December 2011

Zduriencik talks on Pujols and Prince

 The Mariners selected left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge from the Brewers in the Rule 5 Draft this morning, but the talk of the Winter Meetings as everyone prepared to depart was Albert Pujols.

The Angels stunned the baseball world by signing the former Cardinals slugger to a reported 10-year, $250 million deal. Thus the Mariners will be seeing a whole lot of Pujols — and an increasingly strong Angels team if Kendrys Morales comes back healthy — for quite some time.

“That’s a very special talent that they acquired and just makes it more difficult for everybody in the division,” Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said.

Shortly after that, word emerged that the Angels also signed former Rangers ace C.J. Wilson to a five-year. $77 million deal. Here’s our MLB.com story on the Angels’ bold moves.

Now talk naturally turns to what happens with Prince Fielder. The Mariners have looked into Fielder’s situation, but like most teams are waiting to see just how crazy that market gets before committing too fully despite reports earlier in the week that they were the leading contender.

“Nothing has changed,” Zduriencik said of the Fielder situation. “I said I thought it was overblown the other day, all the front-runner status and all was a little bit unfair. As I’ve said all along, there’s a threshold, a margin we’ve talked about. None of us know where this is going to end up.

“You don’t know how the signings here affect any other signing. They may or they may not. But at the end, we’re still building this thing. If we can add pieces, great. But if it gets to the point where it doesn’t make sense for a lot of different reasons, then that’s just the way it is.

“I don’t think anything has changed. Just the fact we had so many people here, there were rumors and momentum. But some of that is created by outside entities.”

Engle honored at Winter Meetings

Bob Engle, the Mariners vice president of international operations, was honored as one of three Major League Scouts of the Year at a Wednesday night banquet at the Winter Meetings in Dallas.

Engle has helped sign such international free agents as Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Greg Halman, Carlos Peguero, Jose Lopez, Ryan Rowland-Smith and others for the Mariners.

Here’s the story I wrote Tuesday after chatting with Engle about a number of topics, including his emotional thoughts about Halman’s recent death, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s potential impact on the international market as well as the Scout of the Year award.

General manager Jack Zduriencik appreciates what Engle brings to the organization.

“Bob is very experienced and has been donig international stuff for a large part of his career,” Zduriencik said Wednesday. “With his connections all over th eworld and the people he has under him in different countries, he has a very good system.

“He’s had success and you have to respect what he’s done. It’s a well-deserving honor tonight. The organization is extremely happy that’s he’s been recognized. It’s a terrific honor.”

Zduriencik feels the new CBA could have a big impact on future international free agent signings.

“It has the possibilities of changing the landscape on how things are done there,” he said. “Like any of these issues with the CBA, I like the agreement overall. I think everybody in baseball — and there are 30 teams  — have certain opinions on parts of it.

“Technically they tried to make it where things are equal for all clubs from a revenue sharing and financial standpoint where there is equal ability to get a player. Until we actually go through it one time, it’s going to be interesting to see. But there are certainly affects internationally and on the domestic side.”

 

Zduriencik says no ‘concrete offers’ on table

The Mariners continued talking with agents and other clubs Wednesday on the final full day of the Winter Meetings in Dallas, but general manager Jack Zduriencik said nothing appears imminent on the trade or free-agent fronts.

“We had a lot of meetings this morning and talked with several clubs about a lot of different ideas,” he said Wednesday evening. “We spent some time with several representatives of players. Again, there’s nothing concrete. We haven’t put an offer on the table to anybody. It’s just continuing dialogue.

“So many clubs have so many balls in the air and agents are listening to options. But I thought we had very good conversations, quite frankly.”

Zduriencik said it wasn’t unusual to not have any firm offers extended at this point.

“I think you have to gauge the sense of urgency the other side has,” he said. “With all respect to them, offers have a lot to do with timing. Sometimes putting an offer out there too early may not be the best thing for you as you move forward. You really have to get a sense of how they feel about Seattle and what we’re doing. And some of that is an education.”

No matter what, the Mariners won’t walk away from the meetings empty-handed as they have the third pick in Thursday morning’s Rule 5 draft and will likely take a shot at a young prospect with high upside, Zduriencik said.

Bedard signs with Pirates; Mariners still waiting

Mariners manager Eric Wedge (front and center) is flanked by all 14 AL skippers during a photo shoot Wednesday at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. (Greg Johns/MLB.com)

Pretty slow morning, news-wise for the Mariners anyway, from the Winter Meetings here in Dallas.

Former Mariners pitcher Erik Bedard did just sign a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Pirates. Not bad for Bedard, who earned $4.125 million last year from Seattle and Boston on an incentive-based deal that paid $1 million in base salary and $3.125 in bonuses for meeting various innings and games pitched levels.

Bedard was an interesting case in Seattle, his big-time talent mostly lost in an injury-plagued tenure that saw him go 15-14 with a 3.31 ERA in 46 games over four seasons. He didn’t fare well in his brief stint in Boston after getting traded last July 31, but maybe he’ll find a return to comfort in the smaller-market Pirates situation.

