UPDATE 4:10 p.m.: The Mariners finally completed a two-year deal with infielder Brendan Ryan today. A report earlier in the week said he’d agreed to a two-year, $2.75 million contract, but the Mariners had said that was premature. Now, they have him under contract and are down to three arbitration eligible players.
There has been some speculation that the Mariners might try to trade Chone Figgins this off-season to free up some cash for a payroll that’s pushing its limits. But speaking to general manager Jack Zduriencik this morning, it appears that’s highly unlikely to happen and that Figgins will be the team’s Opening Day third baseman.
Zdureincik asked Figgins to make the switch back to third in a conversation just before Christmas.
“His reputation has been — I think we’ve all seen it — that he’s a very good defensive third baseman,” Zduriencik said.
Zduriencik added that the 2010 season was “very interesting for Chone” in that he had to cope with the position switch over to second, dropping down to No. 2 in the order from leadoff and the pressures of playing for a new team with a big contract. The GM hopes Figgins can get off to a quicker start in 2011 “if he gets back to a comfort level where he feels he’s been successful there.”
We’ve written for the past week or so about how the Mariners appear to be right up against their budget limit of $93.5 million (the team says it can go up to last year’s Opening Day payroll) and that this would explain their lack of recent moves. I asked Zduriencik how much flexibility he has remaining.
“We didn’t have a lot of flexibility going in,” he said. “And we did some things in some areas where I thought we had some need.”
That included adding Jack Cust as a DH and bringing in Miguel Olivo as a catcher. Brendan Ryan also came in as a potential starting second baseman.
But other than that, existing contracts and raises due certain players have indeed eaten up most of the remaining room.
“We’re going to have to do some things creatively if we do anything at all,” he said.
Some had suggested that creativity might include dealing Figgins. But that appears out.
Zduriencik said the other part of his rationale for moving Figgins to third was the limited options the team had for the position. He feels infielder Josh Wilson is better off competing for a starting second base job with Ryan.
So, Figgins appears here to stay, at least for Opening Day.
The other salary-freeing option was closer David Aardsma. But Zduriencik said Aardsma’s hip surgery was a bit more involved than first expected and that the closer might not be ready to start the season.
Mind you, nobody is entirely ruling out that Aardsma could be ready for Opening Day. But the more extensive surgery than first expected more or less rules out the possibility of Aardsma being dealt during spring training.
Teams will want to see how Aardsma responds to his surgery in actual game conditions and it’s now highly unlikely he’ll be able to show enough in Cactus League action. By late March, most teams will have their rosters more or less set and won’t want to be adding or subtracting guys until several weeks into the season, once they have a chance to see what they’ve got.
Zduriencik said the team now has to prepare for the possibility Aardsma could be set back “by a couple of weeks” and have someone else ready to go at closer. That will likely be veteran Brandon League, though the team will also have Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke in spring training.