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Originally published Tuesday, July 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

Lingering hope muddies Mariners' plans for future

The Mariners are a last-place team with ambition, which represents progress, in a perverse way. Just so long as ambition...

Seattle Times baseball reporter

The Mariners are a last-place team with ambition, which represents progress, in a perverse way. Just so long as ambition doesn't turn into delusion, always a danger in the waning days of July.

Last year at this time, the Mariners were as hopeless as they were helpless, resigned to their immutable fate as a doormat. They essentially conceded the season June 27, when they traded Freddy Garcia to the White Sox for three prospects (all of whom, incidentally, are currently up with the M's).

Now, with the non-waiver trade deadline looming in 12 days, they are trying to balance realism with visions of grandeur.

The baseball world still expects them to be an unabashed seller, providing loads of veteran talent for contenders to pick over, like a holiday sale at Macy's.

Maybe they're just playing it coy to strengthen their negotiating position. But buoyed by the sweep of the Angels and six wins in their last eight games, the Mariners seems to be willing, at the very least, to wait as close to July 31 as possible to decide their place in the trade market.

"We're not nuts," general manager Bill Bavasi said yesterday. "We know our position is not enviable. But we're not of a mind to pack it in."

Suddenly, the M's have a bona-fide dilemma on their hands, an internal conundrum. At what point does contention become a pipe dream, and clinging to it become a hindrance to the best long-term interests of the ballclub?

Tomorrow

Seattle @ Toronto, 4:07 p.m., Ch. 11

They are nine games under .500, and 13-½ games behind the Angels in the American League West, which seems the very definition of hopeless, even in this 1995 anniversary year.

But they also emerged from the weekend 8 ½ games out of the wild-card lead — close enough, despite the daunting presence of eight teams ahead of them, to dream about mustering the sort of surge that put previously flailing Oakland into the thick of the race.

"We're in last place," Bavasi said. "In last place, you don't sit around. You try to improve your club at all costs, the best way you can. But we're not of a mind to jettison veterans that can help us win now, if we can't get something back that will help us now, or have someone to fill in from the minors we feel can do a little better.

"Because of where we are in the wild card, we're trying to be careful — trying to have that cautious optimism. We don't want to do anything stupid. But we want to do everything we can to help the guys downstairs excel. Put it this way: We're not eager to do anything until the deadline. Last year, we did something, what, a month ahead of time."

No one asked, but here's what I would do when teams come to call about likely trade fodder:

Eddie Guardado: Keep. It only makes sense to deal Guardado if they have someone ready to plug in, and the Mariners don't. Guardado is a strength; they can lock him up for next year by picking up a $6.25 million team option. To retain an All-Star caliber closer, it's worth it.

Jamie Moyer: Trade. He has been a magnificent performer, an asset to the community, and remains, at age 42, an effective pitcher. But if the M's can find a team desperate for starting pitching, and Moyer agrees to waive his trade-veto rights for a chance to pitch in his first World Series, it can be a win-win. Besides, there's nothing to keep the M's from re-signing Moyer next year.

Gil Meche: Keep. The word now is that the Marlins and White Sox, among others, covet Meche. As maddening as he has been, Meche still has a world-class arm and 10 victories to his credit. Plus, he's just 26. The M's have invested too much time and effort to watch him blossom into an ace with another team.

Joel Pineiro: Trade. Pineiro remains as maddening, and nearly as promising, as Meche, and they're days apart in age. The same risk exists in trading him, but at this point in Pineiro's career, with him still struggling to come back from elbow problems, his upside no longer seems as high as Meche's. If they can get a good package of young talent, it's a risk worth taking — especially to get next year's $6.3 million salary off their books.

Raul Ibanez: Keep. Ibanez is a quality left-handed bat, with the ability to play outfield, and a positive clubhouse presence. There's no reason to deal him.

Randy Winn: Trade. At some point soon, the Mariners are going to have to address the glaring lack of power in their outfield. Plus, they have Chris Snelling (not a power threat yet, but definitely a potential impact bat) having earned an extended look.

Ron Villone: Keep. Left-handed relievers are a valuable commodity, and Villone is one of the best around. Replacing him would be harder than you'd think.

Shigetoshi Hasegawa: Trade. Shiggy did a wonderful job in 2003, but his career appears to be on the decline. If the M's could get some value in return, they should do it, and groom a younger arm for the job.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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