The next few days are bound to be very interesting if you're a Mariner fan. Trader Jack made his first appearance of the offseason and it was the frustratingly short-sighted version. All of a sudden, the Mariners find themselves seeking a major piece to complete their roster. The good news (or bad news) is that Trader Jack should be making another appearance pretty soon.
On Tuesday, it looked like the Mariners' roster was close to coming together. After adding Nelson Cruz, the only pieces that needed to be added were a fourth outfielder and some starting pitching depth. Just a day later and everything is up in the air. The Mariners were able to fill one of their needs by dealing from their weakest position group. It's a move that doesn't make a ton of logical sense when examined in a vacuum. Michael Saunders is cheaper, younger, under team control longer, and projected to be more valuable than J.A. Happ. On the surface, it looks like the Mariners got fleeced by Alex Anthropolous -- who is having an incredible offseason as GM of the Blue Jays.
The thing is, this trade didn't occur in a vacuum and Jack Zduriencik obviously has a few other things in the works. The Braves just signed Nick Markakis to be their everyday right fielder creating a surplus of outfielders, of which Justin Upton is the most intriguing name. The Mariners have been consistently connected to Matt Kemp throughout the offseason. Yoenis Cespedes has been tossed around as a trade candidate for the M's. Any of those three would suffice as a right fielder for the Mariners in 2015. Peter took a look at the outfield free agent market yesterday, mere hours before the Saunders trade was announced. Most of those options are still on the table but each comes with their own warts.
Whichever direction the Mariners end up going, the timing of all of this gets pretty confusing. Based on the observed sequence of events, it seems like the Mariners' negotiating leverage is at its lowest point. Before the Saunders trade, the Mariners were looking for an upgrade to a position where they had three viable starters. They didn't need to make an acquisition but we're looking to find a good value on the trade market. Now, the Mariners absolutely need a right fielder and everyone knows it.
On the other hand, if Jack is working out a deal for Upton or Kemp, it's probably been in the works for quite a while. He was also probably working under the assumption that Saunders was already gone and that he was trying to land Saunders' replacement in this hypothetical blockbuster deal. If that reasoning holds, then the timing really doesn't matter from a negotiating standpoint -- Jack Z was shopping Saunders for the last few months and every team in baseball knew it. Trading him away before securing his replacement probably doesn't affect any ongoing trade negotiations at the moment.
I don't pretend to have any special insight into the inner workings of the Mariners' front office. The acquisitions that Jack Zduriencik is famous for run the gamut, from genius moves to mindbogglingly frustrating moves. With the Winter Meetings coming up next week, it's feasible to think that another trade is right around the corner. Will it be creative Trader Jack or short-sighted Trader Jack who shows up this time? Now that he's painted himself into a corner, my money is on more frustration ahead.