The Mainers, meanwhile, continue their own search for a veteran pitcher and utility infielder, as well as — yes — a big bat that everybody wants to be Prince Fielder. But the whole Fielder situation figures to hang first on what happens with Albert Pujols as Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, no doubt is counting on teams that don’t get Pujols suddenly becoming more interested in his client.

All the conjecture that no teams seem to be stepping up big for Fielder can all change in a hurry. My presumption is that — much like with Pujols — there’ll suddenly be a team or two jumping in with both feet when it comes down to crunch time.

Where will that leave the Mariners? Most likely with a decision as to whether they want to go past the threshold they feel comfortable with in terms of length of contract and cash. But we’ll see. The Fielder situation has been different so far, but Boras has a way of creating bidding wars and Fielder is too good a player for teams to stay away from if they feel they have a chance at the end.

Meantime, they held the annual manager’s luncheon today at the Hilton Anatole hotel and Mariners skipper Eric Wedge broke bread — and some chicken and mac and cheese — with a few of us from the Seattle media.

Afterward, the MLB folks gathered all 30 managers for two group photos — one of the AL and one of the NL. It’s pretty cool to see all the assorted skippers in one spot, so I included the AL photo above.

Eventually the Mariners will have some news to report. At a minimum, they’ll emerge tomorrow with someone from the Rule 5 draft, where they have the third pick. I suspect they’ll sign a player or two as well before they depart. But if not, the table will have been set for further deals that no doubt will come when more dominoes start to fall across baseball in the coming week or so.

Zduriencik calls Fielder report ‘misleading’

Former Reds and Nationals general manager Jim Bowden dropped a little bomb on the Prince Fielder situation by suggesting Tuesday on his Twitter account that the Mariners were the “front runners” for free agent Prince Fielder.

But Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik disagreed with the stance Tuesday evening when meeting with several Seattle media members in his hotel suite in the Anatole Hilton in Dallas.

“I don’t want to talk about Prince, but I would say the wording of that is misleading,” Zduriencik said. “Because you don’t know, on any free agent, I have no clue how many clubs are in on any free agent that we’re talking to.

“Even today, the guys I’ve sat with tell me they’ve got five clubs interested in their player or players. And in any case, how do you know that? Another ballclub is not going to tell you. As I’ve said with all of this stuff, I’d prefer to be low key on any discussion. My style is not to build up a big fanfare. Sometimes these things get legs of their own.

“To say anybody is a front runner, I don’t know how that would have come out.”

Zduriencik said he ran into Bowden in the hotel lobby earlier in the day, but said the two exchanged nothing more than hellos. Bowden is now working for ESPN and MLB Network.

Here is Bowden’s full tweet: “Mariners are now front=runners on Fielder with Milw,Cubs & Tor all wanting shorter term deals….stay tuned”

Wedge open to moving Ichiro out of leadoff role

Mariners manager Eric Wedge talks to the media during Tuesday's Winter Meetings in Dallas. (Greg Johns/MLB.com)

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he’s had two conversations with Ichiro Suzuki this offseason, including one just the other day to discuss his role next season.

And Wedge indicated Tuesday in his meeting with the media at the Winter Meetings that Ichiro’s role could be changing.

“I’m still not sure where I’m going to hit him in the order and I want him to understand that,” Wedge said. “Because ultimately I’m going to do what is best for our club. I’m going to put out the best nine in the order I see fit to score as many runs as we can.

“If I feel like that is him leading off, then that’s what we’re going to do. If I feel like that’s him hitting in the three-hole, then that’s what I’m going to do. If it’s him hitting somewhere else, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Wedge said based on a conversation he had with Ichiro last year, the 38-year-old will be open to any change.

“He told me last year in the middle of the season that he wants to do whatever is best for the ballclub and he wants me to do whatever I feel is best for the ballclub,” Wedge said. “And I take him at his word and that’s what I’m going to do. He’s been tremendous, he’s been communicative with me and I appreciate that. We’re looking to build a winner and championship club here and that’s my entire focus.”

Ichiro hit .272 last season and finished with 182 hits, his first time in 11 seasons that he didn’t bat .300, reach 200 hits, earn an All-Star berth or a Gold Glove award.

“Last year was tough because it wasn’t a prototypical year for him,” Wedge said. “I haven’t been around him in a prototypical year. I’m hoping to be around him this year in a prototypical year.

“He’s a guy that can be aggressive at times, he can be passive at times. He has a mindset and goes up there and sticks to it. He’s a tough one to assess because it’s such a unique style. It’s very rare and that’s why he’s such a special player. He’s a future Hall of Famer, there’s no doubt in my mind.

“But right now, he’s here to help us win ballgames, as the other 24 are and that’s what we’re going to move forward with.”

Mariners seeking trade market for Figgins

While Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik talked Monday of Chone Figgins competing for the team’s third-base job this spring, there were indications the club is attempting to deal the veteran and has talked to Colorado about their interest in dealing outfielder Seth Smith as the Winter Meetings opened in Dallas.

