Why haven’t we seen the Mariners make a big trade?

Dec 22, 2014, 12:14 PM | Updated: 1:29 pm
M's general manager Jack Zduriencik has shown a reluctance this offseason to give up the top prospects that it would take to pull off a significant trade. (AP)

Heading into this offseason I was fairly confident that we would see the Mariners acquire two significant pieces, one a free-agent signing and the other most likely through a trade. We have seen the major free-agent signing with Nelson Cruz but it is looking less and less likely that we will see that big trade. This is surprising to me and interesting at the same time.

The Mariners have drawn a line in the sand. General manager Jack Zduriencik has said repeatedly that he could not see himself giving up young, club-controllable players for short-term rentals. There may have been an opportunity to pick up Justin Upton last week. I say “may have been” because we simply don’t know what Atlanta asked the Mariners for in return. It is not as simple as figuring out what the equivalent would be to what the Padres gave up. The demands from the Mariners could have been very different. But if it was something closer to the return from the Padres, I find it very interesting Zduriencik didn’t pull the trigger on that deal.

One thing we have heard since the day Zduriencik signed on with the Mariners is that his goal is not just to build a team to get to the postseason but to build an organization that will be able to provide the talent and resources to be in competition to get there year-in and year-out. For all the talk from those outside of the organization about the small window of opportunity with Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano in their primes, the hope is that window stays open with players like James Paxton and Taijuan Walker taking the baton in the next few years.

While we saw a false start of sorts with the core of young players – with Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero not coming close to expectations and Dustin Ackley earning an incomplete grade so far – the second wave looks more promising with Brad Miller showing flashes and generating an enormous amount of interest from the outside and Mike Zunino stepping up to lead and handle a very challenging pitching staff. There’s also Chris Taylor, who maybe hasn’t been playing long enough for the league to make an adjustment to him but was still unflinching, steady in the field and steady at the plate in his first exposure to the big leagues.

Then there is the pitching. While the next top arms are still a few years away, the second tier again is very strong. You have the prizes in Paxton and Walker. There is Roenis Elias, who was seemingly pulled out of mid-air, and then that bullpen, mostly young and mostly home-grown. The second wave is promising and I haven’t even mentioned D.J. Peterson.

I can see the reluctance to not give up any of the names mentioned above, although I should point out that Zduriencik is a never-say-never type guy. It is unlikely we could see those names moved but not completely out of the question for some of them. The preference, however, will always be not to. Zduriencik and the organization believes in this group. They dug in a year ago. I think back to a the end of the 2013 season when everyone and their mailman was asking me if I thought Zduriencik, manager Eric Wedge and perhaps others up the ladder would be fired. My feeling was that it would be all or none, they would either scrap the whole thing or dig in, and they dug in.

I heard it in the first comments from Kevin Mather in his session with a small group of media members shortly after he was promoted to team president. They were supporting “the plan”, and it appeared that despite the fact that it was taking longer to see the rewards, they believed in it.

It would appear they are acting accordingly now. Obviously, there have been no panic moves to get that final piece for that one shot they have next year. I am inclined to question if Zduriencik has been too conservative this offseason when it comes to giving up young talent, but I can’t say for certain without knowing what was actually available to him and at what cost. Time will tell if keeping the young players pays off.

A deal he did pull the trigger on was Justin Ruggiano for Matt Brazis. I look at Ruggiano as a good half of a right-field platoon. If he truly is that then it would appear that Zduriencik made a good trade for little cost. He dealt from strength and gave up something he most likely would not have used in 2015.

What is interesting here is this is the kind of trade that seems to have been Zduriencik’s preference in the recent past. Nothing splashy, nothing costly, one for one to get him something that he needs. Nick Franklin for Austin Jackson, Carter Capps for Logan Morrison, Stephen Pryor for Kendrys Morales. Obviously, Morales didn’t work out, but if Jackson and Ruggiano play to their career numbers and Morrison picks up somewhere in the neighborhood of where he left off last year, then two and-a-half of the Mariners’ starting nine will have been picked up for next to nothing.

As I said, time will tell, but the interesting thing for me is figuring out what exactly we are seeing right now. Is Zduriencik holding onto players because he values them for the future? Is he holding onto them in hopes that there is something better available later in the season? Are the days of his one-for-four or three-for-one trades over? The offseason is not yet over and we very well could see a trade or two, but so far this winter the moves that haven’t been made are as interesting as those that were.

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Why haven’t we seen the Mariners make a big trade?