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

November 14, 2011 at 1:35 PM

Catching up with Jack Zduriencik on eve of GM meetings

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(Photo by Seattle Times)

As Geoff reports, Michael Pineda finished fifth and Dustin Ackley sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting. Here are the complete results. Remember, two members of the Baseball Writers Association of America from each AL city do the voting, selecting their top three choices. As you can see, Pineda got three second-place votes and two thirds. Ackley got one first-place vote and one third.

I did some checking and found out that Ackley’s first-place vote (and one of Pineda’s second-place votes) came from Charley Walters, a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He hold the distinction of being the only newspaper writer I know who actually pitched in the major leagues. I reached Walters, who was on vacation but was nice enough to call me back. He didn’t shed too much light on his reasoning, however, saying only, “When I looked at the numbers, I thought those were decent picks.” These guys would agree.

I talked today to Mariners’ general manager Jack Zduriencik, who has arrived in Milwaukee — his old stomping grounds — for the General Mangers Meetings, which are taking place this week. It’s rare for transactions to be consummated at the GM Meetings, but the groundwork is often laid for deals — trades and/or free-agent signings – that are wrapped up later in the winter. The winter meetings, where things really heat up, will be held in early December in Dallas.

“There’s always a lot of dialogue,” Zduriencik said. “I’m interested to see who wants to talk seriously.”

I asked Zduriencik his priorities, and he named four:

1) Offensive help. “It’s obvious we’d love to be able to secure some kind of bat if possible,” he said.

Naturally, I asked him about Prince Fielder, in light of some increasing speculation that the Mariners are going to be involved in the bidding. Jon Heyman of SI.com, who’s as plugged in as anyone, tweeted today, “Mariners are hoping to be in on prince (but not pujols). Unsure if there’s room in budget tho. But will give it a run.”

Zduriencik, not surprisingly, danced around the topic.

“When you go to the big, big free agents, you’re not sure where it will end up, dollars wise,” Zduriencik said. “Common sense will tell you we have to weigh all the options and see where you’re at. We’ll see. I don’t really know. I’d say right now we have to lay out a lot of other options and see where it ends up. I do know the numbers will be pretty high. How high will it go? Everyone has a threshold. It’s an unknown at this point.”

Sounds to me like the Mariners are interested in Fielder, but not at all costs, which is pretty much what we’ve suspected all along. The dilemma is that Scott Boras, as he does so well, is already positioning Fielder as an extraordinary talent (which he is), and is bound to be looking for an exorbinant contract (which is his job, one he does better than anyone). I just don’t see the Mariners getting into $200 million territory, no matter how much Fielder would fill their greatest need.

I’d imagine the Mariners are also are wary of Boras keeping the bidding going into late December and perhaps even January, by which time many alternatives to Fielder could no longer be available. It’s a delicate dance that teams — not just the Mariners — must execute in order to not leave themselves without fallbacks if they go all-in for a player like Fielder and don’t get him.

That said, it will be interesting to see if the Mariners can get creative and find a way to land Fielder. It would be sure-fire way to fire up their disenchanted fan base. That’s not always a great reason to make a transaction, but would be an added bonus for a move that would also solve a glaring need.

Zduriencik said he won’t reveal the Mariners’ payroll budget for 2012 “for competitive raesons.” When I asked if the budget has been set, he said, “I have an idea. It’s still floating a little.”

He added, “There’s lots of ways to build a team. One is to spend a lot of money. Another is to continue to grow with guys. I hope our fans like what they’re seeing. We had 19 rookie last year, and some will develop into pretty good players. That’s what we’ve talked about — building the foundation and adding to it. Another way is to find the right trade partner. We’re going to leave all our options open.”

One very intriguing player who could be available soon is Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, considered the best position player to come out of Cuba in a generation. But the latest word is that it might take awhile until MLB declares him a free agent.

The Mariners have signed one Cuban defector (Yuniesky Betancourt), but the competition for Cespedes figures to be fierce, and expensive (in the $30-million range that Aroldis Chapman signed for). Zduriencik confirmed that the Mariners have kept up on Cespedes, who is currently in the Dominican Republic.

“We have seen him,” he said. “And Bob (Engle, the Mariners’ vice president of international operations) knows him from the past….We’ve done our homework. We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. We know the player. We’ll just see where it ends up.”

Speaking of both Cespedes and the possible crop of Japanese imports like pitcher Yu Darvish, Zduriencik said, “Throughout the world, we’ve done our work on guys. We have an idea. You just don’t know what’s going to happen until it gets right down to the end.”

Now, back to that list of priorities…

2) A starting pitcher. “Everyone is looking for pitching,” Zduriencik said. “We’re interested to see if there’s anything out there on the free market or in a trade, if we can bring back a starting pitcher. We have a group, but if you can add, it’s always a good thing.”

3) Bullpen help. “The bullpen is something we’re looking at,” Zduriencik said. “We’re pretty young outside of (Brandon) League. We’ll keep our ears open for that. A left-handed pitcher in the pen is something every club is looking for, and we would as well.”

4) Backup shortstop. He said the Mariners are looking for someone to back up Brendan Ryan, who ended last year with neck issues that wiped out most of his September.

Kyle Seager started eight games at shortstop, and Zduriencik praised his work, but said, “He’s not a true shortstop. He can play there, but we’d really like to get someone who was an absolute true shortstop, someone who can play every day if something happened to Brendon.”

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