December 2013

Gutierrez agrees on 1-year deal, pending physical

GutiCageThe Mariners are bringing back a familiar face as a baseball source has confirmed that free-agent outfielder Franklin Gutierrez has agreed to a one-year deal, pending completion of a physical exam on Wednesday.

The Mariners haven’t confirmed the deal, but ESPN Deportes is reporting the contract has a $1 million base salary, with the potential of an additional $2 million in incentives. Gutierrez is in Seattle and is expected to meet with reporters once everything is finalized.

This is an interesting move, given the low-risk nature of the contract. Obviously nobody knows better than the Mariners and their fans what a challenge it has been for Gutierrez to stay healthy. But given the need for a right-handed bat and a quality defender, Jack Zduriencik obviously feels the upside of a potentially healthy Guti is worth another shot.

The only real gamble, given the low price of the contract, is giving up a 40-man roster spot once again to a player that couldn’t be counted on the past three years. And if Gutierrez does look good this spring, the club will once again face a decision on whether to put him on the 25-man roster at the expense of another outfielder and then hold its breath and see if he stays healthy.

But that decision is down the line, so we’ll see how he’s doing now and in the spring.

Gutierrez, 30, played the past five seasons for Seattle and was an American League Gold Glove winner in 2010, but missed 313 of the team’s 486 games over the past three years due to his host of health issues.

The Mariners declined a $7 million club option last month on a contract that originally paid Gutierrez about $19 million over the previous four years, so he is taking a big paycut and obviously would love to prove to teams he’s capable of staying healthy and productive again.

Gutierrez hit .248 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs in 41 games last year, but spent most of the season on the disabled list or in Triple-A Tacoma due to hamstring problems.

He played just 40 games in 2012 as well due to two DL stints with a torn pectoral muscle and a concussion and was limited to 92 games in 2011 after missing time with a stomach disorder and then a strained oblique.

Gutierrez was diagnosed with an inflammatory condition called ankylosing spondylitis last year and is hopeful that medication will allow him to deal with the hip and joint issues that have hindered him.  When healthy, the Venezuela native is regarded as one of the American League’s premier defenders and the Mariners could use his right-handed bat in their lefty-heavy lineup. He hit .283 with 18 homers, 70 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 2009 in his first year after being acquired by trade from the Indians.

The club just signed free agent Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison, who are both capable of playing the outfield, but both are returning from knee issues of their own. <p> The Mariners only returning outfielders currently are Michael Saunders, converted second baseman Dustin Ackley and September callup Abraham Almonte.

Furbush signs one-year compromise deal

Seattle Mariners v St. Louis Cardinals

This one is a little complicated, but the Mariners signed lefty reliever Charlie Furbush to one-year contract Tuesday as the two parties reached an agreement to avoid any potential dispute over whether he was going to be arbitration eligible.

The deal is for $750,000, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. Furbush made $504,000 last year and would have only been in line for a small hike from the Mariners under normal circumstances as a pre-arbitration eligible player.

Furbush finished just shy of Super 2 contract status in Major League Baseball’s service-time calculations this offseason, thus just missing the opportunity to enter the arbitration process a year earlier than normal.

Under MLB’s labor agreement, after three years of service time, all players are eligible for arbitration and the ability to ask for more than the minimum salary. Additionally, the top 22 percent of players with two-plus years of service time are eligible for arbitration each year as so-called “Super 2s.”

Furbush was the first player to miss the cutoff for the 22 percent and thus wasn’t slated to be arbitration eligible. But Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada is considering filing a grievance over a service time issue that, if he wins, would move him out of Super 2 status and thus open the last spot for Furbush.

The Mariners pre-empted any issue by coming to agreement with Furbush on a compromise one-year deal that essentially splits the difference of what he likely would have made in arbitration versus his pre-arbitration salary.

Seattle has just two arbitration eligible players this offseason in outfielder Michael Saunders and first baseman Justin Smoak.