The Rockies might be willing to move Smith, who is entering salary arbitration for the first time this offseason after making just $429,000 last year. The Mariners clearly would have to absorb a considerable portion of Figgins’ contract in such a deal, with the infielder still owed $17 million over the next two years and coming off a season in which he hit just .188.

Smith, 29, batted .284 with 15 home runs and 59 RBIs last year with a .347 on-base percentage and .483 slugging percentage. He’s had 47 home runs over the past three seasons, with most of his playing time coming in platoon situations against right-handed pitchers.

As for Figgins and the third-base situation, Zduriencik said he was comfortable with the veteran competing with rookies Kyle Seager and Alex Liddi for the job this spring.

“Right now we have Figgy, who I think has been in a real good frame of mind this winter,” Zduriencik said. “When he left he was determined to come back and have a comeback year. He let that be known to us, that he’s been disappointed in himself the last two years and really wants to come back and be our every-day third baseman.

“You also have guys like Seager and Liddi that feel the same way. This is competition and you have to respect all of their feelings. Figgins is a veteran guy who has had a couple down years. And you’ve got a guy like Seager who has done some nice things for us, so you let them fight it out in Spring Training. And Liddi is a young guy who has a brief time in the big leagues. We’ll let them come in and we’ll watch them all in Spring Training.”

Japanese shortstop interests Mariners

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is pursuing a backup shortstop to provide depth behind Brendan Ryan and acknowledged interest Monday in Japanese shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, who said last week he wanted to come play for Seattle and would be willing to accept a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League camp if necessary.

“From an organizational standpoint, it’s somewhat flattering to have someone who has specifically targeted a team he wants to play with,” Zduriencik said. “The fact a player is willing to do what he can to play with that team affords you greater flexibility. If he comes into Spring Training and makes your team, fantastic. If not, you know he’s willing to do a little more to get there.

“I respect what has been said. We respect the player. And again, we’re in the middle of the process of trying evaluate things. That player is one of the players we’re talking about.”

Kawasaki, 30, played with Ichiro on the Japanese National Team at the World Baseball Classic and said he wants to play with Ichiro again in the Major Leagues.

The left-handed hitting Kawasaki isn’t regarded as a strong offensive player, but is excellent with the glove. Zduriencik said defense is the first priority for a backup shortstop, but then noted any player brought in will be allowed to compete for a starting job.

“One thing to be clear on, even though I say our needs are a backup shortstop, any player can come in here and win a position,” he said. “Who is to say a player doesn’t come in and outperform the players we have? That’s a plus. That’s a good thing. It makes for competition.

“We have a shortstop signed to a contract, but if we bring in another player that plays better, no matter who it is at any position, then that player deserves to play and you evaluate it at that time.”

Zduriencik keeping quiet on Prince pursuit

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik prefers keeping things close to the vest, to the point where he declined to say Monday whether his team is in pursuit of free agent Prince Fielder.

 Without naming names, however, Zduriencik seemed to acknowledge that he’s talking with agent Scott Boras about the slugging first baseman as the Winter Meetings opened Monday in the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas.

“I don’t think I can go down that road yet,” he said Monday evening when asked what he could say about the Mariners interest in Fielder. “I’ve had discussions with some prominent agents. We’ve discussed their clients as well as our organizational needs. That’s pretty much all I can say right now.”

The Fielder question looms large, as the Mariners – or any interested team – must decide whether to hold substantial salary space for that push or to go forward with other signings.

“I think you have to be patient in the process, but there’s also a point where you get to an end game and you have to make a decision and do what you think will help you going forward,” Zduriencik said. “You get a little better feel as time goes on. Three days from now we’ll probably know more. But when you really have a feel for where years or dollars are ending up on any of these free agents, [you know] if you’re in or you’re out.”

The Fielder situation is interesting because more teams at this point seem to be indicating they’re not willing to jump in on the 27-year-old, whose price figures to be high as one of the game’s premier power hitters coming available in his prime. Fielder hit 38 home runs with 120 RBIs this past season when he finished third in the National League MVP voting after posting a .299/.415/.566 line.

Seattle native Santo elected to Hall of Fame

The Winter Meetings are off and running here in the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, though don’t expect a flood of news to pour out immediately. The Marlins popped the big story last night with the signing of Jose Reyes, but the first day of the meetings often is more talking than action.

One thing we can report right out of the gate is the selection of Seattle’s own Ron Santo to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Santo, a 1958 graduate of Franklin High, was elected by the Golden Era Committee. That’s the same avenue that former Mariners GM Pat Gillick rode into the Hall last year.

Santo, who died just over a year ago on Dec. 3, 2010, was a nine-time All-Star with the Cubs, who he played for from 1960-73 before finishing up with the White Sox in ’74.

Santo received 15 of the 16 votes of the Golden Era Committee to exceed the 75 percent (12 votes) required. Jim Kaat earned 10 votes.

Santo indeed played in a different era. He agreed to a $20,000 signing bonus to join the Cubs and maxed out with a $115,000 a year salary in the final two seasons of his career.

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