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Mariners

Churchill: Latest Buzz On M’s

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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Tampa Bay Rays infielder Ben Zobrist is among many targets for the Seattle Mariners this month. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Tampa Bay Rays infielder Ben Zobrist is among many targets for the Seattle Mariners this month. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan Jason A. Churchill
Jason joined 1090 The Fan after 4 1/2 years at ESPN Insider, covering...
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As the Seattle Mariners head home having dropped two of three to the Los Angeles Angels, the club still is looking to upgrade the everyday lineup and perhaps the starting rotation.

The latest has the Mariners working on acquiring Tampa Bay Rays infielder Ben Zobrist and possibly left-handed ace David Price. Both players are under control through 2015, Zobrist at $7.5 million. Price is arbitration eligible one final time after this season and could get somewhere in the $18-21 million range.

Zobrist, a switch hitter who is better from the right side, could play shortstop and either corner outfield spot, lending skipper Lloyd McClendon a much more versatile lineup and added abilities to play matchup. He also could bat ahead of Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in the order, bolstering the chances for the club’s two most productive bats to drive in runs.

Late last week sources indicated the M’s have or had the opportunity to acquire Zobrist in exchange for Nick Franklin. Others insisted such a deal included right-hander Brandon Maurer, too.

The Giants are another club interested in Zobrist, as are the Reds.

The Mariners appear to maintain interest in Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd but the veteran’s 2016 option and limited no-trade clause that includes Seattle appear to be the snags.

Byrd, 37 next month, is owed about $ 3.5 million for the rest of 2014 and $8 million next season. There is a club option at another $8 million for 2016 that vests if Byrd reaches 550 plate appearances in 2015 or 1,100 plate appearances combined this season and next. His no-trade clause gives him leverage to demand that option be guaranteed.

Philadelphia is believed to be willing to include as much as $5 million in cash in the trade, but in doing so will require more in terms of talent. The names of Maurer, Austin Wilson, Stefen Romero, Chris Taylor and Gabriel Guerrero have been mentioned.

Byrd is a fringe-average corner outfielder with fringe-average speed. He will make the routine play regularly and has a better throwing arm than the club’s current starting left fielder, Dustin Ackley. Byrd possesses above-average power from the right side but will strike out, doesn’t walk much and isn’t likely to hit for high average.

He’s a fit for Seattle, but only in relative terms; he’s better than Ackley, is a better glove than some of the other options such as Dayan Viciedo. It’s highly unlikely the Mariners guarantee his 2016 option without enough cash to cover the entire year’s salary from the Phillies, and the asking price is too high at present.

Byrd, for now, seems unlikely, but time can change that, as there are 10 days until the trade deadline.

Alejandro De Aza is a name suggested by many as a potential part-time solution, perhaps teaming up with a Viciedo, Byrd or Chris Denorfia of the San Diego Padres. Word is, the White Sox are looking for relief help in return.

In his latest video report at FOXSports.com, Ken Rosenthal notes that Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly now wants prospect Joc Pederson in the big leagues and playing center field. Clearly Pederson is the best glove of their club’s outfield options, but he remains in Triple-A where it’s also clear he has issues making consistent contact.

If the Dodgers call on Pederson, they could have enough reliable depth to move one of their current outfielders. They’d prefer to deal Andre Ethier, no doubt, but Matt Kemp and Scott Van Slyke are more attractive targets for clubs in the hunt. The Dodgers’ motivation for moving Kemp is two-fold; while they aren’t afraid to add salary, anyway, it’d be much easier to trade for Price, Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels this month if they cleared some payroll and acquired a few young talents to keep their farm stocked.

The situation should interest the Mariners, but it seems unlikely any of the Dodgers outfielders fit in Seattle, especially considering Kemp’s desire to play center, a wish no club should be willing to grant him. Van Slyke is a part-time player, below-average defender and may not transfer to the American League West well considering his massive struggles with sliders, changeups and curveballs.

Aim High, Jack
There already have been reports about the Mariners wanting to land both Zobrist and Price, and while that may be too expensive in terms of trade cost — Price is going to warrant elite talents in return for the Rays — there is another direction the club can go.

Why not Desmond Jennings and Zobrist, rather than Zobrist and Price? Jennings isn’t a great hitter but he is a very good defensive center fielder and is a better bat than James Jones. He’s right-handed, runs well and is under club control for three more years after 2014. He’ll hit arbitration for the first time after this season, too, but isn’t likely to earn more than $3 million in 2015.

Adding Zobrist and Jennings doesn’t fix the lineup, per se, but it does lengthen it and offers a Jennings-Zobrist-Cano-Seager top four. Jennings pushes Jones to right where he’s plus and to the bottom of the order where he belongs.

Jennings, too, will be pricey consider his contract, but this is the kind of player for which to move top talent, rather than overpaying for eight months of Price.

Pitching
Despite the need for at least two fixes to the batting order, the Mariners do have a need in the rotation. James Paxton is set to make rehab start No. 2 in Tacoma Tuesday, but a mid-rotation starter makes a lot of sense for Seattle.

Among those that fit the mold include Colorado’s Jorge de la Rosa, Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese of the New York Mets, Boston’s Jake Peavy, John Danks of the White Sox and Edwin Jackson of the Cubs.

If the Yankees fade over the next week they could make newly-acquired right-hander Brandon McCarthy available, but they’re on a bit of a roll right now and may prefer to ride that out beyond the deadline.

The Mets have not received many offers for Colon, tweeted Mike Puma of the New York Post Saturday. The 41-year-old right-hander is under contract through next season after inking a two-year deal for $20 million this past winter.

Scout on Taijuan Walker
Walker remains a high-end talent despite the shoulder issues earlier this season and the fact that he’s been inconsistent with his delivery and command since returning. One chief scout that has seen four of his last six starts — two in the majors, two in the minors — made it clear he’d still love to have Walker but his value has unquestionably fallen.

“Because we can’t pinpoint the injury risk with any certainty we have to assume fairly high,” he said. “But the payoff (if Walker develops and stays healthy) is big.

“I still see him as a kid with a year or two left to get it straight and then he’ll show up firing on all cylinders. For me it’s more about his (stride) length. Get him back to where he was a few years ago and everything syncs up consistently.”

The same scout opined on Nick Franklin and Chris Taylor, too, saying “I like Franklin at second and I’d get him and call him up right away. He’s at the point where more of the same isn’t helping him. I do worry about his maturity some, but I’d take the chance he grows up.

“Taylor just needs to play. As much as I don’t love (Brad) Miller defensively, he’s getting it done enough for me to take my time with the Taylor kid.”

The most asked about players, judging by the conversations I have had, are Maurer, Walker, Tom Wilhelmsen, Dom Leone, Franklin, Guerrero, Taylor, Ketel Marte, John Hicks and Edwin Diaz.

Ackley is the most likely position player on the 25-man roster to be included in a deal this summer.

Elias a trade piece?
Some have asked whether or not it would make sense to offer Roenis Elias in deals to acquire offense or a proven starting pitcher. Of course it could make sense, but it’s not necessarily selling high.

Elias, 25, has his best in front of him and there’s a great chance he turns into what the club hoped Danny Hultzen would be. Hultzen still could turn into that of all goes well in his rehab and recovery, but Elias has that kind of stuff.

His athleticism projects for better and more consistent mechanics, pitch development and command. Elias will be worth significantly more in a year than right now, strongly suggesting trading him now isn’t likely to be wise.

If a club sees that same upside in him, however, and are willing to pay for it, value can be had. One idea might be to see if Elias helps get Jennings from the Rays without having to include Walker.

- Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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