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November 2, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik confirms he expects to have more money available to spend than $85 million he opened last season with

This rates as some pretty big news if you’re a Mariners fan. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told me this afternoon that he expects to have more money made available to him for next season than he opened 2012 with.
As I wrote this morning, the Mariners opened last season with a payroll of about $82 million, but it was more like $85 million when you factor in Danny Hultzen’s big league deal plus the money owed to released pitchers Hong-Chih Kuo and Shawn Camp.
Just to be sure we were on the same page, I ran both figures by Zduriencik.
“Yes, I anticipate that it will be more than that,” he said.
Which means, the Mariners should have a whole bunch of money to spend this winter.
As I mentioned this morning, the team has just under $41 million committed to five players next season. Another $12 million or so could go to arbitration eligible players, then another $8 million would be spent on MLB minimum wage types if no new players are added. Throw on the $750,000 buyout for Miguel Olivo, that takes you to roughly $62 million.
So, that’s a $23 million difference with the $85 million the team opened last year at.
And Zduriencik says it could be more than that if the right deal comes along. No hard budget has been set for him yet, he added, but based on what he’s been told, he anticipates having more payroll room for 2013 if the right deal comes along.
One of those deals could be with pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. Zduriencik at present says he is heavily focused on negotiations with the Japanese pitcher — who could request his release as early as midnight tonight if no contract gets done.
Now, that’s not a hard and fast deadline. Iwakuma could choose to keep the negotiations going with Seattle a few more days, even another week, if he wants. But once he asks for the release part, there’s no way he’s coming back here because he’d be in a unique category of player (like Munenori Kawasaki) who could only return on a minor league deal.
And with that, he would not be eligible to pitch for the Mariners until late May. No way Seattle is signing him so he can pitch for only four months, so the time to get a deal done is drawing close. After tonight, it’s all in Iwakuma’s hands and he can walk at any time.

Zduriencik also told me he still has negotiations ongoing with one of the free-agents the Mariners have exclusive negotiating rights to until 9 p.m. tonight (not 9 p.m. yesterday as some have reported). Unlike the case with Iwakuma, those free agents could still negotiate with Seattle, sign and begin play on Opening Day. The only difference is that other teams would be free to negotiate with those players after tonight.
My guess on who the player is? I’d say Oliver Perez, who performed a useful role from the left side of the bullpen and is one of the few veterans the Mariners have in that group. But that’s just my guess.
Also, please keep this in mind. When Zduriencik says he anticipates having more payroll room this winter, that doesn’t mean he’s going to spend the money. This is the tricky part, since there’s nothing stopping the Mariners from saying they will spend that money if they see the right player, then not spend it on anybody.
It’s kind of like the Prince Fielder thing. The team can suggest it’s going after a whole bunch of players, then sign nobody and we all don’t really know if the money was ever available or if the team just wants us to think it is. And in the end, nobody is lying because all Zduriencik is saying here is he anticipates the money being available if he needs it.
Now, that’s the most cynical way to view it. But also the most cautious.
Another way would be to say that Zduriencik — while clearly taking some heat here off Howard Lincoln and team owners with his comments — is also setting himself up for a bit of a fall as well. After all, if Zduriencik spends only halfway to last year’s total, doesn’t pick anyone significant up via trade and then sees his team finish last next year, he’ll have a whole lot of ‘splainin’ to do.
Likewise, if he spends only part of the money thought to be available and the team shows serious improvement (not five wins on paper, but real, contending stuff), then nobody’s going to be too concerned about him failing to spend money for the sake of spending it.
But having him on-record that he expects to have more to spend than last season is a big deal. Sure, the payroll is a long way still from the $95 million or so spent on Opening Day in 2011, but this at least gives us some parameters to look for. The team usually isn’t this candid this early about payroll stuff, but I’m sure that it’s no accident, given the recent fuss about season ticket pricing hikes.
So, we now have some idea what to look for.
And then, based on what happens this winter, we can fashion our kudos or critiques accordingly.

Comments | Topics: Hisashi Iwakuma, Oliver Perez


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