The rich become richer. The Seattle Mariners will have to be crafty if they hope to improve their team before the trade deadline comes and goes, because the best team in the league just became substantially better. Already boasting the best record in the league and a ridiculous plus-133 run differential, the Oakland Athletics are going all in for the 2014 MLB season in the AL West with the acquisition of Jeff Samardzija.
On America’s birthday, the Chicago Cubs shipped starting pitchers Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s. Many teams were reported to have been courting both pitchers, and the Mariners seemed particularly interested in Samardzija. Those interests can now be laid to rest, and Seattle will have to look elsewhere if they hope to add to their arsenal.
Athletics GM Billy Beane made a bold move and seemed to pull the package deal off out of nowhere. The Mariners, when everyone is healthy and James Paxton returns to the rotation, could have justifiably laid claim to having the best rotation in the AL West, if not the entire American League. Beane briskly squashed any notion of that. Though the A’s do not have a Felix Hernandez, their breakout pitcher for the 2014 season (Jesse Chavez) now becomes their No. 5 starter. Samardzija and Hammel will join Chavez, promising youngster Sonny Gray and the rejuvenated Scott Kazmir to make up a very, very potent rotation. How things stand currently, Gray and Kazmir would already be in the discussion for AL Cy Young award votes.
Before the trade, Chavez, Gray and Kazmir already possessed ERAs well south of 3.50. Considering they play home games in a very spacious pitchers park, Oakland will be a tough team to beat at home or on the road. That doesn’t change anything really, because they were already winning many of their games with ease. The Athletics just finished sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays in a four games series, another reported Samardzija admirer, and in due process dethroned the Jays from their perch atop the AL East.
The outcome of this trade might have normally been called a power shift in the AL West, but because the Athletics were already on top, it now puts extensive pressure on teams like the Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels to keep pace with them in the division. But also, a division win seems less likely now for the Mariners and Angels, so grabbing a Wild Card spot becomes a must. Most American League squads that feel they are in contention for a playoff berth will feel it necessary to make a splash with their own blockbuster deal.
The Mariners will have a great pitching staff moving forward when Paxton returns. If all the key pieces can remain healthy, their bullpen should not be an issue either. A veteran bat, probably at the shortstop or designated hitter position, could do Seattle some good. Now that Samardzija is off the market and the member of a division rival, Seattle will have to shuffle up their trade strategy moving forward and understand that another bat will do them much more good than an arm will. The Mariners will face Oakland six times in September, and all of those will be very important games to steal if they want to earn a postseason berth. Scoring runs has not been at a premium for Oakland this season, so the Mariners need to find a productive hitter, another Robinson Cano, who can truly challenge Samardzija and Co. in every one of his plate appearances.