Mired in the American League West basement at 46-57 – and suddenly without their longtime leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki, who was recently traded to the Yankees for two fringe pitching prospects – the Seattle Mariners are currently in a rut.
There is reason for optimism for the long term, though, because of promising young major leaguers like DH Jesus Montero, second baseman Dustin Ackley; and four prospects who were part of Baseball America’s Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List.
Seattle’s stockpile of top prospects would dramatically expand if the team decided to trade 26-year-old right-hander Felix Hernandez (9-5, 2.80 ERA), who is regarded as one of the top starting pitchers in baseball. Hernandez already has more than 1,500 innings over eight major league seasons, so perhaps the Mariners will unload their ace for a package of prospects in the off-season.
It appears that the front office is not interested in trading him right now.
The Mariners could also add to the cadre of prospects by trading 29-year-old left-hander Jason Vargas (11-7, 3.76 ERA), who is drawing interest from teams wanting to bolster the middle of their rotation.
Dealing Vargas makes more sense than shipping Hernandez to a new destination. Because of the ceilings of Montero and Ackley, plus the highly regarded prospects in the Mariners farm system, building the new generation of Mariners around Hernandez can create a contender in the next few years. It is rare to find a stopper like Hernandez, after all.
The Mariners have reason for optimism because of the aforementioned players, plus these top prospects:
- Taijuan Walker – Ranked fourth overall on the Baseball America Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List, the 19-year-old Walker was named to the Futures Game this summer and is already at Double-A Jacksonville, where he is 7-5 with a 4.09 ERA and a .241 batting average against. A first round pick out of high school (43rd overall) in 2010, the right-handed Walker could make his major league debut sometime in 2013.
- Danny Hultzen – One spot below Walker on Baseball America’s list is Hultzen, a 22-year-old left-hander who was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Virginia and a 2012 Futures Game participant. Hultzen posted a 1.19 ERA and a .151 batting average against at Jacksonville this season before earning a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma, where he has a 4.33 ERA in six starts. Hultzen could make the Mariners 2013 opening day starting rotation if his development continues to progress.
- Nick Franklin – A first round pick (27th overall) out of high school in 2009, the 21-year-old Franklin hit .322 at Double-A Jacksonville this season and earned a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma, where he has a .246 average in 134 at-bats. Franklin is not a power hitter, but he undoubtedly hits for average, as his .354 and .352 marks over the last two seasons (between Single-A and Double0-A) suggest.
- James Paxton – A fourth round pick out of the University of Kentucky in 2010, the 23-year-old Paxton is a left-hander who was a 2011 Futures Game participant. He has a 3.34 ERA and a .238 batting average against at Double-A Jacksonville.
Even with the power presence of Montero and the run-producing potential of Ackley, the Mariners desperately need to upgrade their lineup. If they did trade Hernandez, they would want a plethora of run-producing position players. Of course, with Walker, Hultzen and Paxton, they could always keep Hernandez, take a Tampa Bay Rays approach, build around strong pitching and try to scratch enough runs together to contend.