Jack Zduriencik likely looking to boost Mariners' power
The stunning difference 12 months has made for the Mariners should be hammered home this week. A year ago in Nashville, Tenn., former Mariners general manager...
Seattle Times staff reporter
LAS VEGAS — The stunning difference 12 months has made for the Mariners should be hammered home this week.
A year ago in Nashville, Tenn., former Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi spent the baseball winter meetings discussing a future trade that ultimately brought Erik Bedard to Seattle from Baltimore. That deal was supposed to solidify the Mariners' starting rotation and supply the final puzzle piece for a championship run.
One year later, a new GM and humbled organization head to this city's Bellagio Hotel with a much different winter meetings agenda. The Bedard trade has indeed strengthened the team's pitching depth. But novice GM Jack Zduriencik will likely need to trade some of those arms to help his power-deprived offense avoid another disastrous collapse in 2009.
"Open-minded is, I think, the best way to put it," Zduriencik said of how he's approaching these meetings, which run Monday through Thursday. "It takes two to tango. I'm not in the mood to give anyone away. I'm in the mood to improve this ballclub."
There can be no sugarcoating just how bad the Mariners were offensively during a 101-loss season in 2008.
Seattle was tied with Oakland for the second-worst on-base percentage in the major leagues at .318 and had the fourth-worst slugging percentage at .389.
And now, things could actually get worse.
Free-agent left fielder Raul Ibanez, who posted the team's top on-base-plus slugging percentage the past three years, is expected to decline Seattle's offer of arbitration by today's deadline and head elsewhere. The team's next-closest thing to an everyday power hitter, third baseman Adrian Beltre, is a free agent after 2009 and is expected to draw some tempting trade offers this week.
The thought of a power-deprived team losing its two top sluggers is enough to send chills down the spine of any Mariners devotee. And it underscores just how much work lies ahead for Zduriencik.
"They look like a team that needs to make a blockbuster trade," said a veteran major-league scout. "You look at what their needs are — hitting. And you look at what they have to deal — pitching. It shouldn't be too hard to find a match. Do that, and a lot of their problems could go away in a hurry."
The scout suggested that one need look no further than Zduriencik's former team, the Milwaukee Brewers, to find a trade partner that could fix a lot of what ails Seattle. Milwaukee is about to lose free-agent pitchers CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets and also needs big-time help in the bullpen.
That could be solved by trading for some of Seattle's arms, including J.J. Putz, Jarrod Washburn, Brandon Morrow, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and even Bedard.
The Brewers are loaded with bats the team might be willing to part with.
First baseman Prince Fielder earned $670,000 this past season, but he is now arbitration eligible and stands to see his salary skyrocket beyond $6 million. The Brewers have quietly let word get around baseball that they might be willing to part with the left-handed slugger.
It would take more than Putz to get Fielder in a Mariners uniform. The pitcher generating the most interest heading into the meetings is right-hander Morrow — the former No. 1 pick who started the final month of last season after nearly two years in the bullpen.
Beyond Fielder, the Brewers have others who could help the Mariners.
Brad Nelson is a Class AAA first baseman blocked by Fielder from a full-time job in Milwaukee, but who could also be used as a designated hitter by an American League club. The Brewers are said to be willing to trade shortstop J.J. Hardy, who earned $2.65 million last season and is arbitration eligible for two more years.
The biggest Mariners names drawing interest around the game on the hitting side are third baseman Beltre and catcher Jeff Clement.
Boston might need a replacement at catcher should Jason Varitek leave as a free agent. Seattle has an abundance of catchers, though Clement's left-handed bat is particularly valuable.
In Beltre's case, he'll likely leave as a free agent next year, so Zduriencik would be foolish not to seriously consider offers for him.
"Overall, there are a few keepers here," Zduriencik said. "Certainly a few keepers."
It's almost certain the M's would not trade Felix Hernandez. Nor is it likely that owner Hiroshi Yamauchi would approve a trade of Ichiro.
Zduriencik said he'd been approached by multiple teams interested in dealing for Beltre and Putz.
"People have inquired about them, yes," he said. "They've inquired about other people as well. It's been calling me, asking me about it, and 'Would you be interested?'
"My answer is, we lost 101 games, so there are quite a few areas we can improve on."
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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