The Mariners should explore trades, as in trading J.J. Putz... maybe for some run production.

The Mariners should explore trades, as in trading J.J. Putz... maybe for some run production.

If there was ever a team that needed a fresh start, it’s the Seattle Mariners. The M’s had a disastrous 2008. They were second to last in runs produced, runs scored, and on-base percentage. Their pitching wasn’t golden either, posting a 4.73 ERA, good for fourth worst in the AL, as well a allowing the fourth most runs in the league (754).

Last year’s woes are not foreign to the front office, as they’re plenty aware of these statistics. New GM Jack Zduriencik (try to spell that accurately in one try) put it in perspective before the start of this week’s Winter Meetings:

“We lost 101 games, so there are quite a few areas we can improve on.”

Right on. So where to begin? Well as Ryan Divish from the Tacoma News Tribune writes, you gotta know what you have:

Pitching is not the problem. If anything, the Mariners have a surplus. If Erik Bedard can come back healthy from minor offseason shoulder surgery, the Mariners would have six starters: Bedard, Felix Hernandez, Carlos Silva, lefties Jarrod Washburn and Ryan Rowland-Smith and midseason convert Brandon Morrow. Part-time starter Miguel Batista, who led the Mariners in wins in 2007, is also still under contract.

Since pitching isn’t a concern, the Mariners need to focus on run production. They scored 671 runs in 2008 — next to last in the AL. The team’s batting average  was substantially better than their ability to score and have runners on-base, so there’s your problem right there. They need to target middle, or bottom of the order guys that can hit for power and/or players that can get on base with regularity. If they give you 60 or 70 RBIs, then hey, there you go.

The recent signing of Russell Branyan is the first of what will hopefully be a series of moves to improve run production (Branyan collected 20 RBIs), especially so now that Raul Ibañez rejected arbitration all but sealing his departure. Out of the nine regulars, five scored more than 74 runs or more, and Brenyan’s 24 aren’t a vast improvement (Richie Sexson managed to score 27 before he got dealt).

And why not give Jeff Clement a shot, he still has potential (23 RBI in 66 games) and he should get as many at bats this season as possible.

G.M. Jack Zduriencik is open to anything... really... ask him...

G.M. Jack Zduriencik is open to anything... really... ask him...

So with that in mind, it’s not surprising that Zduriencik let it be known that the Mariners are open to trade discussions, and that almost all of his players are open to suggestions. Zduriencik won’t make a deal just to make a headline; the Mariner’s have been a case study in big-name-itis (see Beltre, Adrian and the aforementioned Sexson). But exploring a trade for Jarrod Washburn (who’s on his final year) could be an option.

Truth be told, Zduriencik is being pragmatic in considering his options. Several teams are calling about J.J. Putz, for instance, but the market for closers is loaded this year, so he won’t make a move unless he gets players that will allow the Mariners to build two, three years out. That seems to be Z’s plan (I’m tired of spelling his name, darn it), and for M’s fans, it’s gotta be a refreshing departure from Bill Bavasi.

In a lot of ways Jack Zduriencik is the Barack Obama of Seattle. He’s got a huge job ahead of him and he’s saddled by his predecessor’s horrible mistakes, like trading the entire farm system for Bedard, signing Kenji Jojima to a huge and inexplicable contract and giving Carlos Silva four years and $48 mil. I have no doubt that Big Z is a smart guy and he’s capable of turning this franchise around, but I don’t think it’ll happen overnight.

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