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December 3, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says he “liked Napoli” but has to move on

A look at the MLB Network set in one of the lobbies at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik was surprisingly candid tonight about how his team had hoped to bring free agent catcher Mike Napoli to Seattle. Napoli agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with the Boston Red Sox earlier in the day.

In Boston, Napoli will serve primarily as a first baseman, since the Red Sox already have Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate. With the Mariners, Napoli likely would have split time between catcher, first base and DH then — if all went according to plan — would have eased more toward a permanent first base/DH role once catching prospect Mike Zunino was big league ready.

“We liked Napoli,” Zduriencik said tonight when he met with us here at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in his regular session with writers who cover the Mariners. “Congratulations to him on his contract and to Boston for getting him. I think that Napoli brought things to the table that we liked. He’s an offensive guy, a right-handed guy, a veteran guy. But, he’s no longer available.”

Zduriencik said he didn’t want to get too specific on how not landing Napoli will affect the team’s plans at certain positions. He said he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to comment on a player now with another club.

“You asked me if we had interest in him and I think everybody knew that we did.”

I asked Zduriencik whether he was surprised at the speed with which the Napoli negotiations were wrapped up, before the first official day of meetings had even really gotten off the ground.

“I think what happens with any of those types of negotiations, is, once a player gets to a point, he has his expectations and his agent has his expectations,” Zduriencik said. “And I think once those expecations are met, a lot of players will just say ‘Hey, this is what I was hoping to get, I got it, let’s go.’ ”

And now, he said, it’s time to move on. The Mariners continue to be engaged in talks with other free agents and with potential trade partners.

Zduriencik said one challenge he faces in talks is the way some teams tend to view prospects.

In some cases, he said, a player who has graduated from the minors with only a handful of big league games under his belt is viewed by teams as being in a class higher than prospects who may be roughly the same talent level but haven’t made their debut yet.

“Once a guy gets his feet on a big league diamond, it really changes that player’s perspective by other ballclubs because now, he’s big league ready,” Zduriencik said. “You sit there right now and you look at your kids that are sitting there in — let’s say, hypothetically, this whole group of kids that were in AAA this year. Well, they’re still prospects. But once they get to the big leagues and have any kind of success at all, then, going into the next winter, these guys are now big league pitchers. And their value is completely different just because they’re battle-tested and they look at them as big-league ready.”

That’s an interesting reality that often gets omitted in discussions we see related to the “value” of certain players. And what Zduriencik just spelled out could have an impact on his ongoing trade discussions if a team, say, doesn’t view his “Big Three” minor league pitchers (two of which have never thrown above Class AA) with the same regard as he does.

In other words, while some of us here in the blogosphere might cringe at the thought of giving away two of the Big Three, another team might make it a pre-requisite to any discussions pertaining to dealing a proven big league bat.

“So, that’s the point that we’re at right now,” he added. “Do we get that one piece and give up two or three?”

Zduriencik said that one of his goals upon arriving in Seattle was to fill the organization with more players with “zero to three years” of experience in the big leagues because of the value brought by their longer, cheaper club control. Now that he’s done that, he isn’t in a hurry just to give it all up in bunches.

I asked him whether teams were doing that: trying to get him to give up bunches of prospects because they haven’t gotten their feet wet yet in the majors.

“It depends on the club,” he said. “And this is the uniqueness of this business. Everybody evaluates them differently. You can ask clubs…’How do you evaluate these four pitchers? And you may like them all. But you all may rank them somewhat differently.”

In the case of the Royals, I’m told there is next to no chance the Mariners would have what it takes to pry away outfield prospect Wil Myers from Kansas City and that the more realistic target for Seattle remains 1B/DH Billy Butler. One of the issues is that the Royals want pitchers who are ready to step on a big league mound to start this coming season and the Mariners don’t have the kind of secondary guys in the majors — yet — that would rank up there with a guy like James Shields of the Rays — one of the arms the Royals were supposedly looking at for Myers.

The Mariners don’t have any guys realistically ready for the majors in April with any of the Danny Hultzen-Taijuan Walker-James Paxton trio yet. You could make the argument that Paxton is closest, but he continued to be plagued by command issues at the Arizona Fall League and would likely not be enough to be the centerpiece for any Butler package.

Indeed, I’m told the Royals feel they have guys a year or two away who could round out a rotation, whether those who analyze prospects for a living, or for fun, actually agree with them. The Royals are supposedly more interested in guys, as mentioned, at the big league level already, like Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez.

Remember, Iwakuma is under club control two more years, Beavan for five and Ramirez for six. Jason Vargas is entering his year before free agency and would essentially be a rental player, so I doubt his value could bring back much unless a bunch of others were piled into the package.

So, again, there you go. How many big league pitchers would the Mariners be willing to trade? And then, would they be willing to sweeten that pot with somebody like Nick Franklin, who could help the Royals fill a need at second base?

I can already sense the blood pressure rising among some readers when you talk about dealing multiple arms plus Franklin. Again, Butler is a proven, highly successful big league hitter with three years of club control left and the Royals aren’t giving him away for just anybody.

It’s something Zduriencik has dealt with before and will continue to deal with as the meetings progress. He may have to give something up that makes everybody — especially him — swallow a lot harder than he really feels good about. That’s part of what he was discussing with us tonight. How we all view prospects and big leaguers differently and that what seems like a slam dunk talent-wise when you try to evaluate a deal on one end may be looked at entirely differently by a different set of eyes — even at the professional level.

Comments | More in Winter meetings | Topics: free agents, Jack Zduriencik, Justin Smoak

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