Major League Baseball’s nonwaiver trade deadline expired Tuesday afternoon at 1, leaving Seattle Mariners fans with nothing to dwell upon, or contemplate, except these formal events scheduled six times a week called “games.”
In the words of the late, great singer whose last name was Summer, I will survive.
Sure, I’ll admit it: I was curious to see what sort of return the Mariners could get for pitcher Jason Vargas, a veteran left-hander who – and this is typical of veteran lefties – has more moxie than pizazz. Vargas never will be a star capable of anchoring a starting staff, but there had to be some clamoring for a middle-of-the-rotation guy who takes the ball every fifth day, eats innings, gets outs and keeps the drama to a minimum.
Then again, if the clamoring for Vargas was only going to net a couple of minor-leaguers, be happy that general manager Jack Zduriencik stayed the course. Vargas is 29, with a healthy arm and a clear head, and he sounds as if he wants to spend the rest of his career in Seattle. (He’ll be eligible for arbitration in 2013, meaning his $4.85 million salary will increase to at least $8 million for a final season with the Mariners – unless Zduriencik negotiates a long-term deal.)
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Vargas went into his start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night with an 11-7 record and 3.76 ERA. If you omit from the equation a June 20 start at Arizona – Vargas gave up 10 earned runs before his Bad Day at Black Rock concluded with one out in the fifth – he’s 11-6, with a 3.25 ERA.
And in exchange for this the Mariners likely receive two or three prospects from somebody else’s farm? No, thanks.
Nothing against unproven talent, but after watching the Mariners execute trade-deadline deals involving prospects for almost 10 years now, I’m prospect-weary, to the point I’m prospected out.
Besides, it’s not as if Zduriencik has been sitting on his hands. Last week, he accommodated Ichiro Suzuki’s request to be traded. (In exchange for Ichiro, the Mariners got two Triple-A pitchers from the Yankees.) This past Monday, Zduriencik traded former closer Brandon League to the Dodgers for a Single-A outfielder (Leon Landry) and a Double-A pitcher (Logan Bawcom).
Then Zduriencik sent reliever Steve Delabar to the Blue Jays for outfielder Eric Thames, whose immediate inclusion on the Mariners’ roster put a merciful end to the experiment of grooming Carlos Peguero as a replacement for Ichiro in right field.
Three trades in eight days, for four minor leaguers and a major league outfielder, cost the Mariners nothing. The departures of League and Delabar make room in the bullpen for Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps, who are younger, and throw even harder, than the relievers they’ve replaced.
It was a busy and potentially productive week for the Mariners, and yet at 1 p.m. Tuesday, the trade-deadline phase of the season seemed to end on an anti-climactic dud. The Mariners, among the few clubs in a position to sell without having to justify their inclination to surrender, made no huge splash.
The more I think about it, the more I’m OK with it. Trades are fun and provocative – for fans of a team that was 10 games below .500 on the morning of July 31, trades make the world go around – but pulling off a trade, for the sole purpose of pulling off a trade, invites doom.
Take the case of Frank Lane, whose penchant for trading bordered on something that could be interpreted as an addiction. Lane arranged more than 400 trades as a baseball general manager. In April 1960, as GM of the Cleveland Indians, Lane traded the reigning American League home run champion (Rocky Colavito) to the Detroit Tigers, in exchange for the reigning AL batting champion (Harvey Kuenn).
Colavito was a fan favorite in Cleveland – home-run hitters named “Rocky” tend to be fan favorites anywhere – but Lane couldn’t resist. He traded a young slugger for an aging singles hitter, the same season he traded manager Joe Gordon to Detroit for Tigers manager Jimmy Dykes.
A few years before that, in 1957, Lane was the Cardinals GM who worked out a trade with the Phillies: Stan Musial to Philadelphia, in exchange for pitcher Robin Roberts. When word of that impending deal was leaked to the public – before Twitter, there was this thing called radio – Cardinals owner Gussie Busch intervened.
That Stan Musial remained in St. Louis for the entirety of his career is often regarded as the No. 1 example of how baseball has changed over the past 50 years. Once upon a time, superstars such as Musial and Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio were destined to remain with the same team, in the same uniform, and isn’t it sad that sort of loyalty isn’t prevalent nowadays?
The concept of legends remaining permanent franchise fixtures is a staple of Baseball Was Better in the Good Old Days mythology, except Frank Lane didn’t buy it. He wanted to trade Stan Musial from St. Louis. Denied that blockbuster, he ended up trading Rocky Colavito from Cleveland.
The man who lived to make trades died, at 84, in a Dallas nursing home. His 1981 funeral was attended by one executive representing Major League Baseball. One.
As for Jack Zduriencik, he seems to grasp the old adage that the best trade is the one that isn’t made. Critics might argue he didn’t have the guts to deal Vargas for prospects set to join an organization teeming with prospects.
Zduriencik has the guts to make a trade for the sake of making a trade, because he’s done it before. Remember the 2011 deadline deal with the Tigers for starting pitcher Doug Fister?
A year older and a year wiser, Zduriencik still has the guts for moves like that. Mariners fans should be grateful he no longer has the stomach to tolerate the consequences.