Seattle's lineup has struggled through April, managing just a .241/.314/.349 team line entering Monday's game with Kansas City and hitting an AL-low nine home runs. While Chone Figgins and Jose Lopez have gotten off to slow starts, the designated hitter spot has been a particular trouble spot. There has been little production from the veteran platoon of Ken Griffey Jr. (.519 OPS) and Mike Sweeney (.349 OPS).
Larry LaRue of The Tacoma News Tribune points out, however, that while the Mariners could release Sweeney (due to make just $650K in 2010) or bench Griffey (releasing a franchise icon like the Kid is probably not an option for the M's), there aren't any obvious options to fill their shoes in the lineup. Milton Bradley could see some time at DH since his injury history makes him an unlikely candidate to spend a full year playing in the field, but as LaRue notes, moving Bradley then just leaves a hole in Seattle's outfield.
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is certainly not adverse to making big moves to help his club, but LaRue thinks it will be until at least June before the M's can "find a team willing to admit it's given up on 2010" and talk trade. The June deadline seems like a bit of a stretch given that teams will always be looking to shed a big bat with a big contract if the offer is right, though LaRue doesn't think Seattle has the pitching prospects to net such a player.
One name that LaRue doesn't mention is Michael Saunders. The outfielder hit just .221/.258/.279 in 129 major league plate appearances last season, but he posted a .922 OPS in 282 plate appearances at Triple-A Tacoma in 2009. Saunders was sent to the minors during spring training since the Mariners wanted him to play every day, and has just a .385 OPS thus far for Tacoma. Should Saunders turn things around at the plate and earn a call-up, though, his good glove should provide defensive value in left field in Seattle and provide cover to move Bradley to DH.
Another minor league option is first baseman Mike Carp. LaRue dismissed him due to his low average at Tacoma thus far, but Carp is still slugging .484 for the Rainiers and has put up good on-base and power numbers in his last two minor league campaigns (not to mention a .878 OPS in a 65 PA cup of coffee with Seattle last year).
And, of course, Griffey and Sweeney could still turn things around given that there's a lot of baseball left to be played this season. While the DH spot may be a problem for the M's in the short-term, things haven't quite reached Jose Vidro-esque critical mass.