December 2012

Zduriencik’s search for bat – and pitching – continues

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said he couldn’t comment on the Jason Bay situation on Wednesday evening, as no official announcement has come yet from the club despite reports the free-agent outfielder is close to agreement on a one-year deal.

But Zduriencik did acknowledge that the team continues looking for veteran outfielders and his description fit Bay.

“We said from the beginning if we could come up with a veteran player, preferably a corner outfielder or corner player, DH, a right-handed bat would be very helpful,” Zduriencik said. “It’s one of the things that has been on our agenda. It doesn’t limit us, but it’s certainly something we’ve kind of focused on.”

The Mariners remain in the hunt for an impact bat — with Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton still the big fish on the market — but Zduriencik said he continues talking to agents and clubs about pitching as well.

“In the end, if you don’t get the offensive piece you’d like to have or it doesn’t fit or the cost is too high, you still try to do things to make the club better,” he said. “If settling on a pitcher this year is the thing to do, that’s not the wrong thing. Maybe it doesn’t fit exactly like you want, but we still have a young staff. Adding a piece to this staff would be good and we’re very open to that.”

Zduriencik said he met with several clubs and agents Wednesday and had more meetings scheduled for tonight.

“We’re just going to push forward and continue to explore every option,” he said. “If it leads to a road well taken for both parties, then hopefully something will get done. Otherwise, you just keep doing your work and hope something clicks.”

And if it doesn’t click by Thursday morning, when the Meetings end with the Rule 5 draft, he said the hunt will continue on through the coming days.

Jason Bay close to one-year deal with Mariners

Outfielder Jason Bay, who was released this offseason by the Mets with $21 million still owed on his contract, was close Wednesday to agreeing to a one-year Major League contract with the Mariners.

No deal has been announced by the Mariners and financial terms are not known, though a source indicated it would be for less than $1 million.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said Bay could be an interesting addition to a team with a young roster that is looking to add a couple veteran hitters.

“He’s a guy we’ve been talking to, but nothing is done yet,” Wedge said. “It’s an interesting story, an interesting situation. If you are able to make it happen, you’ve got to feel good about taking a chance on a guy that has been a great performer at times at the big-league level.

“He has some strength with the right-handed bat, he’s a high-character guy, a hard-worker, great personality. He’s had a tough couple years. If it does come through for us, I think it’s a great pickup.”

Bay, 34, lives in Kirkland, Wash., not far from Seattle, and played his college ball at Gonzaga University. He averaged 27 home runs and 99 RBIs over a six-year run with the Red Sox and Pirates, but those numbers dropped dramatically after signing a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets in 2010.

He hit .234 with 26 home runs and 124 RBIs in three seasons with the Mets, including a .165 average with eight homers and 20 RBIs in 70 games last year.

Wedge said if the deal works out, Bay would be looked at as an outfielder and designated hitter.

Bay and the Mets came to an agreement to end his contract about a month ago, with Bay due to receive his final $21 million in deferred payments in exchange for free agency.

The buyout included an agreement that the money he received in any new deal would be separate from the Mets’ remaining $21 million, so they’ll still owe him that full amount.

Bay would join a Mariners team looking for increased offense after finishing last in the American League in scoring for three straight years. General manager Jack Zduriencik said Tuesday he could possibly sign two outfielders and Bay figures to be the first of that pair at a minimal salary, with the Mariners still having money to pursue Nick Swisher or Michael Bourn or add a veteran via trade.

Bay, a three-time All-Star and 2004 National League Rookie of the Year, would be given a chance to revive his career in Seattle much like former Mets pitcher Oliver Perez, who signed a Minor League deal with the Mariners last year and wound up rebounding with a solid season as a left-hander in the bullpen.

Royals say they’re not dealing Billy Butler

There’ve been a lot of names attached to the Mariners as potential free agent or trade targets at these Winter Meetings, but one guy you can scratch off the list is Royals DH/first baseman Billy Butler.

I wrote last week that scenario didn’t make sense, given the Royals are trying to build around Butler and add established Major League pitching and wouldn’t be inclined to give up their best hitter in that process.

But the rumor mill was still churning here in Nashville, with the Mariners and Orioles being listed as pursuers of Butler in various reports on Monday. Royals manager Ned Yost finally put that to rest Tuesday when he told MLB.com’s Dick Kaegel that Butler isn’t going anywhere.

“We haven’t even talked about Billy,” Yost said. “Billy’s name hasn’t been brought up unless it’s to say what a great year he had.”

Butler’s name did arise Tuesday when he was presented the Edgar Martinez Award as the AL’s best designated hitter in 2012 after hitting .313 with 29 home runs and 107 RBIs.

Trade Butler for pitching? That doesn’t make sense to Royals GM Dayton Moore.

“We’ve got to score more runs,” said Moore, “and we’re not going to score more runs if Billy Butler’s not in the lineup.”

Bourn would present interesting option for Mariners

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik continues pursuing every available option to improve his club’s offense and his agenda Tuesday at the Winter Meetings included a sitdown with agent Scott Boras, whose top available client is free agent center fielder Michael Bourn.

