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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

January 26, 2010 at 2:36 PM

The remaining landscape for the Mariners

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The free agents are falling fast and furious today, which is not a surprise. You just know players are getting antsy as spring training approaches, instructing their agents to get a deal done before 40-man roster spots completely dry up. It’s a good climate to get bargains (think Bobby Abreu last year), and I’m sure some teams are waiting for an even higher level of desperation to set in.

Among the free agents reported to reach agreements today are Ben Sheets (A’s), Jim Thome (Twins), Jon Garland (Padres), Xavier Nady (Cubs), Brad Ausmus (Dodgers), Rich Hill (Cardinals) and Ronnie Belliard (Dodgers).

But that still leaves almost 90 free agents on the market. Some of those are officially retired (Randy Johnson, Mark Loretta, Jason Schmidt), and some are non-factors (Tomo Ohka, Dmitri Young, Bruce Chen et al). But there are still some prominent, and interesting, names, among the list of remaining unsigned free agents.

Will the Mariners make another move? I suspect that Jack Zduriencik would like to, and I would be surprised if he didn’t make either one more signing or trade before camp opens Feb. 17. Much depends on how much room is left in their payroll budget, a subject that Geoff has covered extensively. The Mariners still aren’t saying precisely how much money they have left to spend. Zduriencik could go a few different ways — one more starting pitching candidate; a bat, preferably right-handed, for the left field/DH mix; or a bench piece. The quality of return, of course, is at least partly dependent on how much money he has left to work with.

Jarrod Washburn is still out there. According to this on Fox, the Twins and Mariners appear to be his top choice. If Washburn pitches like he did for the Mariners through last July, he would be a great addition. However, after being traded to Detroit, Washburn had knee issues and racked up a 7.33 ERA in eight starts. Still, this one might have legs (especially if the knees attached to those legs are healed).

Then there’s the list of guys coming off fairly serious injuries, including Chien-Ming Wang, who is represented by the ever-popular Alan Nero. Nero’s firm also represents Felix Hernandez and Franklin Gutierrez, so there’s obviously a good working relationship already in place. Wang, however, is coming off shoulder surgery, always a dicey proposition. Nero told Fox, “Everything is going extraordinarily well…We’re anticipating a major-league offer with a substantial guarantee and substantial upside. We’re so confident with what is going to happen, if we don’t do it until May, we’re OK. Whoever shows the initiative to take a little bit of risk is going to win.”

Of course, there’s Erik Bedard, who said at the end of last year he was interested in returning to Seattle. But he’s coming off shoulder surgeries in each of the past two seasons, so it’s a risk. And I still wonder if Bedard, from his point of view, wouldn’t be better off in a place where he’s not forever looked upon as the guy who came to Seattle in the worst deal in the history of mankind (or something like that).

There’s Noah Lowry, who had forearm surgery in 2008 and rib surgery last year. He’ll throw for interested teams next week.

There’s John Smoltz, who seems to be a Mets target. There’s Pedro Martinez, but I have a hard time seeing him playing for the Mariners. Braden Looper’s out there, but he’s coming off a pretty bad year for a guy who won 14 games.

As far as bats, the right-handed list of free agents includes Jermaine Dye, Eric Byrnes, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Garko, Reed Johnson, Fernando Tatis, Randy Winn (switch), Gary Sheffield and Rocco Baldelli.

Zduriencik, as always, is playing his cards close to his vest, but these last few weeks before camp opens should be fascinating. Maybe we’ll get a clue Thursday when the Mariners hold their annual spring-training media luncheon.

Of course, Zduriencik could also pull of a trade, as he has been known to do with great stealth. Jose Lopez remains as a possible trade chip, but there hasn’t exactly seemed to be a feeding frenzy of interest in Lopez, with more teams savvy enough to look deeper than 25 and 96. Free agent Orlando Hudson, a speculated replacement, is eying the Nationals, according to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson.

The Hot Stove season, it appears, will work overtime this winter.

(Photo by Associated Press)

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