As many are aware, the Mariners were supposed to be better than this. Offseason acquisitions of Chone Figgins and Cliff Lee, among others, brought praise to the Jack Zduriencik front office and turned the team into media darlings, frequently advertised as a potential championship contender. No team, people said, could match up with Seattle's 1-2 of Lee and Felix Hernandez, and on the strength of arms, gloves, and an unusual offense, the Mariners would be a team to watch.
They did end up being a team to watch, but not for the reasons expected. Instead, the fun has come from watching Lee and Felix, and the shock and awe has come from watching an offense that's on pace to score an unthinkably low 558 runs. The Mariners haven't scored, and because they haven't scored, they haven't won. Lee's return from an abdominal injury only managed to kick off an eight-game losing streak that sunk the whole campaign, and from then on, the M's and their fans have known that 2010 wasn't their year.
Which brings us to now. At 32-44, 14 out in the division and 14 out of the Wild Card, the Mariners are sellers. Granted, they recently bought Russell Branyan from Cleveland, but that shouldn't be taken as an indication that the team is trying to make a run. Branyan was brought in to plug an unwatchable hole and offer a possible option for 2011. The roster is still going to shed.
So who is there to shed? The following is a list of the players I could see dealt. Note that the Mariner front office always seems to strike by surprise, so other names could be dealt, too, but I just don't feel like listing every player in the organization.
1) CLIFF LEE
In Lee, the Mariners possess the most highly sought-after player on the market. He has as many walks as complete games, he's proven himself in the season and the playoffs, and he's an ace-level arm that could put a contender over the top. Lee is the trade market right now. He is the focus of everyone's attention, and he will return a nice package.
2) DAVID AARDSMA
The Mariners' closer is running a 4.81 ERA, but he still has a big fastball and 54 saves over the past year and a half. He's a power arm who succeeds in a friendly ballpark, and his proven ability under pressure will draw some attention.
3) JOSE LOPEZ
The new third baseman hasn't had a good season at all, but he's adjusted well to his position in the field, and he has a .758 OPS over the past month, matching up well with his more productive 2009. He's nobody's idea of a star, but he's not sticking in Seattle, and he could take real advantage of a shorter left field fence.
4) BRANDON LEAGUE
The offseason return for Brandon Morrow hasn't racked up the strikeouts many expected, but he does have 31 whiffs and eight unintentional walks in 41 innings, with a ton of groundballs. With his live high-90s sinker, he's a very attractive fit for a team looking for late-inning bullpen help.
5) JACK WILSON
The Mariners brought Wilson in a year ago to offer some infield leadership and stability, but the flashy shortstop has struggled to stay healthy, and his $5m 2011 pricetag would inhibit the Mariners' ability to make other moves. Wilson wouldn't bring back much talent; if the M's can move him, they'll move him just to shed his salary.
Those are the big five, but obviously, Lee's the prize. Lee is the guy most likely to be moved, and Lee is the guy who stands to bring in a player or three who can help the Mariners down the road. In return, the Mariners have a number of holes they'd like to see filled. The organization has very little depth in the middle infield. Rob Johnson and Adam Moore are decent young catchers, but they have very limited upsides. And aside from Michael Pineda, there aren't really any high-ceiling arms in the system who're anywhere close to making the jump. The M's won't address all of their weaknesses with one Lee trade, but they will look to find the right fit, and the right fit will almost certainly offer a catcher, a middle infielder, or a starter.