Trade bait for Mariners has limits

NEW YORK – The major league baseball non-waiver trade deadline is now three days away. And just so we’re clear, the Seattle Mariners are not trading Felix Hernandez.

Whew! That’s a relief.

If the Mariners had a dollar for every time general manager Jack Zduriencik was asked a trade-related question about Hernandez, they could afford to sign Prince Fielder in the offseason.

To his credit, Zduriencik never gets annoyed by the queries. Or at least, he never lets on if he does.

So with Hernandez off the table until at least the winter meetings, Zduriencik and the Mariners can go about the business of assessing value.

It was just over a month ago that the Mariners were 37-35, a half game out of first and fresh off a series win over the Phillies. But starting with a ninth-inning meltdown against the Washington Nationals, the Mariners have gone 7-25, including a 17-game losing streak.

Now, Seattle’s options are limited. What do the Mariners have to offer? Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson, Jack Cust? This isn’t a rummage sale.

People are coveting Seattle’s pitching beyond Hernandez. Erik Bedard, Brandon League, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister probably have the most value to contending teams looking to bolster their rotations or bullpens.

The question Zduriencik must ask is: Will a move involving a starter make the Mariners better in the near future?

“When you’re giving up something else that’s a strength of yours, you’ve just weakened a strength,” Zduriencik said. “We’ve all sat here and watched our club struggle to score runs. But with our pitching as good as it’s been, that’s why we’re in ballgames.

“That’s a strength, and that’s what we want to keep together. I want to add to it, I don’t want to take away from it.”

The right trade might move this team one or two years away from contending. The wrong trade might disrupt that timetable.

“This thing, we said all along, isn’t going to happen overnight,” Zduriencik said.

Here’s a look at the possible trade candidates:

 • Erik Bedard, starting pitcher: Bedard will make his return from the disabled list tonight at Safeco Field in front of a large group of interested scouts. Representatives from several teams, including the Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers, will be on hand to see how the talented, but not-so-durable left-hander, looks after spending the last three weeks on the DL with a sprained knee.

For much of the season, Bedard looked like an above-average American League starter. Despite a 4-6 record, he has a 3.00 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 90 innings. His surgically repaired left shoulder has shown no signs of causing problems.

A free agent at the end of the season, he’s the ultimate rental player. And because he likes Seattle so much, the Mariners could trade him at the break and still possibly re-sign him as a free agent.

 • Brandon League, closer: The hard-throwing Hawaiian has blossomed into a legitimate big-league closer this season in the absence of injured David Aardsma.

League throws a devastating sinker with velocity in the mid-90s, and his split-finger fastball is much improved. He has 23 saves and 27 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched.

Zduriencik doesn’t really sound too keen on the idea of dealing League.

“When you’re talking about pitching, you got your closer, it’s a tough thing to find,” Zduriencik said. “They don’t grow on trees.”

League’s value is currently at its peak. Teams desperate for relief help may increase their offers to the point where Zduriencik can’t say no. But he won’t come cheap.

 • Doug Fister, pitcher: He is better than his 3-12 record indicates. When you have the worst run support in the American League, there’s not much margin for mistakes to spoil your success.

Fister should be attractive because he’s 27 and under club control for the next two years. None of this is lost on the Mariners. He’s young, inexpensive and has shown a competitive side that Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge love. After League, he’s the least likely to be moved.

 • Jason Vargas, pitcher: A few weeks ago, interest in Vargas was keen. But in the wake of his last two starts – losses to the Blue Jays and Yankees – league enthusiasm has ebbed. He pitched a combined seven innings, giving up nine earned runs on 12 hits and walked six while striking out two.

The Mariners might be more amenable to dealing Vargas than Fister. Vargas is arbitration eligible next year, and his salary will likely jump up to around $5 million per season.

 • Adam Kennedy, infielder: The 35-year-old veteran has been a pleasant surprise. He signed as a minor league free agent and basically forced Jack Wilson and Chone Figgins to the bench by outperforming them at the plate.

His numbers – .253 batting average, seven homers, 32 RBI – aren’t overwhelming, but Kennedy gives you a professional at-bat and can play three positions.

The Mariners would have no problem dealing Kennedy. He isn’t a part of their immediate future and it would be a favor to Kennedy to trade him to a postseason contender.

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483