Micah Rice: Mariners should be buyers at deadline

Commentary: Micah Rice



It’s so tempting.

In a playoff hunt for the first time in more than a decade, the Seattle Mariners face a gamble.

Do they trade promising prospects for established players who can help right away?

It’s a classic dilemma: Do you trade tomorrow for today? Do you sacrifice long-term potential for instant gratification?

These are uncharted waters for this Mariners front office that need to be plied carefully. Seattle has plenty of young home-grown talent that’s attractive to other teams.

There will be overtures. Many of them will be Siren songs.

The Mariners have glaring needs on offense, which is mediocre aside from Robinson Cano (.340 batting average through Friday) and Kyle Seager (.273 average, 15 home runs, 63 RBI).

Seattle has reportedly shown interest in right-handed hitters Marlon Byrd (Phillies), Billy Butler (Royals) and Josh Willingham (Twins). Each could probably be had for a modest price, but wouldn’t be a player who re-casts Seattle as a legitimate challenger for the American League pennant.

That’s why reports of Seattle’s interest in trading for Tampa Bay Cy Young winner David Price and two-time all-star utilityman Ben Zobrist are so appealing. Both are under contract through 2015, meaning they’d be more than the rent-a-player types that would leave the M’s empty-handed after this season.

The Rays reportedly are interested in top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker and second-year shortstop Brad Miller.

That’s a steep price, but it’s a deal Seattle should make.

In the 13 years since they made the playoffs, the Mariners have suffered as much from a losing attitude as much as a deficit of talent. Deals they made ranged from misguided (signing Adrian Beltre at peak value) to disastrous (trading Adam Jones and four others for Erik Bedard).

There was no stability on the field or in the dugout. Since Lou Piniella left in 2002, no Seattle manager has stayed longer than three seasons.

The culture started to shift when Seattle re-signed Felix Hernandez to a seven-year contract before the 2013 season. It really changed when the M’s signed Cano, the top free agent on the market last winter.

At 10 years, $240 million, the price was steep for Cano. I’ll admit I was among the skeptics. But Cano has brought a swagger and belief that was as rare in Seattle as a Friday afternoon without traffic.

Finally, Seattle was no longer a remote outpost on the baseball landscape. The Mariners had to be taken seriously again. A blockbuster trade before this year’s July 31 deadline would continue that shift.

It would also keep them from falling off the pace in the AL West, which is arguably the best division in baseball with three teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today.

Oakland threw down the gauntlet by trading for all-star pitcher Jeff Samardzija. L.A. Angels just acquired all-star closer Huston Street, addressing one of their biggest needs.

The Mariners have a nice nucleus of young hitters and one of the American League’s best pitching staffs, but they are a couple pieces away from being true pennant contenders.

For more than a decade, Seattle has been sellers at the trade deadline instead of buyers.

Sure, the Mariners shouldn’t go overboard. But mounting a true postseason push would be like water to the parched lips of a franchise long adrift at sea.

That’s why any potential deal for Price and Zobrist is so tempting.