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Originally published Monday, July 27, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

It's trading time for the Mariners

This was the weekend the pennant race left Seattle. The Mariners were outscored 31-6 by the lowly Cleveland Indians, losing three straight to officially begin the trading season.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Wasn't it fun while it lasted? The edge-of-your-seat, one-run wins. The ever-changing lineups that gave truth to the expression, "You can't tell the players without a scorecard."

Franklin Gutierrez playing center field as if he invented the position. David Aardsma locking down the ninth. Felix Hernandez emerging as a Cy Young candidate. Jarrod Washburn turning pitching into an art form.

Russell Branyan finally getting a chance to play every day at age 33, and realizing the potential he first showed in Columbus in 1996. Ichiro inexorably marching again toward 200 hits.

Ken Griffey Jr. coming home and routinely drawing standing ovations. And somebody, anybody — from Rob Johnson to Ryan Langerhans, Ronny Cedeno to Sean White to Chris Jakubauskas — doing something extraordinary exactly when the Mariners needed it the most.

On opening night in Minneapolis, new M's general manager Jack Zduriencik said, "We have a lot of great stories on this team."

He had no idea.

The fact the Mariners stayed in the American League West race this long this season is a tribute to the skills of new manager Don Wakamatsu and his staff, and a testimony to the resolve of this rebuilt team.

But this was the weekend the pennant race left Seattle. The Mariners were outscored 31-6 by the lowly Cleveland Indians, losing three straight to officially begin the trading season.

I don't believe in running from a pennant race. But at the end of July, just days before the non-waiver trade deadline, reality has hit the rebuilding Mariners.

As they kept winning this month, so did the Los Angeles Angels. Even as Hernandez and Washburn continued stringing together back-to-back gems, the Angels were stringing together come-from-behind wins.

Now the Mariners seem stuck in third place, 7 ½ games behind Los Angeles and 6 ½ behind Boston for the wild card. And with Erik Bedard — who has supplanted David Stern as Seattle's most disliked sport figure — returning to his home away from home, the disabled list, the M's no longer are in contention.

This is the real face of rebuilding: patchwork lineups, shuttle service between Tacoma and Seattle, no offensive production, uncertainty at the back of the rotation, more questions than answers.

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These Mariners teased Seattle by playing baseball the right way, coming together in the clubhouse and making the game feel like fun again.

This is a team worth cheering for, but it is a team that is a long way — at least two or three years — from being a perennial contender in the AL. It is a team that has brought fun back to the park, but it also is a team that requires patience.

(Forget former owner George Argyros' mantra that "patience is for losers.")

It is officially trading time in Seattle. I'm not talking about a fire sale. I'm talking about Zduriencik-style deals, smart moves for prospects. Deals that have to be done.

I'm talking about trading Washburn (to Milwaukee?), the best available pitcher not named Roy Halladay. Washburn, a free agent at the end of the year, has said he wants to stay in Seattle.

He can have the best of both worlds: a trade to a contender for the stretch run, before re-signing a two-year deal with the M's this coming winter.

Trade Branyan while he remains a hot property. Move him to a team like San Francisco, that needs a fence buster for August and September.

Trade, if it's possible, unhappy Miguel Batista before he gets booed out of town. Batista has postseason experience and could help a team that needs middle-inning relief or spot starts. The Mariners would have to eat part of his contract, but the meal would be worthwhile.

Trade Tacoma starter Brandon Morrow, who appears to need a change of scenery. I think Morrow no longer is part of the future. He could be more valuable to the M's in a trade.

Any or all of these trades will cripple Wakamatsu's decision-making for the final couple of months. It makes a mess of the starting rotation. But if the trades are done right, and there's no reason to believe they wouldn't be, they can enrich the farm system and brighten the future.

This trade truth shouldn't be disheartening. Rebuilding doesn't happen quickly. Look how long it took Milwaukee to be a contender. Look at Philadelphia's seasons of struggle.

The damage done in the Bill Bavasi era can't be fixed in a season. Much work remains to be done. Trading time is here.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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