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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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July 11, 2007 7:24 AM

Willis buzz heats up

Posted by Geoff Baker

Apparently, Jason Churchill at Prospect Insider is now backing off his assertion that Adam Jones will be called up tomorrow. Stay tuned for more of what should be a continuous stream of updates on Jones once the season resumes. Team sources tell us Jones is coming here eventually and well before rosters are expanded in September. But the team is on a roll, no one wants to mess with it and the principal players impacted by any addition of Jones to the roster -- Jose Vidro, Raul Ibanez and Jose Guillen -- have yet to be told anything.

To answer some of your questions below, yes the Marlins have looked for a center field answer ever since the Jacque Jones deal feel apart back in June. And yes, Jeremy Reed would fit that bill rather nicely. On the catching side, there is Rob Johnson and Jeff Clement who could be given up, allowing you to keep Wladimir Balentien for another day or another deal.

The difference in switching from the NL to AL tends to impact pitchers more so than hitters. Yes, there is the whole learning a new opponent thing, which both hitters and pitchers go through. But of even greater impact on the pitcher can be the fact there are no "gimme" spots in the AL lineups. In the NL, the No. 9 spot is almost always an automatic out since the pitcher hits. The No. 8 spots tend to be a bit of a joke as well. Not so in the AL. We wrote about this in a blog about Jeff Weaver in early May, showing how he'd fared 150 points of batting average against better when facing the No. 9 hitters in the NL since 2003 than he had in the AL. It was .318 in the AL, .168 in the NL at that point in the season. Haven't crunched the numbers since, but you get the point.

Horacio Ramirez went seven innings on Tuesday, allowing an unearned run on 9 hits while striking out 4 for Seattle's rookie level affiliate in Peoria. The game, won 6-1 by Peoria, was played in scorching heat well above 100. Ramirez was also called for a balk. In his two previous starts with the Class AAA Rainiers he was 1-0, with 6.30 ERA (7 ER, 10.0 IP) while walking 3 and striking out 5. He should rejoin the Seattle rotation in coming days.


WILLIS RUMORS ABOUND

That really isn't scorching heat you feel outside in Seattle, or Portland. It's the rumor mill going into overdrive about the Mariners possibly acquiring starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis from the Florida Marlins. Florida has had Willis on and off the trade block for the past two seasons, but he's definitely back on it as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote yesterday. While all the buzz has been about the Mariners and New York Mets being the two prime suitors, this notebook item from the New York Post this morning mentions that the Marlins don't want to deal inside the NL East.

Thus eliminating Seattle's chief competition as far as deal-inducing prospects go.

Would acquiring Willis put Seattle over the top? Depends on the pitcher they get. Willis has been in a statistical decline. He hasn't won a game since May 29 and his ERA is in the mid-4.00s in a pitcher's ballpark. His park-factored ERA+ is a lowly 87, 13 percent below the ERA of an average hurler and, for comparitive purposes, well below the 93 turned in by Miguel Batista.

So, how many prospects do the Mariners give up for a guy who may amount to nothing more than a No. 4 starter?

Well, there are some good things to be said about Willis, who won a World Series in 2003 and neary captured the Cy Young Award in a close race with Chris Carpenter in 2005. He's a left hander and under contract for two more years after this one, meaning this is not a rent-a-pitcher situation. Willis should also come at a lesser price than he would have a year ago. If he ever regained his previous form, he and Felix Hernandez would offer up a devastating 1-2 punch that would leave Seattle a playoff contender beyond this season.

He's had trouble spotting his fastball of late, though his slider is said to be improved over where it was in his near-Cy Young season. Command issues can be worked out over time, as we've seen with Hernandez. Willis has also had issues with his forearm, perhaps an alarm bell that should be going off. No sense blowing the farm to acquire him if he's going to head straight to the DL.

So, how much of the farm would have to be blown? I wouldn't trade Adam Jones for this guy. Shouldn't have to. His production is down, there are lingering health concerns and the primary competition for his services, the Mets, appear unable to even get in the race. With Seattle's center field situation about to be locked up for the next five years with that new Ichiro deal, and Jones appearing destined for one of the corner outfield spots, Wladimir Balentien becomes the most logical trade bait. You have to wonder where Horacio Ramirez fits in the grand scheme of things as well and whether he's going to be headed back to the NL as part of a trade package.

Giving up Balentien, if there's no place for him to play in Seattle, a major leaguer like Ramirez and perhaps another lesser prospect wouldn't be too high a price, in my book, for a gamble on the upside a healthy and sound Willis would bring. Yes, it's a gamble. But there are no front-line starters currently out there, nor will there be next winter. Willis at his best is one of those. Right now, he is not at his best. The M's would be hoping to exploit the latter and then pray a change of scenery for Willis gives them a shot at the former.

Hey, it's a shot. And sometimes, though this is not a perfect deal, you have to take a shot when you want to be a contender.

So, how about that All-Star Game? Ichiro was indeed the MVP. Too bad for J.J. Putz that Brian Roberts couldn't get him that final out. What will this do for Putz's confidence? Seriously, I doubt it will impact him much. He was due for some type of letdown and what better time than in an exhibition game?

Want a comparison? Let's look at Eric Gagne, who got rocked in the All-Star Game four years ago. All he did after that was close out a perfect season, not blowing a single save, and win the NL Cy Young Award. So, let's hold off on the obituaries for Putz.

Was yesterday a fine day to be an M's fan or what? It might be quite a while before so much news, all positive for fans of the team, hits at the same time again.

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