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Mariners face tough choices as Deadline nears

Moves could happen if expiring contracts attract strong enough interest

SEATTLE -- With Wednesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline rapidly approaching, decisions are looming for general manager Jack Zduriencik and the Mariners.

Though Seattle has been on a nice roll in July, the club still sat 12 games out of first place in the American League West and 7 1/2 back in the Wild Card chase going into Monday's off-day. So do the Mariners hang on to their handful of veterans on one-year deals, or look to parlay some of those players into longer-term assets through trades to contending teams?

Both Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge have been adamant that they like the feeling and direction of the current team and are not inclined to start swapping players unless the return is significant. There is value in keeping the young core of players on the team surrounded by competitive veterans and building on the momentum that has been growing in recent weeks while finishing up the season as strong as possible.

But there also is a reality that some of the veterans are going to walk away with no return at the end of the year, so it will not be a surprise if Zduriencik makes a move or two as the Deadline nears.

A year ago, with the club at 49-57 and 12 games out of first at the Deadline, Zduriencik dealt Brandon League to the Dodgers for prospects Leon Landry and Logan Bawcom and sent Steve Delabar to the Blue Jays for outfielder Eric Thames. He also sent Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees a week earlier for young pitchers Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell.

Of that group, Farquhar is pitching in the Mariners' bullpen this year, Bawcom has 18 saves for Triple-A Tacoma, Landry is hitting .224 with 20 steals for Double-A Jackson and Mitchell and Thames are no longer in the organization.

Acquiring lower-level prospects is always speculative business, and Wedge did not seem inclined to go that route recently.

"Unless it's something that raises the bar, I don't think we're going to do anything," he said. "We're not going to move somebody just to move somebody."

But the Mariners do have a couple of veterans who could tempt teams looking for a final piece to their playoff push. The Rangers reportedly expressed strong interest in designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales; left fielder Raul Ibanez could be of value to a team in need of a veteran left-handed bat; Joe Saunders pitched extremely well in the postseason for the Orioles last year; and Oliver Perez could be a nice addition to any team looking to strengthen its bullpen.

Shortstop Brendan Ryan and outfielders Jason Bay and Endy Chavez are also veterans who will be free agents at year's end. Ryan has lost his starting job and could certainly provide an excellent glove to a contending team, though his value has been limited by a sub-.200 batting average the past two years.

Morales might bring the strongest return, but he is also a player to whom the Mariners could conceivably make a qualifying offer after the season. That would require the club to commit to about a $14 million one-year deal for the 30-year-old, but it would also mean they would receive Draft-pick compensation if he signed elsewhere.

Right fielder/first baseman Michael Morse is another who figured to be a potential trade chip as a potent power bat, but he has been on the disabled list for the past five weeks with a strained quadriceps and is just now working in a rehab stint in Tacoma.

But Morse's situation could push Zduriencik toward some sort of trade, because his imminent return figures to put the team in a bit of a roster bind. Morse should be ready to rejoin the club as soon as Tuesday, when Seattle opens a trip in Boston, which creates a logjam in the outfield with Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Ibanez, Bay and Chavez currently holding the five spots.

Franklin Gutierrez is also working toward returning from a third rehab stint with Tacoma and is another veteran in the final year of his contract.

Ackley could be sent back to Tacoma to create an opening for Morse, but he has been hitting better since the All-Star break and developing confidence in his new role in center field. The only other obvious solution would be releasing Bay or Chavez, which is why Zduriencik is surely looking at trade options with one of his outfielders so he could get value back, if possible.

The Mariners are also extremely thin at the catching position at the moment, with Mike Zunino out five to six weeks with a broken bone in his wrist and Jesus Montero unable to catch the rest of this season following knee surgery. Henry Blanco, 41, and newly acquired Humberto Quintero, 33, are the current backstops. So it is possible Zduriencik could look to add someone to that mix just to strengthen the depth, though Zunino will be back in September, and Jesus Sucre is also due to return from a bruised wrist.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.

Seattle Mariners