When it comes to trading deadlines and the Seattle Mariners, there’s a fear factor attached to the suspicion they will do something horribly wrong.
Two years ago, for instance, general manager Jack Zduriencik sent reliable starting pitcher Doug Fister, along with reliever David Pauley, to the Tigers for a package of players that turned out to be three flops and Charlie Furbush.
The deal continued a Mariners tradition dating to 1997, when former general manager Woody Woodward, desperate for bullpen help, donated promising young catcher Jason Varitek and pitcher Derek Lowe to the Red Sox in exchange for the mediocrity that was Heathcliff Slocumb.
And though Woodward partially redeemed himself the following summer by shipping disgruntled, get-me-out-of-this-place ace Randy Johnson to the Astros for a pair of future All-Stars (Freddie Garcia and Carlos Guillen) and a player to be named later (John Halama), memories of the ’97 fiasco persist at every trade deadline.
Thursday was no different. After the Mariners acquired veteran outfielder Chris Denorfia in a low-spark trade with San Diego, they were reported to be finalists in the interminable derby to land elite Rays’ left-hander David Price.
But at what cost? For top starting prospect Taijuan Walker? For left-handed power pitcher James Paxton? For both?
The longer I waited Thursday, the more I hoped Zduriencik would pass on Price and take a buzzer-beating shot at another bat. But, again, at what cost?
Zduriencik ended up making a surprisingly painless trade for Tigers’ center fielder Austin Jackson in a three-team deal that sent Rainiers’ infielder Nick Franklin to the Rays. Because Franklin profiles best as a second baseman — a position that will be occupied in Safeco Field, for the next 10 years or so, by Robinson Cano — the Mariners surrendered nothing relevant to their future.
But not before the fear factor manifested itself a final time: A few minutes after the 1 p.m. deadline, a Twitter message from a national baseball writer noted that Walker was included in the trade for Jackson.
Only the Mariners, I thought, would part ways with a natural-born talent destined to flourish once he figures out his command issues. Only the Mariners ...
The Twitter report turned out to be erroneous — imagine that — and what first looked like a so-so trade-deadline day (Denorfia for a pair of minor leaguers, outfielder Abe Almonte and reliever Stephen Kohlscheen), only to briefly loom as a disastrous trade-deadline day (Walker and Franklin for Jackson, who’s eligible for free agency in 2016? Really?) concluded as a most satisfying trade-deadline day.
Denorfia, 34, is scuffling, as has everybody else with the Padres, the NL’s version of the Mariners. But he brought a .280 career batting average into the season, and he can play all three outfield positions, and as soon as Friday will offer an immediate improvement in right over such failed experiments as Corey Hart and Stefen Romero.
Replacing slumping rookie James Jones in center with Jackson — another lineup move anticipated Friday — presents an even more substantial upgrade.
Since an impressive start found him providing speed and energy at the top of the order, Jones has been a victim of technology: Video clips are available to any pitcher looking for an edge, and the videos of Jones revealed a batter ill-equipped to lay off breaking pitches no man’s bat can hit. (Well, nobody besides Vladimir Guererro, and he retired in 2011.)
Jackson, 27, is a member of one of the world’s most populous unofficial clubs: Highly Touted Ex-Yankees Prospects Who’ve Never Appeared In An All-Star Game. Still, there’s a lot to like. He finished second for the 2010 A.L. Rookie of the Year award that went to Rangers’ pitcher Neftali Feliz, and he led the league with 10 triples in 2012, when he hit .300.
More important to the Mariners, he’ll show up for their game Friday at Baltimore in a groove. Jackson began July hitting .238. He begins August at .270.
And, oh, for what it’s worth: After the Mariners’ trade for Jackson was finalized Thursday, he was removed from the Tigers home game against the White Sox. Jackson jogged off the field to the sound of standing-ovation applause, and was the recipient of many hugs in the dugout.
Cultivating the affection of fans and cohorts is not an essential trait for a big-league baseball player, of course. But it doesn’t hurt. The Mariners have enhanced their lineup with somebody who is obviously popular in Detroit, and who has a fan in Seattle: manager Lloyd McClendon, a former Tigers coach.
Jack Zduriencik’s team has gotten better, and it got better seamlessly, without the general manager sapping the farm system.
So much for the angst associated with the non-waiver trade deadline. Mariners fans, you can relax. You now have nothing to fear but fear itself, and the next trade deadline in 2015.