More than Morales: Mariners still need help for struggling lineup

Thursday's trade for Kendrys Morales was a decent start to the Mariners' trade-deadline maneuvering.

Robinson Cano is having a great season, but he needs more help to keep the Mariners' lineup afloat.

Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images North America

Thursday’s trade for Kendrys Morales was a decent start to the Mariners’ trade-deadline maneuvering.

But general manager Jack Zduriencik can’t stop there, if the franchise truly intends to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

Make no mistake: Morales, acquired from the Twins for right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor, will help Seattle’s woeful offense — even if his .584 OPS during an abbreviated season is the worst of his career. The Mariners entered the weekend only a half-game out of the American League’s second wild-card spot despite scoring the second-fewest runs in the AL this year.

Morales is an upgrade, because, well, it isn’t all that difficult to improve upon the worst non-Houston lineup in the AL.

When considering the context, though, it’s obvious Zduriencik must do more.

-- Kevin Mather, in his first year as the team president, said in a Thursday interview with FOX Sports that the team has “payroll flexibility” even after adding Morales’ salary for the remainder of the season — $4.33 million, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

-- Mariners officials aren’t bashful about touting their farm system as among the best in baseball. It ranked 11th in the majors entering the season, according to FanGraphs.com.

-- The Mariners have permitted the fewest runs in the majors this year (344, in 102 games). Pitching (and defense) like that ought not to be wasted.

So if we take the Mariners at their word — that ownership will allow them to take on salary and that their young players are the envy of other organizations — then it shouldn’t be all that hard to trade for a couple more players, right?

And it’s not as if Zduriencik and his front-office staff require a weeklong retreat to identify what the team needs:

-- Seattle outfielders have combined to hit only 15 home runs this season, third fewest in the majors, according to STATS LLC.

-- The Mariners’ .650 OPS against left-handed pitching is the second worst in the majors.

-- Seattle center fielders rank last in the majors with a .594 OPS, and the left fielders are only marginally better (.645).

-- The Angels, the team just ahead of Seattle in the AL West standings, feature an everyday outfield of Josh Hamilton in left, Mike Trout in center and the emerging Kole Calhoun in right. Lately, the Mariners’ alignment has been Dustin Ackley in left, James Jones in center and a platoon of Stefen Romero and Endy Chavez in right.

Credit the scoop to Captain Obvious: The Mariners need a right-handed-hitting outfielder. Maybe two.

Fortunately for Zduriencik & Company, a number of such options exist on the trade market: Matt Kemp, Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, Drew Stubbs, Justin Ruggiano and Dayan Viciedo are available (to varying degrees).

We can’t pretend to know the asking price on each. There are other complicating factors, such as Byrd’s no-trade clause. But Zduriencik needs to deliver at least one more impact bat to reward the fans’ patience through a dozen years of mostly irrelevant Septembers (and Augusts).

Zduriencik has been on the job for nearly six years. At some point, the abstract future needs to arrive. If anything, a major trade would reinforce all that has gone right for the Mariners this year: Robinson Cano is the rare superstar free agent who hasn’t struggled during his first year in a new city (at a pitcher-friendly ballpark, no less), Felix Hernandez is on his way to the second Cy Young Award of a potential Hall of Fame career, and Lloyd McClendon is proving to be the Mariners’ best managerial hire in a decade.

“I have an ownership group that’s as tired of losing as our fan base is,” Mather told FOX Sports. “I get tired of reading that our player payroll is $89 million or $90 million. We’re well over $100 million, and we just added Morales. We feel good about where we are, and we do have some flexibility. It’s no secret that we’re ‘offensively challenged,’ to borrow a phrase our manager has used in his postgame press conferences periodically.

“Jack’s talked to a lot of clubs, and he continues to talk to a lot of clubs. He knows he can come back and ask for approval if the right trade presents itself. Our ownership has never said no to a deal based on economics. All of that said, there’s not a lot of bats out there. And some of the clubs, it’s like they think they’re trading Babe Ruth.”

What would constitute a successful 2014 season for the Mariners?

“Obviously, we’d love to win the World Series, but let’s start with making the playoffs,” Mather said. “Let’s start with competitive games in September. We’ve come a long way in the last five years. We’re not going to do something silly for a one-game playoff in October, or even a best-of-five. We intend to win for the next six to 10 years.”

The Mariners are somewhat unique among major-league teams in that their payroll has yet to return to the level it was in 2008 — $117.6 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. That remains the club record.

But Mather said the team’s payroll could reach that level again, and perhaps exceed it, over the next three years. He cited local television revenues in the “neighborhood” of the lucrative deals signed by the Angels and Rangers in recent years, and he pointed out that an inexpensive base of homegrown talent should allow the Mariners to compete for high-priced free agents while staying within their budget.

Of course, Seattle fans know a championship organization when they see one. The Seahawks and Sounders play across the street from Safeco Field. And if the locals want to experience postseason baseball for the first time in 13 years, Zduriencik needs to deliver another hitter — or two — before the whistle blows at 4 p.m. ET Thursday. Otherwise, ex-minor league infielder Russell Wilson will be the only baseball player Seattle fans care to watch in October.

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