It feels rather surreal, even silly, to be having a conversation about the Seattle Mariners being trade deadline buyers in 2014. Not so long ago, this team was 7-13, seemingly headed for another forgettable season in a sea of forgettable seasons past. But then whatever happened, happened. Their pitching caught fire, they scored just enough, and their bullpen went all Jason-Statham-lock-down-mean-face.
There have been rumors, although floated so fleetingly as to lack any sort of teeth, that the Mariners are in the market for an additional starting pitcher. These rumors, however, occupy the "I wouldn't be doing my job if I wasn't looking to improve" kind of territory. Indeed, they could probably use someone other than the four-inning version of Erasmo Ramirez and then the hang-on-time bullpen experience.
In addition, Jack Z is on record with some short-term concerns about Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, and that's honestly not very surprising. But if he is still expecting to see them in this rotation down the stretch, what kind of rental starter is really going to help as a stop gap. Isn't this what you have a farm system for?
Of many obvious needs the Mariners currently have, the most glaring is someone paid to hit the ball. The Mariners currently employ thirteen people as professional hitters and only a few of them seem to realize it. Still, it's unlikely the team would be looking for upgrades anywhere other than first base and possibly left field. This is assuming the club is committed to Brad Miller and/or Nick Franklin for the 2014 season, which may or may not be truth. And as the case would have it, anyone who might be sellers at the deadline do not match up particularly well with those needs.
One player who might be a perfect candidate is Ben Zobrist. No, Zobrist is not known as a first baseman but then again neither is Willie Bloomquist. I assume a player who can capably handle shortstop, second base, and a corner outfield position can man first. Zobrist is having a down season by his standard, currently slashing .241/.322/.365 with five home runs and four stolen bases. But don't forget that this is the same Ben Zobrist who has been worth an average of six wins above replacement over the past five seasons. Zobrist is still demonstrating a great eye, he strikes out very little and walks frequently. These are characteristics the Mariners could use.
Zobrist, by way of UZR has rated as an above average outfielder, an acceptable shortstop, and a plus defender at second base. At 33, he's very likely in a decline phase of his career, but even a slightly worse version of Ben Zobrist is still probably the third or fourth best hitter on this Mariners team. His positional flexibility allows Robinson Cano to occasionally DH, he's shortstop insurance if Brad Miller simply refuses to hit all year, he's left field insurance if Dustin Ackley refuses to hit all year, or best case scenario, he just becomes the best switch-hitting first baseman we've had since David Segui. And because he's 33 and playing for a last place team, maybe, just maybe, he's available.
He's also pretty cheap. He's being paid $7 million dollars in 2014, so one would assume the Mariners could afford the pro-rated version of that, and there's a team option of $7.5 million in 2015. Accepting the marginal value of a win above replacement lies somewhere in the $6 million dollar range, give or take, then Ben Zobrist is a relative bargain.
What it would take to pry him away is anyone's guess, really. The Rays still have a system stocked with good pitching prospects, but they do seem to lack a future shortstop and catcher, so one could speculate that names like Chris Taylor and Tyler Marlette would be bandied about and the Rays seem like the kind of organization that might ask on a guy like Gabriel Guerrero and maybe Edwin Diaz. Regardless, I don't think Ben Zobrist would come cheaply, and whatever kind of package deemed acceptable would likely be one that stings. But it's clearly a sellers market right now, and with so much parity in the league, there is a dearth of teams who can't say they have a fighting chance still even if logic tells you they don't have a chance in hell.
But the Mariners still have that chance in hell. In order to keep up with the Joneses, however, their current roster construction just isn't going to cut it and we're going to have to hope dealin' Jack is back in the saddle this summer if we want to sniff the playoff grass come October.