As the trade deadline fast approaches, the Mariners find themselves reeling. They are only three games ahead of second-place Oakland. Shortstop Carlos Guillen is still ailing, first baseman John Olerud can't seem to find his power stroke, and the Mariners find themselves using the youthful Willie Bloomquist as the everyday third baseman.
The Mariners have quite a few weaknesses that must be addressed before the deadline. Here they are, in order of urgency.
A legitimate left-handed power hitter.
Olerud gave the M's a little glimpse of his former self, blasting one to deep centerfield on Tuesday night, but it was only his fifth home run of the year. Of the left-handed bats on the Mariners' roster right now, Ichiro has the highest slugging percentage, at .466. Only one Mariner regular, Bret Boone, a right-hander, has a slugging percentage above .500 against right-handed pitching. Boone has a .615 slugging percentage vs. righties.
J.D. Drew is the most obvious choice here, but Walt Jocketty remains very skeptical about trading a player of Drew's immense talents for someone as uncertain as Freddy Garcia. The Mariners should try to sweeten the deal for Drew, perhaps even throwing in a prospect or Jeff Nelson, with Seattle, of course, covering most of the salary difference. It doesn't cost the Mariners a penny, they get a legitimate power hitter for the next year and a half, and they get rid of Freddy, allowing Soriano to enter the rotation.
Matt Stairs has some very good power, but he is a stone glove in the outfield. The Mariners could acquire him for very cheap, and he would be a huge improvement over John Mabry. As for that other Pirate outfielder? The Mariners won't even think about it, because trading for Brian Giles means trading for Jason Kendall and his big contract.
A third baseman.
It's time for Willie to sit down. We want one who can hit above replacement level. Pat Borders? Not a chance. Unfortunately, the options at third look very slim. Aaron Boone and Tony Batista are the likely candidates here, and of the two, Boone is obviously the better option. Batista has some power, which is likely nullified by Safeco Field, but his on-base percentage is below .300.
Boone would join his brother in Seattle. His road statistics (.249/.311/.408) leave much to be desired, but, like his brother, Aaron has hit right-handed pitchers very well this season (.295/.351/.507). The Mariners would likely have to give up a couple "B" prospects to get Boone, but it could be a very good move if Gillick does it right. Unfortunately, the Dodgers might be trying to get Boone.
A backup shortstop.
Done. For everyone blasting the Sanchez deal, let's be clear: it filled an actual need - a defensive shortstop who can back up Guillen - and they got him for nothing, middle-of-the-pack prospect Kenny Kelly. Now, Kelly may yet be an adequate prospect, but he certainly wasn't in the Mariners' long-term plans.
A little bit of bench help.
This is where a guy like Jeff Conine, the aforementioned Matt Stairs, or a number of other cheap hitters could help the Mariners. This is an old team, and they need some capable backups.
A second "lefty" in the pen.
Shigetoshi Hasegawa (.223/.240/.287 vs. LHB) is easily a better option than just about any left-handed pitcher on the market. As soon as the ailing Kazuhiro Sasaki returns, Shiggy will be returned to the situational role he was used in before becoming the interim closer.
If Rafael Soriano does not join the rotation, he could also handle lefties. The Mariners' need for more pitching ranks somewhere in between closer for Tacoma and backup catcher for Everett. The Mariners don't need any more pitching. They just need some better bullpen management.
Regardless, the Mariners have to make a move. That much is painfully obvious. With the deadline approaching on Thursday afternoon, time is running out.
Dave Sund is a regular on the InsidethePark.com message board, where he goes by y2kornhusker and would enjoy hearing what you have to say.