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Originally published June 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 5, 2007 at 9:09 PM

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Larry Stone

Strong arm, not Griffey, best for M's right now

Now that the three-day Ken Griffey Jr. lovefest has ended, it's time to take a deep breath and come back to reality. Rest assured, the message...

Seattle Times baseball reporter

Now that the three-day Ken Griffey Jr. lovefest has ended, it's time to take a deep breath and come back to reality.

Rest assured, the message was delivered, loud and clear. If Griffey had any lingering doubts about his place in the Seattle landscape, they were buried under an avalanche of unabashed affection.

"Junior knew his reception would be pretty good; he just didn't know how good," Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, said Monday upon returning to Cincinnati from Seattle. "He didn't want to set himself up for disappointment.

"He was truly overwhelmed. He really felt the love, and he really returned the love."

The weekend may have indeed laid the foundation for Griffey's eventual return to Seattle. He certainly dropped a pretty big hint when he told FSN's Angie Mentink, "I think I owe it to the people of Seattle and myself, to retire as a Mariner."

But the key word is "eventual." Right now, as they near the critical final month before the trade deadline, the Mariners have myriad issues with which to deal. With all due respect for the good folks at www.bringgriffeyback.com, the potential acquisition of Junior isn't on the short list.

The Mariners must use the next month to decide if they are buyers or sellers, a decision that is easy for the truly dominant (think 2001 Mariners — even though they browsed and didn't buy; unless you count Eugene Klingsale and Pat Borders, and I don't) and the truly abhorrent (think 2004 Mariners).

But it can be an excruciating dilemma for teams on the bubble, which is where the Mariners are likely to be. In other words, close enough to dream of a miracle, but far enough away to ponder the efficacy of sending off top prospects in pursuit of that veteran arm that would put them over the top.

And "arm" is the operative word. The Mariners' pecking order in the pennant race is not going to be determined by adding a 37-year-old bat (attached to an injury-prone body) to a lineup that has been mostly solid, and often better than that.

Heading into Monday's game against Boston, the Mariners had produced 5.01 runs per game. The mighty Red Sox, percolating along with baseball's best record, had scored 5.05 runs per game, a barely perceptible difference.

If the Mariners do need an offensive boost, they have a potentially turbo-charged one just down the road in Tacoma, where Adam Jones has been tearing up Class AAA pitching (.316, 17 homers, 58 runs batted in, .389 on-base percentage, .589 slugging percentage; he recently suffered a back injury from running into an outfield wall and is listed as day to day).

Jones' time has just about come, and rising fast behind him is Wladimir Balentien (.323-17-53-.400-.560), who also looks to be something special. Balentien is 22 years old.

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The Mariners, for this year and beyond, would be better served finding playing time for kids with an unlimited future than a sentimental superstar with an unlimited past.

Sorry to be a party pooper, but as rousing as the Griffey homecoming was, and as much as Griffey has meant to this organization, the M's need to evaluate their upcoming personnel moves divorced from the emotional tugs of a magical weekend.

The big difference between the Red Sox and Mariners, of course, is in the pitching. The Red Sox's 3.70 team earned-run-average is second in the American League only to Oakland, while the Mariners are ahead of just Texas and Tampa Bay at 4.74 — which breaks down to 5.41 for the starting rotation.

The Red Sox have a bonafide ace in Josh Beckett, while the Mariners' ace, Felix Hernandez, is still finding his way. If the Mariners decide they are going to go for broke this year — and the pros and cons of that impending decision is a discussion for another day — they need to use their bullets to acquire an impact pitcher.

Someone like, say, Mark Buehrle, who will be the hottest commodity on the market now that the Chicago White Sox have all but decided to clean house. Every contender will want Buehrle, and Sox GM Kenny Williams' asking price is said to be each team's top minor-league prospect — no doubt Jones, in the Mariners' case.

That's too steep a price to pay for a rent-a-player, but if the Mariners hang tight in the wild-card race (the Angels are looking more insurmountable each day) and can put together a prospects package sans Jones, that would be a much more prudent route to go than Griffey.

Junior's status can be revisited in the offseason, when the Mariners might be able to clear a spot in the lineup. But for now, if the M's are going to buy, they should buy a pitcher.

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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