So much for the quiet off-season …
While the Mariners have been pretty low-key in the initial weeks of the Hot Stove League, GM Jack Zduriencik certainly got a few burners lit Thursday in a busy day that included the trading of Jose Lopez, the surprising return of Erik Bedard, the departure of Ryan Rowland-Smith and four moves to retain arbitration-eligible players.
Pitchers David Aardsma, Brandon League and Jason Vargas were all tendered offers as expected, which means they’ll either head into arbitration or come to agreements prior to that process. Utility infielder Josh Wilson agreed to a one-year deal Thursday night to avoid the whole tender/arbitration issue.
Now Zduriencik and his staff can head to next week’s Winter Meetings in Orlando with a better grasp of their roster situation.
Moving Lopez and cutting ties with Rowland-Smith opens up a little payroll and roster space, with Zduriencik saying he’ll pursue veterans in a couple positions to help solidify a roster that is rebuilding around some promising young prospects like Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, Adam Moore and Michael Saunders.
“They’re young and talented,” Zduriencik said of that group. “But it would be nice to land a few pieces that would bring us a degree of veteran leadership and fill some of the needs we still have.”
Zduriencik didn’t rule out the continued pursuit of starting pitching despite the return of Bedard, who he expects to be ready to challenge for a rotation spot. That re-signing will raise a lot of eyebrows from frustrated Mariners’ fans, but it’s a low-risk, potentially high-reward gamble given Bedard’s willingness to agree to a non-guaranteed contract.
If he goes to Spring Training and throws like the Bedard who went 28-16 with an ERA around 3.50 for Baltimore in 2006-07, the Mariners will have a quality No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez. If not, well, that’s why both parties agreed to a non-guaranteed contract, something of a rarity in Major League baseball.
The departures of Lopez and Rowland-Smith fall into the not-surprising category for a team trying to put a 101-loss season behind them. Both had their moments, but both struggled horribly last season.
Zduriencik didn’t want to risk going to arbitration with Rowland-Smith and worked on signing him to a deal — as the club did with Josh Wilson — right up to the 9 p.m. tender deadline. But the two sides couldn’t agree on what RRS was worth and he opted for free agency.
More power to him as the 27-year-old Australian truly is one of the best people you’ll find in baseball.
Lopez, too, could benefit from a fresh start, not to mention a chance to hit in Coors Field. If he returns to the guy who smacked 25 home runs and 96 RBIs a year ago, the Rockies will be thrilled. And Mariners’ fans will gnash their teeth. But that wasn’t happening for him in Seattle and the Mariners now will see what they got from 24-year-old pitcher Chaz Roe, a former first-round pick of the Rockies who struggled last year in Triple-A Colorado Springs, which isn’t an easy place to pitch.
Whether Roe ever helps the Mariners remains to be seen, but it’s a far better return than most expected from a situation where Lopez was going to be non-tendered and become a free agent if a deal couldn’t be worked out by 9 p.m. Thursday.
So that’s that. A busy day, a little roster reconstruction and the start of what figures to be more moves to come as Zduriencik goes about his business beginning Monday in Orlando.