Don't want to give up on the season? That's understandable. The M's are only six back of a very vulnerable Rangers team in the first week of June, and PECOTA gives them a 15% chance of making the playoffs. Competing in 2009 is far from a lost cause, and quitting now would only send a bitter message to both a clubhouse and a fanbase anxious to make a run.
Don't want to do anything that improves the team a little now while jeopardizing a part of the future? Also understandable. Just because the M's have a prayer doesn't in any way mean they're not a longshot, and you never want to sacrifice something down the road for a chance to chase rainbows. Since taking over control, the front office has espoused a big-picture approach to team-building, and you don't want to try too hard to turn a season into something it was never intended to be.
This can be a difficult situation to navigate. The M's, as currently built, clearly need to address some weaknesses if they want to hang in the race, but addressing weaknesses frequently requires one to sacrifice resources that could help down the road. Fortunately, in our case, there are options whereby the M's can get better now without doing anything to harm the next several years. Some of these options are shown below.
1) Cut Mike Sweeney and call up Chris Shelton. With Sweeney having a wOBA of .282 over 92 plate appearances and Shelton standing at .395 in Tacoma, the Mariners have the opportunity to reverse the decision they made back in Spring. It was assumed before that the M's chose the way they did because when faced with a ~tie in offense they erred on the side of likeability, but with Sweeney not producing, there's no longer much reason to believe the two are offensive approximates of one another. Shelton looks like the superior hitter, and that's all he'd need to be were he to take Sweeney's place. It might come as a bummer in the clubhouse, but nothing raises morale quite like better play on the field.
2) Unload Endy Chavez and hand Michael Saunders the keys to left field. I like Endy. He's been exactly what we thought he'd be, and believe it or not, he's actually provided the fourth-best wOBA on the team while playing solid defense in left. He's an excellent role player who isn't too terribly miscast as a regular on an otherwise solid team. But this whole Endy/Wlad platoon thing hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard, and with Saunders tearing it up in AAA, the team may wish to make a change. In that event, Endy would become expendable with another lefty taking over. If you let Saunders start, keep Wlad around as the backup OF, and trade Endy to a contender, everyone comes away happy, and Safeco gets to set its sights on a guy who should be an outfield regular for the next several years. Saunders might not hit immediately, but given the .663 OPS the M's have gotten out of left field so far, I don't know if anyone would notice.
3) Unload Jose Lopez and plug in Mike Fontenot. Dave's already written this one up, so there's not much left for me to say, but landing the left-handed Fontenot and slotting him in at second would represent an improvement across the board, from defense to discipline to batting order handedness. While the deal may not be available as a simple one-for-one, it's something the M's could and should work to make happen, because though Fontenot's no star, he's better than Lopez and under control through 2013.
4) Unload Jose Lopez and plug in Kelly Johnson. This one's similar to the whole Fontenot thing. For whatever reason, the Braves seem to have soured a bit on Johnson, and he's definitely available. And as a young, productive left-handed 2B under control through 2011, he's the kind of player the Mariners badly need. Once again, the Braves may not be willing to go straight up, but it wouldn't take a whole lot on top of Lopez to make it happen - perhaps even just Endy Chavez - and it would bring the M's a valuable player. Johnson's no whiz in the field, but as a guy who can walk and take the ball out to right field, he'd be a great fit.
5) Play Ronny Cedeno at shortstop more. I don't think this one needs much explaining.
So there are a few options. Unfortunately the whole Griffey handicap prevents us from doing too much at DH, but then I'm not so sure that Clement or Carp would out-produce him anyway, so for the time being it's not that big of an issue. The other things, though - those are ways that the Mariners could make themselves better now without doing anything to damage the long-term picture. And to me, that makes them really appealing. No, I don't want to give up on 2009. No, I don't want to sacrifice future value to get better now. Luckily, it's not one or the other.