Jack Zduriencik is prepared to wait.
The Seattle Mariners general manager knows the odds of his team running down Oakland in the American League West standings are about as good as winning the lottery. A winning season for the Mariners — something that hasn’t happened since 2009 — isn’t impossible but is unlikely.
The Mariners have all the markings of being a seller at the Major League Baseball trade deadline. Seattle has some pieces – think pitchers Oliver Perez, Joe Saunders and veteran sluggers Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibañez and Michael Morse – that contending teams might want, but Zduriencik is choosing to wait and see what develops.
“In all fairness, I don’t think I’m going to be aggressive,’’ Zduriencik said recently. “I don’t think I’m going to go out there and start shopping our players. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.’’
The official non-waivers trade deadline is July 31. In the next week or so, Zduriencik’s stance could change based on how the team fares.
Wins and losses might not even be the deciding factor for Zduriencik making a deal.
“You have to entertain calls when people call, and they are calling,” he said. “You have to listen to what they have to say, and you ultimately have to do what is best for the organization.”
Zduriencik is in an odd position. He’s in the final year of his contract, and no extension has been announced. Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln and team president Chuck Armstrong could be using the second half of the season to determine Zduriencik’s fate.
That leaves Zduriencik trying to determine whether to make a trade that would help the team in the future or hang on to players that could help the Mariners salvage the second half of the season.
How much does a record near or just over .500 mean to Zduriencik? To the fans? To the ownership?
Zduriencik is loath to talk about such scenarios and the concept of making decisions to maintain employment.
“I’ll do my job as I’m supposed to do,” he said of trades. “I’m certainly going to listen.”
The Mariners have 11 players who are in the final year of their contracts and will be up for free agency. Of those 11, none are looked at as key components to future seasons. They are veterans and bench players, and they are expendable.
There are a few moves Zduriencik could make that wouldn’t cripple the team’s 25-man roster.
Left-handed pitchers Perez and Saunders could be dealt without drastic repercussions. Even with a hiccup before the All-Star break, Perez has been Seattle’s best reliever.
Perez has shown the ability to dominate either left- or right-handed hitters. He entered the second half 2-2 with two saves and a 1.75 ERA in 38 relief appearances, with 50 strikeouts in 36ª innings pitched.
With teams such as Detroit, Boston and Cleveland all in desperate need of bullpen help, Perez’s versatility could make him highly valuable.
After a sluggish start, Saunders had pitched much better going into Friday’s game at Houston. He was 8-8 with a 4.24 ERA in 19 first-half starts. He isn’t overpowering, but he is dependable. And for teams in need of an experienced fourth or fifth starter, a guy who has playoff experience and who makes every start — and usually pitches into the seventh inning — could have value.
Brendan Ryan has lost his starting shortstop spot to rookie Brad Miller. Teams in search of a sure-handed glove might be interested in Ryan. The return, though, won’t be large.
Nor would any deal involving starting pitcher Aaron Harang or outfielders Endy Chavez, Jason Bay and Franklin Gutierrez net much for the Mariners.
The real conundrum for Zduriencik will be with Morales, Ibañez and Morse.
It seems likely the Mariners will keep Morales. The switch-hitting designated hitter was batting .280 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI before Friday.
The Mariners would like to sign Morales to multiyear extension, but the fact that he has Scott Boras as an agent makes things difficult. Boras is a firm believer in the value of the open market over extensions.
Seattle has some leverage, however. Because of Morales’ service time, the Mariners can tender a one-year contract to Morales for roughly $14 million (the average salary of the top 125 players in baseball).
He can refuse it and opt for free agency. But by doing that, any team that signs Morales to a free-agent contract must give up their first-round draft pick for next season as compensation.
Morse has power and can hit. But he hasn’t been healthy for much of the first half. If he were to get hot in the next 12 days, an offense-starved team might take a chance on him.
Still, his injury history is likely to decrease his value.
Ibañez, who had a team-best 24 homers in the first half, would be attractive to a team in the playoff hunt. But the 41-year-old also has value to the Mariners as a middle-of-the-order bat and a clubhouse presence that young players can lean on.