Second of a two-part series, looking at the Mariners as they prepare for the second half of the season.
If the Mariners decide they are sellers instead of buyers as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, unwilling to make deals to make a run this year, it won't sit well with fans.
In fact, the last contending team to sell created such animosity with its fans, it was called a sellout.
In 1997, just 3-˝ games behind Mike Hargrove's Cleveland club on July 30, the Chicago White Sox dumped starter Wilson Alvarez and closer Roberto Hernandez to San Francisco in a transaction that became known as "The White Flag Trade."
The White Sox got a bunch of young players, but of them, only Keith Foulke and Bob Howry had any measure of success.
Having been battered from all sides already, it is unlikely Seattle officials will opt for more punishment being sellers, even if there are sensible reasons for freeing salary.
Mariners @ Toronto
Blue Jays, 4:07 p.m., FSN
For one thing, it would jeopardize attendance, which a good June and school vacations has bumped a bit.
On the other hand, maybe it's about time the Mariners tried something new.
Having brought in high-profile free agents in recent years, the Mariners tried to keep faith with the fans and re-create the excitement and success of their good years, 1995 to 2001.
But with the introduction of that group, the club has deepened its Janus-like predicament, facing both the past and the future.
While Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre have shown a lot more return recently than earlier in the season — in Beltre's case, better than most of last year, too — it apparently has not worked for the Mariners to hew to the history of a big-name lineup, with which the franchise made its bones.
Sexson, Beltre and this year Carl Everett have not taken Seattle back to where Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner had it.
So maybe the best idea would be to go back even further in time, to the 1980s, when Edgar and Junior came up from the minors, as Alex Rodriguez did later, and Buhner and Randy Johnson came in tremendous trades, as Jamie Moyer did later.
Beltre, who plays a third base few equal, and Sexson, who actually is very Buhner-esque in his ability to get hot and produce runs, are better now.
So now might be the optimum time to move the big guys — there reportedly is a market for Sexson in both leagues and for Beltre in the National League, even before he tore up NL pitching in 2006 interleague play.
But note that trades might not bring much. When teams take on payroll, they don't generally give quality players as well.
If Seattle officials choose to rebuild/reload by July 31, or later in the offseason, at least there is a solid nucleus with which to start.
If nothing else, the Mariners are far ahead of this time last year. They now have a middle infield that could excel for a decade, with second baseman Jose Lopez and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt; a catcher in Kenji Johjima, despite his intermittent struggles behind the plate, to provide time for Rob Johnson, Rene Rivera or Jeff Clement to develop; and a bullpen centered on Rafael Soriano, George Sherrill and closer J.J. Putz.
When one adds Adam Jones or Jeremy Reed in center field, Seattle is strong in the spine of the defense, and young. That's huge.
They have also established pitching standards under new coach Rafael Chaves.
But the second half of the season can be a hard dose of reality on many clubs, and Mariners officials must gauge if their June upswing is worthy of taking on more payroll and/or trading minor-league talent for a pennant run.
Taking a hard look at where the club really stands, chances are if the Mariners keep all of their high-profile talent now, they might have to move one or more veterans in the offseason.
The Mariners are also in a quandary concerning both Joel Pineiro, who has drawn some interest from the Yankees and other clubs, and Gil Meche.
If they do not move one or the other now, Meche will probably be gone after the season. Given his history of inconsistency, Seattle is not likely to be among the highest bidders for him as a free agent. He could wind up with $6 million to $10 million a year in a contract of three years, at least.
Crazy? A.J. Burnett signed with Toronto for $55 million for five years, and he had a career mark of 49-50. Meche's career mark is 52-40.
Projecting to next winter is not impossible. If the Mariners hold on to Beltre and Sexson and do not win the AL West, they will be pressured to move one or the other.
There are reasons to free up payroll, if nothing else is to be gained from trades.
As it stands, the Mariners could be $24 million lighter in salaries next season, depending on which way they go with Moyer, Everett and Pineiro, at the July 31 deadline or this winter.
If serious money is available, the free-agent pool could provide replacements for Meche, Pineiro and Moyer, if he goes.
Not only will there be top-of-the-rotation types like Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito available, but also Jason Marquis, Adam Eaton and Kelvim Escobar.
For center field, the Cubs will move Juan Pierre now or this winter; old friend Mike Cameron would surely be agreeable to come back in free agency; Gary Matthews Jr. might want to follow his father's 1987 footsteps here or with the Phillies; and Aaron Rowand may part company despite a mutual option with Philadelphia.
If Seattle needs a third baseman, Shea Hillenbrand, Tony Batista and Pedro Feliz should be on the market, and the same for Darin Erstad and Sean Casey at first.
Also intriguing and always at play with the Mariners is the possibility of acquiring players or pitchers from Japan.
Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or firstname.lastname@example.org