the near future. Unfortunately most Mariners fans are probably thinking, "We've heard that one before."