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Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, as I mentioned earlier, is meeting with some agents and teams tonight before the winter meetings wrap up tomorrow morning with the Rule 5 draft. The Mariners don’t expect to be active in the draft, since their roster is maxed out at 40 players and they are only picking 12th.
In other words, unless something big happens tonight — and I’ve just gotten word that it’s not likely anything will — these meetings are pretty much done for the Mariners without any impact pieces being added. Now, that’s not the end of the world, since many times you’ll see the bigger free agents and trades go down after the meetings. In fact, this might be the first year I’ve ever attended a winter meetings where the main stage in the media room was not used to announce any trades.
The only free agent signing in which the stage was used happened this morning when David Wright’s extension with the New York Mets was officially announced. For the Mariners, you had word today that free agent outfielder Jason Bay was on the verge of inking a one-year pact with the ballclub, though that is not expected to be finalized until after the meetings are done.
Zduriencik said this afternoon, in his briefing with Seattle-area writers, that he can’t comment directly about Bay. But he did reply when I asked him a general question about his desire to land a more veteran bat — knowing full well I was thinking about Bay when I asked the question.
“I think we said from the very beginning that if we could come up with a veteran player — preferably our needs would be a corner outfielder, a corner player, a DH, a right-handed bat — it would be very helpful,” Zduriencik said. “So, that’s one of the things that has been on our agenda. It doesn’t limit us, but it’s certainly something that we have focused on.”
Zduriencik said that his team is by no means done trying to improve.
“We’ve had several meetings today with clubs as well as player representatives,” he added. “We have some tonight as well, so we’re just going to continue to push forward and explore every option. And if it leads to a road well-taken by both parties, then hopefully something gets done. Otherwise, you just keep doing it. You keep doing the work and hope something clicks.”
As I wrote earlier, though, in my post about Michael Bourn, it doesn’t seem likely that much will click over the next 15 hours or so before most team executives will check out of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel for good.
“It looks that way,” Zduriencik said. “I think that if you’re looking at some players still out there, the meetings will be over tomorrow. So, unless something happens between from now until some time in the morning, it forces it to go into post-meeting deals if you will.”
And so, we seem to be heading out of these meetings with more questions than answers compared to just a few days ago. Before the meetings began, we all assumed the majority of the team’s money would be spent on two bigger bats for the corner infield and outfield if possible. Now, it looks like the big money — if spent at all — will go towards landing a second outfielder in addition to Bay, while a smaller deal could be made if necessary to bring in yet another bat that can play first base.
The thing with Bay is, he really won’t cost all that much since his deal will be for one year at six figures, according to sources. So, it’s still possible the Mariners could bring in somebody like Bourn to pay center for the big money, then ink a much smaller deal with a different first base/DH type.
Or, the Mariners could spend big on Nick Swisher, using him to play right field and first base as well.
Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge both want to have a backup plan in place this time if Justin Smoak falters. Wedge said earlier today that he has faith in Smoak, but that he needs to get physically stronger, keep lean and in shape and continue to maintain the swing that he revamped in the latter part of the season.
All that aside, Wedge does want somebody else around who can replace Smoak if he struggles or needs to sit some games.
“I think we’ll have other options there when it’s all said and done,” he said. “But ultimately, when it comes to young kids that have been as inconsistent as he has been, what you’re looking for him to be is more consistent to where you can count on him playing six out of seven days, or eight or nine out of 10 days. He has the strength to do that. He has the toughness to do that. But obviously, you need to be performing to do that.
“We gave him plenty of space last year to figure it out and ultimately had to send him out. He came back and ultimately, we saw what we wanted to see the last four or five weeks. Now, it’s up to him to take it on this year from Day 1 and understand that there has to be a level of consistency for him to be able to start each and every day.
“But rest assured. We’ll have something else in our back pocket if we need to give him a break or if it’s not working out, so that we’ll have somewhere to go.”
That “back pocket” assurance leads me to believe the Mariners aren’t done bringing in somebody who can play first base. For all the talk of John Jaso or Jesus Montero getting workout time there, Wedge doesn’t sound like he plans to really use them there in games. And despite a reminder today from Zduriencik that Mike Carp is still in the fold as a first baseman, he’s going to need a Michael Saunders type of comeback this spring just to stay in the team’s picture.
While that’s always possible with Carp — who battled injury much of last season — I’m not sure it’s something the Mariners want to go into next spring counting too heavily on.
So, the Mariners can solve that issue by bringing in Swisher, or else signing somebody else. If they were to go with Bourn, they would still have to bring in another guy to play first base. Zduriencik and Wedge have also both talked about bringing in another, defensive-minded catcher to offset the fact the team isn’t confident playing Jaso and Montero can’t really play several days per week behind the plate.
“It would be great to have a guy that played mutiple positions and catch,” Zduriencik said. “That would be ideal. There aren’t that many guys out there.”
It’s one reason the Mariners were so high on Mike Napoli, knowing he had a power bat and could catch, serve as insurance for Smoak at first base and also be a DH. But with Napoli now in Boston, the team will likely have to go with multiple bodies to fill those needs.
Zduriencik also continued to talk about adding a pitcher. It could be a smaller deal, like with Kevin Millwood. Or, the team could shift focus yet again and sign a more impact arm if they can’t bring home the bat they want.
“At the end, if you cant get the offensive piece that you would like to have, or it doesn’t fit, or the cost is too high, then you still try to do things to make the club better,” Zduriencik said. “And if settling on a pitcher this year is the thing to do, then that’s not the wrong thing. It maybe doesn’t fit exactly like you want, but we still have a young staff. So, a piece to this staff would be good. And we’re very open to that.”
Just don’t expect to see much else happen here.