That’s an interesting scenario for the Mariners, who previously had been thought to be looking more for a corner outfielder with some pop.

Zduriencik didn’t name names — as usual — when he updated the media Tuesday evening, but acknowledged being open to adding two outfielders to his roster in the right situation.

“It would be great if you could add a speed guy. That always helps,” he said. “And it would be great to add a power guy. If you look at the two things we’d love to be able to do it would be to bring somebody in to be a base-stealing threat and somebody who could hit the ball out of the ballpark. Those would be two nice additions.”

Zduriencik seems intent on adding two veteran hitters, if possible, with first base one option. But with a returning quartet of Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Casper Wells and Eric Thames in the outfield, Seattle clearly has room to add now that Ichiro Suzuki and his $18 million contract are no longer on the roster.

“It’s very possible,” he said of signing two outfielders. “I’m not saying we would, but I could see that. Sometimes you get the multiple-position guy [who could also play first], sometimes it’s just an outfielder. One piece may be bigger than the other, that type of deal.”

If you connect the dots, it’s conceivable to see the Mariners pursuing a pricey leadoff hitter like Bourn and then also bringing in a lower-priced veteran with some pop like Raul Ibanez or Jason Bay, both of whom are on the club’s radar and would be available on one-year deals.

Bourn, 29, is a two-time All-Star with the Braves who hit .274 with 42 stolen bases last year and is one of the premier free agents available. A two-time Gold Glove center fielder, he could fit nicely into Safeco Field as another quality left-handed bat.

Do the Mariners need a leadoff hitter, a role handled by Dustin Ackley after Ichiro’s departure?

“I think you just look at options and try to make the club better,” Zduriencik said. “As you go through the whole process this week, you should engage in every opportunity that presents itself. And at the end, you evaluate.”

As for center field, Zduriencik noted that Gutierrez would be the starter there at the moment and he hopes for a strong year from the injury-plagued veteran. But Gutierrez played right field in his early years in Cleveland and could move over if it was a better situation for the team, with Bourn an outstanding defender himself.

That would make for quite an outfield if Gutierrez did stay healthy, with Michael Saunders also a fleet defender who can play any of the three positions. And if Bay or Ibanez were to make the roster as a veteran platoon or pinch-hitting option and clubhouse presence, all the better.

Bourn, of course, will be tough to sign. And he likely will extend things awhile, seeking his best deal in a very competitive market. But if it did work out, certainly an interesting thought for the Mariners and a different way of improving the team.

Even though Chone Figgins didn’t work out, I continue to think that speed is a valuable weapon in Safeco Field, even with the fences coming in this offseason. So we’ll see.

Keeping The King remains Mariners’ priority

Felix Hernandez has two years at $40.5 million remaining on his contract with the Mariners, who’d like to lock him up for a longer term at some point this offseason.

Hernandez, 26, is often the subject of trade speculation from teams wondering if Seattle would be willing to move him in exchange for much-needed offense, but general manager Jack Zduriencik continues to steadfastly say his ace isn’t going anywhere.

Zduriencik plays things close to the vest, but indicated again Tuesday that keeping Hernandez long-term is a priority.

He said he didn’t know if Hernandez preferred to get a deal done during the offseason or would be OK negotiating during the season.

“I don’t know the answer to that. But we’ve always had a great relationship with the agency that represents him. It’s still that way,” Zduriencik said. “To get into any talks about extensions or anything, I wouldn’t want to publicly do that. But he’s made it clear he’d like to stay here and we’ve made it clear we’d like to keep him. And that’s the best way to answer that.”

Rumors, reports and rumblings from Nashville

JackZSome interesting late-night chatter regarding the Mariners last night out of the Winter Meetings here in Nashville, though always wise to remember that rumors and reports often come out for a reason.

Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports reported that the Mariners met personally with Josh Hamilton on Sunday night. And Jon Heyman of CBS Sports had a Tweet saying the Mariners and D-backs had met Monday night, with outfielder Justin Upton “on the menu.”

What to make of all that? The simple answer is that, yes, the Mariners are looking at everyone who can swing a bat at these Meetings. They’re kicking the tires. They’re doing their due diligence. They know their offense needs an infusion from a veteran run producer in the middle of the lineup and they’d love to add that piece.

But will it be Hamilton? Upton? Billy Butler? Mike Morse? Wil Myers? Who knows.

Rumors are fun, but they’re also worth wondering about. The D-backs have been talking about trading Upton for two-plus years now, but they want a huge return. They’ve been listening to offers since 2010 and have yet to pull the trigger.

They’ve got four good outfielders and conceivably could be talked into dealing from that strength, but probably would prefer to deal Jason Kubel. Of course, Kubel wouldn’t bring the same return as Upton, a two-time All-Star at age 25 who is under contract for three more years at a reasonable $34 million.

The D-backs’ biggest need is for a shortstop and they’d like a Major League ready one, not a prospect. The Mariners have a strong prospect in Nick Franklin, but the 21-year-old might still be a year away.

