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December 6, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Mariners ‘still interested’ in Josh Hamilton, waiting to see what happens with free agent logjam

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik fielding media questions today in Nashville after the Rule 5 draft.

Lots to discuss this morning after last night’s tweet and blog post about the Mariners and Josh Hamilton being “very close” to a deal. More on the semantics of that in a second, but first, I caught up this morning with team president Chuck Armstrong as he was coming out of the Rule 5 draft. I asked him about Hamilton point blank and he did not deny interest this time.

“We’re still interested in him, yes,” Armstrong said.

He also said the Mariners are not overly concerned by Hamilton’s past issues involving injury and vision problems. The main concern, as always, remains the money and the number of years committed. But on that front, the likelihood that Seattle would have to go more than four years in a Hamilton deal appears to be shrinking.

As mentioned last night by my source, the big key here is what the Texas Rangers do with free agent pitcher Zack Greinke. If Greinke signs with Texas, the likelihood the Rangers would splurge on Hamilton as well diminishes.

And from what I’m told, the Mariners are far enough along in their discussions with Hamilton that the two sides would not need very long to come to a deal. Armstrong has been getting into the finer details of stuff in trying to play down Seattle’s interest.

“We haven’t even exchanged numbers and figures yet,” Armstrong told me, in a line he’s repeated elsewhere this morning.

But that’s largely semantics.

From what I’ve heard, the Rangers and Dodgers haven’t exchanged numbers and figures with Greinke yet, either. But that deal is not expected to drag out too much longer before it gets resolved. When teams and the agents for players talk at these meetings, they often give each other broad strokes of where they’d like to go with a deal before any formal offers and counter offers are made.

The agent for Hamilton, Michael Moye, is said to have told the Rangers they’ll have an opportunity to match any offer from another team before Hamilton makes a decision. So, there is no real need for the Mariners to make him a formal offer right now, knowing that Moye is waiting on resolution to the Greinke affair so that the Rangers can match any Hamilton bid.

But I was told by my source last night that Hamilton is very interested in Seattle and it is “very close.”

The source added that a deal could happen “very soon” after Greinke makes his decision.

“Greinke holds the cards right now,” the source said.

Again, for the umpteenth time, the key here is to not get hung up so much on the semantics of what people say. It’s what they do.

Two weeks ago, the Mariners tripped over themselves to let the world know, via MLB.com, that they were all but out of the Hamilton hunt. Too pricey, they said. Too many years.

Zduriencik prides himself in not talking about ongoing negotiations, but he was the one who came out two weeks ago to shoot down the rumors of Seattle interest in Hamilton. Said he felt he owed it to fans not to get their hopes up.

Well, today, he’s back in silent mode on Hamilton. He was asked this morning whether anything had specifically changed between now and his comments of two weeks ago regarding Hamilton.

“I’m not going to comment on any of our discussions with any agents or any of the trade discussions,” he said. “I just think that’s private and should be held between whoever you’re talking to and Ijust figure that’s the best way to handle things.”

So, clearly, his stance has changed over the past two weeks. Armstrong said in plain English this morning that the Mariners remain interested in Hamilton. It’s the semantics of the “very close” part of the deal he’s talking about. But it takes five minutes for two sides to exchange figures once the market becomes clearer — in this case, once Greinke signs with Texas and establishes that the Rangers are out of the running for Hamilton. The two sides have been talking long enough that they understand the broad outline right now of where things will go if the Greinke scenario unfolds with Texas.

So, whether it takes a day or two to bounce figures back and forth and haggle, or a week, the news today is that the Mariners are not out of the Josh Hamilton running as they let the world think two weeks ago. They are still right in the thick of it and perhaps a Greinke signing away from landing him.

As for the rumored four-team swap that could involve the Mariners and send Justin Upton to Texas? With the Mariners getting pitcher Derek Holland? That would also up Seattles chances of getting Hamilton, since the Rangers aren’t going to acquire both him and Upton. Shoule be a fun few days ahead.

On the Jason Bay front, I’ve confirmed that he has a deal for one year, $1 million plus another $2 million in incentives attached. The move likely won’t be announced until at least tomorrow.

0 Comments | More in Winter meetings | Topics: free agents, Jack Zduriencik, josh hamilton

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