Tejada was the final September call-up by the Mets last season, being promoted on Sept. 10, a move that left him one day short of a full three seasons of service time in his MLB career. He is considering a grievance over the timing of that promotion.

Tejada already would be arbitration eligible this year as a Super 2, but one more day of service time would allow him to become a free agent after the 2016 season instead of waiting until 2017.

Furbush, 27, appeared in team-high 71 games last year, tied for 10th in the American League, while going 2-6 with a 3.74 ERA. He held opponents to a .199 batting average, including .173 against left-handers, and averaged 11.08 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

The MLB Players Union and MLB agreed to the compromise contract. Furbush served as the Mariners’ player representative with the players union last year.

Zduriencik talks about what’s next on agenda

LoMoHart

After finalizing deals for Robinson Cano, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison in the span of 24 hours, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik indicated Friday he’s likely not done yet with the offseason makeover.

The Winter Meetings ended Thursday, with Zduriencik and other Mariners officials chartering a flight home late Wednesday night so they could attend Cano’s introductory press conference, but that hasn’t slowed the lines of communication with other clubs.

“I’d still like to add to some areas of the ballclub,” Zduriencik said. “I had conversations this morning. I’ve been very specific on what we’d like to do. I’d love to be able to get another pitcher, we’ll look for bullpen help and maybe the possibility of a backup catcher.

“If nothing else happens, we’ve done some things here to improve the club,” he said. “But you’re always going to try to take a step forward and entertain every option that presents itself. So we’ll see.”

The Mariners, who previously signed veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist, now have been one of the busier teams this offseason with their Wednesday flurry at the Winter Meetings. And Zduriencik said the agreement with Hart and trade for Morrison indeed came to fruition in about a 15-minute period, thanks to a lightning-fast deal with the Marlins.

“It was very, very important for us to get a right-handed hitter and Corey fit that bill,” Zduriencik said. “Then when Logan became available, that happened real quick. Honest to God, it was one conversation. I texted [Marlins GM Dan Jennings] and said I’d have interest in Logan Morrison and he texted back and said ‘Carter Capps.’

“We called each other and had a five-minute conversation and consummated the deal. As much as I did not want to trade Carter, because we love the upside that kid has, I also felt it was important to get a player that is 26 years of age and has the offensive prowess this guy potentially has and he’s healthy.”

Having addressed the offense, Zduriencik’s next move may well involve pitching. He’s said from the start that he’d like to add a veteran to the rotation to work behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and take the pressure off young up-and-comers Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer and Erasmo Ramirez.

Whether Seattle can jump into the deep pool again for a top-tier free agent like Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana or Bronson Arroyo – or whether they can afford to wait for those players to make decisions while others go off the market – remains to be seen.

“Sometimes a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush,” Zduriencik said. “So if you’re waiting on one particular thing to happen and you get shut out – because there are 29 other teams bidding for the same things we are – there’s timing involved. If something looks like it has a chance to work and you get a genuine feeling, then you go down that road. But if you’re not sure, you might need to make another move just because you can shore up your club in another area of need and make your club better incrementally.”

The Mariners have only two catchers on their 40-man roster in rookies Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre, so adding a veteran there could be helpful. And the bullpen, with Capps now gone, seems another area where additions are likely in the coming weeks before Spring Training begins in February.

Jay-Z puts the wrap on Cano’s hello to Seattle

CanoZYeah, Robinson Cano officially became a Mariner today, which for a couple of us who cover the club meant leaving the Winter Meetings a half-day sooner than expected and flying to Seattle for Thursday afternoon’s press conference.

But despite a very short night and long flight, the sleep deprivation was worth it. The Mariners put on quite a show for Cano’s arrival, which included Jay-Z’s presence as Cano is the rap star’s first client in his new sports agency career.