Arizona doesn’t particularly need pitching, which is the Mariners’ area of strength, but of course every team welcomes quality arms. Is there a deal possible? Might be a tough fit for the D-backs and Mariners, but what if the Indians got involved in a three-way deal? Cleveland is shopping two-time All-Star shortstop Asdrubral Cabrera and is interested in prospects.

So maybe something can be worked out. Or maybe this is all just Winter Meetings chatter. One never really knows until teams actually do the deal.

Here’s a good read by MLB.com columnist Anthony Castrovince about Upton’s odd situation in Arizona and why he’s been subject of so many trade rumors.

Then there is Hamilton. Jack Zduriencik rarely talks about specific free-agent players or sheds significant light on his team’s pursuits, but he was pretty frank two weeks ago in telling me the Mariners likely weren’t going to be in on Hamilton this offseason.

He said then that you never say never, but  “at the end of the day, when you gauge the market, you have to be realistic about where it will end up. And there’s a strong possibility that one will exceed where we’re at.”

So has anything changed? Has Hamilton’s market shifted enough that he might be open to a shorter-term deal than the kind that figured to scare Zduriencik away two weeks ago?

Or is Hamilton just doing whatever he can to create a better market and kick-start negotiations elsewhere? Players and agents always benefit by having teams think other teams are interested and, better yet, bidding for their services.

Teams prefer to fly under the radar for the exact opposite reason. Remember all the talk about the Tigers interest in Prince Fielder last offseason? No, you don’t, because the Tigers didn’t openly talk about Fielder until they swooped in and signed him.

That’s why Winter Meetings rumors are fun, but should be taken in perspective. This much I can say: The Mariners are looking at all kinds of options to improve their offense, both big and small.

I wrote last week about the potential interest in left fielder Jason Bay, the former slugger cut loose by the Mets with $34 million still on his contract. And Mike Salk of ESPN 710 Seattle tweeted last night that a source indicated something might be close there.

Bay would come cheap, a very low-risk type signing with limited expectations. Think Oliver Perez, a reclamation-type project.

But Bay isn’t going to quench the thirst for a big-impact bat. He’d be more of an interesting project who might be a platoon right-handed hitter if he can solve his recent woes, but wouldn’t be the guy you planned on rebuilding around at this point in his career. And while he lives in the Seattle area and went to Gonzaga, Bay might also be interested in returning to Boston, where he had success before.

So what comes of all this, as usual, we’ll have to wait and see. Maybe news comes today. Or maybe we continue to wait. That’s how it works at the Winter Meetings.

A moment worth stopping for at the Winter Meetings

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Mariners baseball information assistant directors Fernando Alcala (left) and Jeff Evans show their Stand Up To Cancer placards after Monday’s press conference in Nashville.

Pretty cool moment here this afternoon at the Winter Meetings in Nashville as the public relations directors for all 30 MLB clubs gathered on the stage in the media room and did a promotion for Stand Up To Cancer.

The effort was in conjunction with an online auction through MLB.com to raise money for SU2C and was inspired by the numerous people in baseball and their families that are dealing with the disease.

I’ve got this story on Mariners.com with Mariners baseball information director Tim Hevly talking about the Mariners auction items and why this initiative is so important to a club that has had its share of players and employees deal with the disease.

Each team put up several pretty cool auction items. The Mariners offered a 30-minute private pitching lesson at Safeco Field with pitching coach Carl Willis; a Felix Hernandez perfect game package that includes an autographed “K” card and his perfect game DVD; and a chance for someone to spend a game day at Safeco Field as a Mariners media person.

You can see and bid on all the MLB auction items here.

The Winter Meetings are usually dominated by rumors and breaking news on baseball trades and signings, but this was a moment worth stopping for.

Napoli to Red Sox; where does that leave Mariners?

Mike Napoli, one of the Mariners potential offensive targets, is already off the table at the Winter Meetings as the Red Sox have signed the veteran catcher/first baseman to a three-year, $39 million deal according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

Does that mean the Mariners are out the catching market? A couple of reporters happened to be talking to Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik moments before the Napoli news came out and I asked him whether he felt he needed to add a veteran catcher this offseason to his current returners, John Jaso and Jesus Montero.

Here’s his answer:

“Right now you’re going to have the two guys, Montero and Jaso catch. You’ve got your left-right combo, that’s nice. Both guys have their skill-set they bring to the table. Neither guy is what you’d call a defensive receiver. Both are offensive catchers.

“We’ll have our ears open certainly to see how the right type of catcher would fit. You don’t want to take away their ABs right now just for a defensive catcher because our needs are offense. But I do think we have to address a defensive possibility if it exists.”

My sense is that the Mariners would have been willing to add Napoli because of the bat he’d bring, but catcher really isn’t their priority — in part because of the looming addition of first-round Draft pick Mike Zunino as well.

They’ll drop back now and consider a low-priced veteran, but they’ll look at other positions now to add the bat they covet with Napoli off the market.

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