really needed offense more than defense.
Who are the Mariners kidding? Other than themselves, that is.
OK, sure -- technically, they're within striking distance, 7 1/2 games out in the AL West and 6 1/2 games out in the AL Wild Card race with two months to play. But do they really think they're going to leapfrog two teams from the AL East just because they've added Jack Wilson and Ian Snell? The Mariners are dead last in the American League in runs scored per game (3.88, better than only the Padres in the NL) and their big stretch-drive pickup is Jack Wilson, a 31-year-old shortstop with a career .269/.311/.376 batting line who is hitting right around those marks this year? Seriously?
It's not that Wilson isn't an upgrade. Mariners shortstops have hit .222/.249/.320 on the season, and incumbent Ronny Cedeño, who was sent to the Pirates in Wednesday's deal along with Jeff Clement and three minor league pitchers, had hit .200/.223/.340 since taking over the position from Yuniesky Betancourt after the latter was dealt to the Royals. Even Wilson's paltry production is an improvement on that lot. Wilson's also a fine defender, playing into the Mariners' focus on defense, which has already paid off with the league's best defensive efficiency (rate of turning balls in play into outs) and second-best team ERA (behind Boston's). With Adrian Beltre on his way back from a shoulder injury, the Mariners could soon have an impenetrable left side of the infield, but that wasn't what they needed. If you were to accept the sketchy premise that the Mariners have a shot at the postseason this year, what they needed to get them there was a bat, and a big one. Jack Wilson is not that.
Then there's Ian Snell. Really? Seriously? Snell impressed as a 25-year-old sophomore in 2007, but since then his walk rate has swelled to 4.9 per nine innings; he has posted a 5.40 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 46 starts over the last year and a half, earning a demotion to Triple-A in late June. Since then, he's dominated in six minor league starts, but over his last three, his walk rate has popped back up to 5.19 BB/9, and the Pirates hadn't seen fit to bring him back up despite the 6.21 ERA Virgil Vasquez has posted in his place.
So the Mariners got a 27-year-old Triple-A right-hander and a light-hitting shortstop, and they think that's going to put them over two of the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees or Rangers and Angels? They must be kidding. So what did they give up for this outrageous fortune?
Cedeño is a 26-year-old busted prospect who wasn't hitting and is now on his third team this calendar year. No loss there. Who else?
Then there are the three right-handed pitchers: Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin and Aaron Pribanic. None of them have advanced beyond A-ball, and none of them are significant prospects. Adcock supposedly has a nice curveball, but of the three, Lorin is the most compelling, given his fine 3.48 K/BB ratio, 2.44 ERA, and 0.97 WHIP in 16 Midwest League starts this year. Then again, Lorin is a 22-year-old college product pitching in A-ball, so he has yet to be really challenged. He'll have to prove it at a higher level before he's worth watching. These guys are typical throw-ins.
Then there's Jeff Clement, the third overall pick in the 2005 draft. Clement struggled in his first extended major league look last year while splitting time between catcher and DH, and September knee surgery had him spending most of his time at DH in Triple-A this year. But he was still hitting .288/.366/.505 down there, right in line with his career minor league rates of .286/.374/.497. At 25 and with two knee surgeries behind him, the shine is off his apple, but his lefty bat is still crisp. With two other 25-year-old catching prospects in the system -- Rob Johnson, who is already splitting time behind the plate in the majors (albeit while hitting .212/.286/.335), and college product Adam Moore, who is hitting .291/.333/.432 in Triple-A against a career line of .301/.369/.488 -- Clement seemed expendable, but the Mariners needed a bat, and Clement is one.
Maybe Clement can't catch on a regular basis any more, and maybe Russell Branyan's back problems will go away, keeping Clement blocked out of first base for the remainder of the season, but Seattle's designated hitters have hit .223/.315/.362 on the season. Ken Griffey Jr. may be a Mariner legend, but he's not helping the 2009 team win. Clement wasn't going to be the difference for this year's Mariners any more than Wilson and Snell will be, but he was a young hitter with considerable production potential who will earn the league minimum for a couple more years. Wilson will cost more for 2010 even if the M's buy out his $8.4 million option and make him a free agent, and Snell is due $4.25 million next year. Wilson likely won't provide any more of an upgrade at shortstop than Clement could have provided at DH (possibly far less), and Snell may not help at all.
So what the Mariners did here was get more expensive and older without getting better in the short-sighted pursuit of a postseason berth that's not going to happen. Baseball Prospectus' Postseason Odds gave the Mariners a five percent chance of reaching the playoffs as of this morning. Even if Wilson doubled their odds (which he doesn't), they'd be an extremely long shot at best. Even without dealing Clement, this deal wouldn't have made sense. The Mariners should have been sellers, not buyers. Don't tell me they haven't noticed that they have the third-worst run differential in the league. Then again, in trying to figure out the logic behind this trade, it suddenly seems possible they haven't.