Jay-Z didn’t take center stage for this one, even though he was besieged by photographers when he first entered the room. Although the club did unveil a Cano highlight film accompanied naturally by Jay-Z’s music, the man himself told reporters this was Cano’s day, not his, and he’d prefer to stay out of the spotlight.

And, no, his wife Beyonce wasn’t there at all.

But make no mistake, Jay-Z had his mark on this whole situation. Fellow agent Brodie Van Wagenen is the co-head of the baseball division at CAA Sports. Cano bailed on Scott Boras last year and is now represented by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports, a joint venture between Roc Nation and CAA.

Van Wagenen handled the interviews after Thursday’s press conference, but said Jay-Z definitely played a major role in the negotiations.

“Jay is a partner,” Van Wagenen said. “Jay launched Roc Nation Sports back in April. Obviously Robinson was the first client we worked together with. As I’ve always said, there’s nothing that Roc Nation Sports does that Jay-Z doesn’t have his fingerprints on. Throughout this process, he’s been intimately involved in every step of the way.

“He helped Robinson understand what it meant to be a free agent, what was at stake and what ultimately was most important to him and his family. As the negotiations began, he was involved in the preparation, the strategy and ultimately he was involved in every offer and counter offer we collaborated on.”

Van Wagenen dismissed newspaper reports out of New York that said Jay-Z pushed Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln too far during the final negotiations, resulting in Lincoln storming out of the room after Jay-Z had asked Seattle to raise its offer to $252 million to match A-Rod’s numbers.

“Make believe,” said Van Wagenen. “That was a completely false report. The truth was, we’d reached agreement on terms the night before. Those reports came out that Friday morning and the terms had already been agreed upon.”

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik mentioned several times that working with Jay-Z and his group had been an enjoyable experience. Zduriencik joked again how he told Jay-Z that he, actually, was the “original JZ.”

And Zduriencik laughingly said he and Jay-Z would be “singing a duet” at some point.

It all drew smiles from the nine-time Grammy nominee. But then again, why not? His first major sports client had just signed a $240 million contract.

Mariners get busy, sign Hart, trade for Morrison

Looking to add more offensive punch, the Mariners agreed to a one-year deal with former Brewers slugger Corey Hart and then traded reliever Carter Capps to the Marlins for left fielder/first baseman Logan Morrison on Wednesday, according to multiple baseball sources.

Hart’s deal, according to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, is an incentive-laden deal that will pay him $5 million in base salary, with the potential of another $8 million in bonuses.

The Brewers tried to re-sign Hart, but Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin said the Mariners offered more money both guaranteed and in incentives.

Morrison is arbitration eligible for the first time this year and won’t be a free agent until 2017. The Mariners have not confirmed either deal.

The Mariners have already agreed to a 10-year-deal with former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and Wednesday’s deals look to add some additional threats in new manager Lloyd McClendon’s lineup, though that contract also won’t be announced until likely Thursday upon completion of Cano’s physical.

Seattle came to the Winter Meetings seeking help at designated hitter and in the outfield and moved Wednesday to shore up both spots, while also providing a challenge to incumbent first baseman Justin Smoak.

Hart, 31, hit 30 home runs and 83 RBIs while transitioning from right field to first base in 2012 for the Brewers, but then missed all of last season while having surgeries on both of his knees.

Morrison, 26, came up with the Marlins as an outfielder, but was limited to first base duties last year after dealing with a knee issue of his own.

Both players could be used at designated hitter or first base, but it’s not certain if the Mariners view them as outfield candidates.

Hart brings a needed right-handed bat to help balance out a lefty-dominated lineup. Morrison is a left-handed hitter who launched 23 home runs with 72 RBIs in 2011, but saw his playing time and production limited by health problems.

Hart underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee in January to repair a depression on the joint surface, then needed a similar procedure on the left knee in July for an injury that developed during his rehab.

If healthy, Hart will provide a right-handed threat at either designated hitter, first base or possibly the outfield. He’s a career .276 hitter with 154 home runs and 508 RBIs in nine seasons with the Brewers, who drafted him while current Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik headed the team’s scouting department.

