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An Obvious Pick-Up

Mike Cameron
Are the Mariners contenders or pretenders? There are arguments for both. Regardless, a player just hit the market that this team could, and should, go out and acquire.

Mike Cameron got designated for assignment by the Red Sox on June 30. In name, he is the same Cameron that patrolled center field for the 116-win M's in 2001, and through the turn of the millennium. In reality, he is a 38-year-old version of the strikeout-prone Gold Glover he used to be.

I guess obvious is a buzz word when it comes to linking the Mariners and Cameron. When a player has history with a team, like Cameron does with the Mariners, it is natural to root for a comeback. Stories with the flavor of the prodigal son returning home are timeless. They always appeal to the human soul.

Would a 38-year-old Mike Cameron appeal to the 2011 Mariners though?

The short answer: I don't know. The longer answer: We might as well find out.

In a year and a half of limited action in Boston, Cameron wasn't good. He posted a -0.9 WAR over 81 games, exactly half a season of action. That's not quite Chone Figgins bad, but it's approaching that.

Certainly, the main driver behind Cameron's decline is father time. His speed isn't what it used to be. Cameron's stolen base totals for the past 5 years, in order, are 25, 18, 17, 7, 0, and 0 so far this year. Along with that, his defense has suffered. At the plate, Cameron's power isn't what it used to be either. Interestingly, both his walk and strikeout rates have sunk as well, possibly an indication that pitchers are more willing to challenge him in the strike zone.

However, the Mariners have a gaping hole in left field. The youth movement is nice, because it creates the illusion that natural progression could fix the problem. Maybe long-term it will, but not this year. Seven different players have logged time in left field for the Mariners in 2011, and that high of a number already points to problems. Their combined WAR is an appalling -2.1*.

*That number is a little misleading, because three of the players included (Greg Halman, Michael Saunders, and Ryan Langerhans) have logged a fair amount of innings in center field. Still, throwing their production out, and only considering the four remaining outfielders, nets a -1.2 WAR. The story doesn't change.

The cold, hard truth is that Mike Cameron doesn't have to be that good to be the best left fielder on the Mariners. Given his .169 BABIP this season, there is reason to think that he has hit a few balls that should have fallen in. Cameron has also battled injuries in Boston, so if he can get a bit healthier, his production might also bounce back some more. Furthermore, left field is not as demanding defensively as center, so his mediocre to sub-par defense in center (at this point in his career; he was sensational in his prime) could play just fine in the corner.

Cameron is due a little more than $3.5 million the rest of this season, and then he is a free agent. What if the Mariners went to the Red Sox, offered a guy like Edward Paredes (who might have to be booted off the 40-man roster anyway to make room for Cameron), and were willing to take on, say, $1 million of his remaining salary? Right now, Boston is on the hook for all of Cameron's salary, without getting a player in return. That's a deal that could happen.

There is a decent chance that Mike Cameron is what he is at this point. However, that's still no worse than what the Mariners have now, and I like his chances to be a productive player the rest of the season much more than anyone on the roster right now.

Even if Cameron does not bounce back, he is by all accounts a terrific teammate, and provides an excellent role model for the rookies on several levels. For instance, Greg Halman is a great athlete with holes in his swing, much like a young Mike Cameron. Who better than Cameron to impart some wisdom on how to translate that skillset into success?

Acquiring Mike Cameron would probably boost attendance a little bit, and energize the fan base to a degree. I think the team's leadership could ascertain in the next month whether he is a viable answer in left field, or if they need to acquire someone else at the trade deadline. Cameron could also buy the team time to decide how aggressively they will buy or sell at the deadline.

Sometimes, a deal just makes sense. Mike Cameron makes a world of sense to me. Here's hoping he is on his way back to Seattle soon.