JOHN CLAYTON

Mariners should keep roster intact, not sell, at trade deadline

Jul 12, 2016, 1:54 PM | Updated: Jul 14, 2016, 1:39 pm
After a strong first half to the season, Dae-Ho Lee has just four hits in his last 48 at-bats. (AP)...
After a strong first half to the season, Dae-Ho Lee has just four hits in his last 48 at-bats. (AP)
(AP)

The last thing Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto needs is advice from a football guy.

With the Aug. 1 MLB non-waiver trade deadline approaching, I have a couple suggestions.

Be more of a holder than a seller. In fact, don’t be a seller at all. And if the Mariners are going to be a buyer, do the “Dollar Store” approach and don’t give up a lot in prospects.

The Mariners reached the All-Star break with a 45-44 record, a record Dipoto would have accepted if given the option at the beginning of spring training. Even better, the team came out of the first half of the season surviving a bad rash of injuries. Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker are nearing their returns from the disabled list. Hernandez missed eight starts on the DL, and Wade Miley missed two. The only starter with a chance for 200 innings is Hisashi Iwakuma.

While I don’t have the sabermetric expertise of Dipoto and his staff, I study the numbers enough to come up with ideas. My biggest thought is being a seller would hurt a rebuilding process that could take three to five years. One of Dipoto’s missions was to rebuild a minor-league system ranked near the bottom of the league. His first draft was encouraging and his ability to trade for undervalued but talented players is part of his résumé.

But he will need time to bridge the prospect gap, and this roster is good enough to stay competitive for the next couple of years.

The one stat critics point out often is the team’s 13-18 record in one-run games. That’s the number that points to the team not being a seller. NFL and baseball stats fluctuate from year to year whether it’s because of injuries or bad luck, and the close-game stat is an important one.

Normally, a team that does poorly in close games in one season turns it around and is better than next year. With baseball being 162 games, it’s not out of the question for a bad first-half record in close games to flip into a good one in the second half.

I will give you football examples. Three NFL teams who were unlucky or bad in close games (decided by eights points or less) are projected to improve by at least two games this season. They are the New York Giants (3-8), Tennessee Titans (2-6) and San Diego Chargers (3-9). The five worst teams in close games during the 2014 NFL season improved by an average of three games in 2015.

Last year’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were 35-14 in one-run games and finished eight games above .500. This year, they are 9-11 and 15 games below .500.

The one thing that the Mariners can’t sacrifice in trades is their improvement hitting from the right side of the plate. At the break, the Mariners are hitting .257 from the right side with 55 home runs and 161 RBI, and they rank 12th in batting average. Franklin Gutierrez, Nelson Cruz, Dae-Ho Lee and Chris Iannetta have escalated the right-side numbers. From 2011 to 2013, the Mariners were the worst right-handed team, batting from .208 to .229. It was .220 in 2014 with only 42 home runs for the season.

Cruz’s addition last year helped improve things from the right side to .240.

Trading away a right-handed hitter would be hard to replace. The Mariners have a lot of players in their early 30s but many will still be under contract in the next year or two. They can buy Dipoto time to catch up in the farm system.

The key word is hold, not sell.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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