Hart, 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, was a two-time National League All-Star while with the Brewers in 2008 and 2010 and averaged 29 home runs and 83 RBIs in his last three seasons before sitting out last year.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Morrison hit .242/.333/.375 with six home runs and 36 RBIs in 85 games last year while playing strictly at first base.

One of baseball’s top-rated prospects coming up with the Marlins, Morrison played outfield his first three seasons in the Majors, but had surgery first in December of 2011 and then again in September of 2012 on the same knee that limited his mobility last year.

Capps, 23, was one of several hard-throwing young right handers in the Mariners organization, but struggled with a 5.49 ERA in 53 relief appearances last year in his first extensive time in the Majors.

Price to Mariners? I just don’t see it

Division Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox - Game TwoI realize the David Price rumors have been fun for baseball fans and the Mariners keep getting tossed into the mix of reports involving the Rays ace, but realistically that has always seemed like an extremely remote match to me.

And that thought became further engrained this morning when Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that Price’s agent said his client would not consider a contract extension with Seattle, if the club traded for him, though he would be open to such a negotiation with some other undisclosed clubs.

That doesn’t change the fact the Mariners — or any club that acquired the 2012 AL Cy Young winner — would still have two years of Price before he hits free agency. But it does drive home the reminder that Price would quite likely be a short-term help, for an extremely high cost.

Jack Zduriencik already indicated he has no desire to part with Taijuan Walker, who is one of the premier pitching prospects in baseball and is under the Mariners’ control for six more seasons, including the next three at a very low cost.

Yes, Zduriencik was willing to include Walker last year in the failed Justin Upton deal, but that was before fellow top-prospect Danny Hultzen was hit by shoulder issues that now have sidelined him through the upcoming year. Not to mention before Walker progressed impressively with another strong season culminated with several strong outings at the Major League level in September that further raised the belief that the 21-year-old appears to be a very special talent.

Reports circulated Tuesday that the Mariners might consider including catcher Mike Zunino in a deal for Price as people attempted to find a way Seattle might still come up with a package attractive enough to entice the Rays. But let’s get real here. The Mariners need Zunino. He’s not just a top-rated prospect, he’s their starting catcher. The only other catcher on the 40-man roster at the moment is another youngster, Jesus Sucre, who has eight games of Major League experience.

Zunino is the catcher the Mariners love and are building their future around, a guy who already has shown an excellent ability to work with pitchers and handle things behind the plate. The offense will come, but he’s already a quality defender at age 22. And it doesn’t matter if you sign the best pitching staff in the game, you do still need somebody to catch them effectively to maximize their talents.

I suppose the Mariners could wheel and deal for a veteran  catcher in addition to acquiring Price, but that seems like a longshot. More likely, they’ll put their resources toward adding a right-handed bat, another veteran starter, some bullpen help and maybe a veteran backup catcher to work with Zunino if they still have some change in the drawer.

Today is the last main day of the Winter Meetings, with the Rule 5 draft coming Thursday before teams scatter back to their respective homes. As often happens, there has been much talk, but not a ton of action so far at the meetings. A lot of deals happened last week, the remaining free agents seem to be playing the waiting game, and teams have done more talking than trading or signing players here in Orlando.

But some of these talks will trigger deals after teams go home and mull over their options and I expect a few dominos will fall soon that will help determine what comes next for Seattle and other teams still looking to make moves.

I just wouldn’t expect Price to be a move the Mariners are involved in, no matter how many rumors have floated with those two parties mentioned this week in the lobby of Walt Disney’s Dolphin hotel.

Franklin Gutierrez back on Mariners’ radar

GutiCatch

Their search for right-handed hitting outfielders could bring the Mariners back to a familiar figure as general manager Jack Zduriencik acknowledged Tuesday that the club is talking to free agent Franklin Gutierrez.

