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Seattle Mariners' Best Trade Chip: Joe Saunders

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COMMENTARY | With the trade deadline approaching at the end of July, the Seattle Mariners will likely be looking to move a few players not involved in their long-term plans and acquire some young talent.

As they are already 10.5 games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West, the Mariners' chances for contention in 2013 are slim to none, and they should be definite sellers this summer.

Seeing multiple players depart Seattle by the deadline would not be surprising as the team continues its rebuilding effort. The Mariners have a few veterans who won't be part of the team in 2014 and beyond that could provide some value to contending teams. Of all these, the best trade chip Seattle has is starting pitcher Joe Saunders, who is only under contract until the end of this season. The left-hander is currently 5-7 with a 4.48 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 92.1 innings. He is also tied for the American league lead in complete games with two.

While Kendrys Morales is having a good season at the plate and it would not be surprising to see him depart next month, the Mariners shouldn't expect to get more value from him than Saunders. Due to a broken leg in 2010, Morales can only play limited time in the field. This likely eliminates him from consideration for National League teams, and diminishes his appeal with everyone else.

The reason Saunders' statistics appear so underwhelming are his massive home and away splits. He has a 2.53 ERA at Safeco Field in 2013, compared to 6.46 on the road. However, these splits have been reduced in Saunders' last three road starts, as he as only given up one earned run in each of them. His struggles on the road cannot simply be explained by the pitcher-friendly park as he isn't an extreme flyball pitcher, so his road ERA should continue to shrink.

Saunders isn't an overwhelming pitcher, and his performances won't amaze people. He can still provide value to a contending team as a solid back-of-the-rotation starter. The Red Sox, Rangers and Rockies are all potential buyers who could use starting pitching help and may take interest in Saunders.

Another factor as to why Saunders is so appealing to trade is that the Mariners should easily be able to replace him. Erasmo Ramirez has made five successful starts in the minor leagues since returning from injury and should be ready to come back to Seattle whenever the Mariners have a spot for him. Although the Mariners may not be contending this year, removing Morales from the lineup would leave their offense severely weakened, and a poor remainder of the season could spell trouble for the future of general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge.

Even though Saunders could provide some value to a team, the Mariners will likely receive only a fringe prospect at best for him. Still, Seattle's best move is to make a trade and hope for a bit of good fortune as it gears up to contend a couple of years down the road.

Nathaniel Reeves is a lifelong Seattle sports follower who is currently studying journalism at the University of Washington. He currently covers sports for The UW Daily.

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