Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik will head to the baseball winter meetings in Nashville a day ahead of most of his support cast this coming Saturday. Zduriencik wants to get a jump on the meetings, which could be big as far as determining what additions the team makes in an important off-season for the club. The meetings begin Monday, but most team officials will arrive Sunday afternoon and evening.
Zduriencik recently downplayed comments by team president Chuck Armstrong, who had suggested the Mariners were looking at free agent Josh Hamilton. After all but ruling out a Hamilton signing, Zduriencik has continued to be engaged on multiple trade and free agent fronts when it comes to adding both offense and pitching.
But in a conference call with reporters this morning, Zduriencik was careful not to be overly exuberant about his chances of landing an impact player. Instead, he quickly shifted focus to the younger makeup of the major league club and the challenges that brings as he moves forward.
“We have some money available, but we’ve also spent some money already,” Zduriencik said. “Some of our arbitration cases are going to take some of that away, the recent signing of (Hisashi) Iwakuma is going to take a little bit away, as well as Oliver Perez. And the other thing that ties into this, in a lot of these sigings that you do, somethimes there are incentives attached. So, you have to budget for the incentives that players could make as well. But just to do a signing to do a signing, I don’t think would be the right thing to do. If it makes sense and it’s what you’re looking for then certainly you have to entertain that and certainly go down every avenue that you can.
“I would like to do some things, there’s no question. I think I have enough dialogue going where there’s some interest in some things. But I do think we’re kind of in a really unique spot here because I think that for the last several years we’ve been trying to put this whole thing together where we’re very young at the big league level, as you guys know. We’re now going to be sittig with — if some of these players don’t make our big league club — we’re going to be sitting with a lot of players on the AAA club a phone call away. And my guess would be several of them, if they don’t make the club out of spring training, we’re going to see another nice group of kids get to the big leagues.
“I think that now creates a whole different dynamic on your club. Because as you go through this summer and into next year (2014), you now have players that are big league ready, big league proven. So I think it’s a real tentative…it’s a real balancing act right now here on going forward, maybe signing something that helps us, which we would like to do. But then again, we just have to see where the dollars and the years play out on several of these guys.”
Speaking of years, Zduriencik is heading into his fifth season with the club. He was asked whether he felt added motivation to get something bigger done this winter in order to vault the Mariners closer to .500 and playoff contention.
“I’m not going to go out and try to be motivated…to make a statement, make a splash,” Zduriencik said. “I’d like to make a splash, period. Just because I want to bring a good player here. But I wouldn’t do it for the sake of just to do it. I would do it because it makes sense and it’s the right thing for us to do and continues with the plan that we put in place when I got here.”
Zduriencik said he would like to balance out the offense a bit better by bringing in a bat. He is also open to signing another veteran starting pitcher who can help stabilize the team’s younger rotation the way Kevin Millwood did.
Towards the end of the call, I asked Zduriencik about the Chone Figgins experience and whether it caused any hesitation for him going forward when it comes to this winter’s crop of free agents — especially when it comes to inking longer-term deals of more than three years. I wasn’t doing it to rub his face in the Figgins mess — which no one really could have seen imploding as badly as it did — but rather to gauge whether this current administration is prepared to go longer than three years on any deal this winter.
Let’s face it, if that’s not the case, we can probably take a number of free agents and even some trade possibilities off the board.
Now, I would never expect Zduriencik to give a specific answer to an open-ended question like that. If he comes right out and says that he’ll go four years or more on free agents, then every agent out there is going to seek it from him as a starting point. But I did want to see what he’d say and leave it open to all of you to interpret what that means going forward between now and opening day next April.
“It depends on the player,” he said. “I’m not going to be gun shy because of what happened with Chone Figgins. I mean, it’s just one of those things that happened. I think you can go through every team in baseball that has faced a free agent signing or a trade that hasn’t worked out. You can’t back away from doing what you think is the right thing. At the moment that we made that deal, we had some payroll flexibility and we had a guy that was just coming off an all-star season, It made a lot of sense at the time. But I think that you could talk to any general manager and they’ll tell you that a lot of the deals they did at the time made sense and they just don’t work out. The human element is always a factor in anything we do in life.
“And this one isn’t going to make me shy. It’s not going to make us reluctant. It’s just going to make us turn the page. It’s over, it’s behind us and we all learned from it. But again, sometimes you try to find the answer…why didn’t this one work? And we all have our reasons why. We all can rationalize why it didn’t work, but at the end of the day, it just didn’t work. Case closed, let’s move on. So, I’m going to be open and if the right situation is there and we think it’s the right situation to make a deal, whether it’s a two or three-year deal, or depending on who the player is, I don’t think we’re going to shy away from it. We’re trying to do something that makes sense for this club.”
It should be noted, again, that Zduriencik threw the “two or three year deal” part out there unsolicited. The team has not signed a deal with anyone for longer than that timeframe since Figgins was inked in December 2009.
Anyhow, only Zduriencik really knows how long he’s willing to go this winter. And by the end of next week’s meetings, we might have a stronger indication as well. Should be an interesting week ahead.