The Mariners declined a $7 million club option last month on a contract that would have kept Gutierrez with the team this season, but are willing now to talk about a smaller one-year deal with the oft-injured center fielder.

Gutierrez, 31, played just 173 of the team’s 486 games over the past three seasons due to a variety of injuries and illnesses, many of which he’s since attributed to an inflammatory condition called ankylosing spondylitis.

The 2009 American League Gold Glove winner believes he finally began dealing with that condition with medication after being diagnosed in midseason last year, but an attempt to play Winter Ball in Venezuela recently was canceled when he became sick again.

The Mariners obviously couldn’t count on Gutierrez, but could bring him back on a low-risk salary and see how he performed.

Zduriencik continues pushing for a right-handed impact bat and the club has met several times with the agents for Nelson Cruz, one of the premier remaining free-agent outfielders. But the Rangers are interested in having Cruz return to their club and he’s believed to have other pursuers as well.

Zduriencik told 710 ESPN Seattle on Tuesday that reports of Cruz turning down a five-year, $75 million offer from the Mariners were inaccurate.

Another oft-mentioned target for Seattle at the Winter Meetings rumor mill is outfielder Matt Kemp, who has six years and $128 million remaining on his contract with the Dodgers. Kemp was one of baseball’s top center fielders when healthy, but played just 73 games last year and his broken foot is still in a boot as he continues recovering from one of the three injuries that led to time on the disabled list.

Day Two morning update from Orlando

Zphoto

Welcome to Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, where not a lot happened the previous day as teams spent more time talking and getting settled in after a hectic prior week where many of the top free agents came to agreements.

One of those obviously was Robinson Cano, and I keep getting questions about when that deal with the Mariners will become official. All I can tell you at this point is that Cano is flying to Seattle soon for a physical exam, after which the deal — assuming all goes as expected — will be signed and the team will hold an introductory press conference in Seattle. I expect all that to take place by the end of this week, but that’s just a presumption at this point as the Mariners continue their policy of not confirming anything until a deal is completely in place.

As for the action here in Orlando, Jack Zduriencik made the rounds on the TV circuit in the hotel lobby this morning as he continues being a sought-out person in the media, given the Mariners remain linked in reports to many of the top names still on the board.

Zduriencik told us yesterday that he won’t trade Taijuan Walker, but he isn’t saying his club is out of the picture if the Rays are willing to trade David Price. I’m not sure what package of prospects it would take to pry Price away, but it’s hard for me to imagine giving away so much of its prized young talent I remain skeptical on that front.

I do know the Mariners continue pushing hard for a right-handed outfield bat, with Nelson Cruz a prime target. But the Rangers are also interested in keeping Cruz and that one will be competive. It seems far-less likely that Shin-Soo Choo winds up with the Mariners, given his left-handedness, the massive contract he seems headed toward and the fact he may not have been all that keen on his initial experience in Seattle.

The Mariners are exploring numerous outfield options beyond Cruz, but the dominoes seem to start with Choo and Cruz, so it’ll be interesting to see if one or both of them sign in the next few days.

Seattle tried a pair of right-handed power bats in the outfield last year in Michael Morse and Jason Bay, but neither panned out. Morse is being mentioned as a free-agent of interest by the Rockies, Rangers and others. But Bay, I learned this morning, appears headed to the Yomiuri Giants in Japan.

Bay took a lot of heat from Mets fans, but he’s a great guy who obviously just wants to keep playing baseball. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

On the flip side of the Japan exchange, the future of Masahiro Tanaka may soon become clearer when the Rakuten Golden Eagles decide whether to post their ace right-hander. Rakuten’s owner is expected to arrive in Orlando today, which figures to be an interesting situation as the Japanese clubs try to sort through MLB’s new posting system that caps posting fees at $20 million.

