CLEVELAND — Everything suggests the Mariners entered the closing hours before Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline in determined pursuit of a bat to bolster an attack that ranks last among American League clubs in runs per game.
Here’s some of what I’m hearing from various sources around the majors, including reporters who are tracking the trade efforts of clubs they cover. This all comes with an enormous qualifier: None of this has been directly confirmed by the Mariners who, I’m finding, are living up to their reputation for secrecy under general manager Jack Zduriencik.
So with that in mind…
***The Mariners, from all appearances, have multiple offers out and are waiting to hear back. Specifics are sketchy and fluid, but that seems to confirm what I’ve heard: That the Mariners are pushing hard to make a deal, maybe more than one, prior to the 1 p.m. Pacific time deadline.
***Sources in Chicago tell me the Mariners show definite interest in utilityman Emilio Bonifacio. Nobody from the Mariners is confirming this, but I’m told they’ve had a scout watching the Cubs. So it’s reasonable to assume they wanted an eyes-on evaluation on Bonifacio.
Other clubs are interested in Bonifacio, including the Giants and Royals. He’s a switch-hitter with speed…and he’s been told by the Cubs that he’s likely to be traded. He’s batting .279 with a .318 on-base percentage. He will be eligible for free agency after the year. So he’s a rental.
At first glance, Bonifacio probably won’t impress many Mariners’ fans as an upgrade. Fans last year in Kansas City felt the same way after he arrived in a deadline deal from Toronto. But when the Royals plugged Bonifacio into their lineup at second base and as the No. 2 hitter, it somehow fueled their surge over the final two months.
When the Royals dumped Bonifacio, 29, after reaching a deal last winter with him for $2.5 million…well, M’s fans won’t want all the specifics, but I found it to be, maybe, the most puzzling thing I ever saw the Royals do in all the years I covered them. And that’s saying something.
Look, Bonifacio is (obviously) not going to play second for Mariners. He’s also not going to play third, and he’s no better, probably, than a stop gap at short. But he can play all three outfield positions with his speed. And I think he might fit with the M’s as a No. 2 hitter as well as he did last year with the Royals.
Now…I don’t know if the Mariners are going to get Bonifacio, but their interest seems genuine.
***That interest in Bonifacio makes me wonder whether the Mariners no longer believe they can get Ben Zobrist from the Rays. Zobrist brings many of the same attributes as Bonifacio in that he’s also a switch-hitting utilityman. But he has more pop, and he’s probably a better fit at short. (Not that playing him there every day is optimal.) Bonifacio is probably a better fit in center.
From what I heard, Zobrist was an early target by the Mariners. When the Rays tried instead to package him with pitcher David Price to maximize their return, my guess is the Mariners explored that possibility. Always, though, from what I heard, Zobrist was the target.
Again, if the Mariners are pushing for Bonifacio, that might mean they’ve concluded they can’t get Zobrist. Or they might just be hedging their bets. (A lot of this is connect-the-dots guess work by reporters; don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.) Anyway, Zobrist is controllable through next year with a club option at $7.5 million.
***Everything I’ve heard also says the Mariners are unwilling to guarantee Philadelphia outfielder Marlon Byrd’s $8 million option for 2016, and that he is unwilling to waive the no-trade clause (which includes the Mariners) unless they do. That could change at the last minute, of course. Last I heard, both sides were dug in.
***The Mariners continue show some interest in Minnesota outfielder Josh Willingham, who will be a free agent after the season, and Texas outfielder Alex Rios, who is under club control for 2015 with a $13.5 million option (and a $1 million buyout). The sticking point on Willingham might be whether they’re willing to give up enough to make it worthwhile for the Twins. With Rios, that salary is also an issue. They can likely get far more value for those dollars in the off-season.
***I haven’t heard much lately on interest in White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo. But…I’m always reminded of what a GM once told me: The deal that gets made is usually the one you don’t hear about until the last minute. I’m not saying that applies specifically to Viciedo, but it’s something to keep in mind. (Did you hear about the A’s getting Samardzija from the Cubs before it happened?)
***The Royals, from all appearances, are determined to make a push with the roster they have. That probably means DH Billy Butler stays in Kansas City through the end of the season. But everything also points to the Royals not picking up his $12.5 million option for 2015. That would make him a free agent. The Mariners have always liked Butler. So that remains an issue to watch…down the road.
***The Mariners also have interest in Dodgers OF Matt Kemp, and the Dodgers have a surplus of outfielders. The problem there is Kemp is owed $107 million over the next five years. The Mariners aren’t paupers, but that’s a bunch of money. The Dodgers would like to dump that salary, but they also want something back.
What LA gets back — from the Mariners or some other club — becomes a sliding scale in terms of how much salary they’re willing to eat. That’s a lot to negotiate on a trade deadline. Not saying it’s impossible, but that also seems more likely to be a deal that could happen (if it happens) in the off-season.
***Boston seems determined to trade lefty Jon Lester, who will be a free agent after the season. He’s a Tacoma-native and, well, what club wouldn’t be better with Lester? But the Mariners’ pitching is just fine as they look to the last two months. So I’d be surprised if Lester winds up in Seattle. (But I’ve been surprised before.) UPDATED: Boston traded Lester to the A’s on Thursday morning with outfielder Jonny Gomes for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
***So what are the Mariners willing to give up in terms of prospects? (And any deal is likely to mean prospects departing the Mariners. Clubs that are going for it, as the M’s would be doing in any such trade, rarely surrender guys who can help them right now.) The Mariners are also an attractive trading partner because they have some legit pieces.
If you’re a fan, you can probably tick off those names more readily than the national reporters and analysts. Let’s cite just two:
Infielder Nick Franklin became available the moment the Mariners signed Robinson Cano. And many clubs still believe Franklin can be a legit piece on a winning club. So he’s a prime chip.
Everything also suggests right-hander Taijuan Walker is available in the right deal. He’s had a disappointing and injury-filled year, but he is still viewed, generally, as the organization’s top prospect. Trading Walker is only likely to happen in a major deal.
Officials from other clubs say third baseman D.J. Peterson is the only prospect the Mariners appear truly reluctant to discuss. That’s not surprising. Some club officials believe Peterson might be big-league ready at some point in 2015, and they see him as an impact right-handed bat. In short…exactly what they’re looking for at the moment.