I’m not sure why Tanaka hasn’t been mentioned more prominently as a potential Mariners’ target. Maybe the Mariners are just lying low, but seems to me he could be a natural fit as a former teammate of Hisashi Iwakuma’s at Rakuten. Imagine sliding Tanaka into a rotation with Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker. He won’t come cheap, but the $20 million posting limit makes it more realistic and the 26-year-old seems a far better bet than the questionable “high-end” free agent possibilities currently on the market.

New Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon will meet with the media today at 1 p.m. PT, so I’ll have an update from that as well as our afternoon get-together with Zduriencik. So we’ll talk again then …

Ibanez not on front burner for Mariners

IbanezMug

While Raul Ibanez led the Mariners with 29 home runs last season at age 41, general manager Jack Zduriencik indicated Monday at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., that re-signing the veteran outfielder is not a high priority right now for a club more in need of adding a right-handed bat.

Ibanez has said he’d like to play another year after hitting .242 with 65 RBIs and tying Ted Williams’ record for most home runs by a player age 40 or better. But that opportunity might have to come from another team unless things change in Seattle’s current thinking.

“We’re very fond of Raul,” Zduriencik said. “We have to sift through some things at these meetings, primarily because we are so left-handed. As much as he and I would like to get something done, I think we need a little more time to figure out how we’re going to allocate and what opportunities present themselves here. And that’s hard to say because he had such a good year and he’s such a great guy. But we certainly again are touching all our bases on a lot of players.”

The Mariners are on the verge of finalizing a deal for left-handed hitting second baseman Robinson Cano and also have left-handers Kyle Seager at third base and Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders in the outfield.

Seattle has just three returning outfielders from last year’s final Major League roster in Ackley, Saunders and September callup Abraham Almonte, who is a switch hitter, so a right-handed hitter there would be optimal.

“It would be very important,” Zduriencik said. “That could very well be our main focus. But I also think if you can add talent, you just have to take a chance. Even though we are more left-handed oriented than I’d like to be right now, you still have to try to improve your club. But preferably a right-handed bat would be better.”

The top right-handed hitting outfielders on the free agent market include Nelson Cruz and Corey Hart, while Shin-Soo Choo is a left-hander.

Zduriencik: ‘I have no intention of trading Taijuan’

WalkerTaijuanB

While one of the prime rumors circulating prior to the Winter Meetings involved the Mariners interest in potentially trading top young pitching prospect Taijuan Walker in a package for Rays ace David Price, general manager Jack Zduriencik dashed that thought on Monday afternoon.

Meeting with Mariners reporters in his hotel suite at the Walt Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista., Fla., Zduriencik said Walker wasn’t going anywhere.

“I don’t have intentions of trading Taijuan,” Zduriencik said. “You listen to any opportunities that present themselves and you go into discussions with a lot of people. And his name will come up. Why wouldn’t it? As do a lot of our guys, quite frankly. But Taijuan is high profile because he’s rated our top prospect. So if I was a club out there, why wouldn’t I ask about Taijuan Walker? That would be a smart thing to do because you never know where it’s going to take you. But I have no intentions of trading him.”

Walker has a strong chance of landing a job in the Mariners rotation this spring after making three starts last September for Seattle. The 21-year-old is under team control for six more years and is regarded as the fourth-highest rated prospect in baseball by MLB.com.

Price, 28, was the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner and is a three-time All-Star, but the Rays will want a huge return of young talent in any trade. Price has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining for the Rays and figures to make about $13 million this season and more in 2015 before becoming a free agent.

The Mariners would like to add another starting pitcher to their rotation, which already includes All-Stars Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. But if they traded Walker, then they’d still need to add another pitcher since Walker figures as part of the rotation this year as well.

The notion of dealing six years of control of the up-and-coming Walker — as well as likely more young talent — for two years of Price was a worthy baseball debate, but now appears to be a moot point. It’s doubtful the Mariners have enough other premier prospects to lure Price and the Rays are under no pressure to make a hasty deal since he still has two years on his contract.

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