GM Jack Zduriencik tries to distance M's status as 'front-runner' for Prince Fielder
Other teams say they don't want to pursue Fielder if it means signing the slugger to deal of six years or longer.
Seattle Times staff reporter
DALLAS — Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik found himself thrust into the spotlight Tuesday after his Mariners were declared "front-runners" in the race to sign free-agent slugger Prince Fielder.
Unaccustomed to being cast so openly during ongoing talks, Zduriencik quickly distanced himself from the Twitter comments by former general manager Jim Bowden, now a national baseball radio talk show host. Zduriencik said it would be misleading to proclaim anybody a front-runner for a free agent at this stage.
"I don't want to talk about Prince, but I would say the wording of that is misleading," Zduriencik said. "Because you don't know. On any free agent. I have no clue how many clubs are in on any free agent that we're talking to."
Those words appeared to mark the first time Zduriencik has indicated he is actually talking to Fielder's camp, something he has hinted at before without directly saying so. But as the second day of the baseball winter meetings unfolded at the Hilton Anatole hotel, it became clear that a number of teams chasing Fielder seem reluctant to go the six to eight years he is reportedly seeking.
Bowden had spoken with Zduriencik in the hotel lobby earlier in the day. Zduriencik termed the meeting a mere exchange of pleasantries, but Bowden caused an afternoon stir when he tweeted: "Mariners are now front-runners on Fielder with (Milwaukee, the Chicago Cubs and Toronto) all wanting shorter term deals ... stay tuned."
Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos had gone on radio with Bowden before that, saying he was opposed to any deal longer than five years. The Blue Jays have made it known in recent days they will not pursue Fielder if he keeps his demands in the six-year or longer range.
The Cubs had previously been mentioned as suitors for free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols. But they might have targeted Fielder more strongly after the Miami Marlins were reported to have made Pujols a staggering 10-year offer worth more than $200 million.
The Milwaukee Brewers have said they are out of the running for their former star first baseman. Bowden reported on Monday that his former Washington Nationals team would not be bidding on Fielder.
Zduriencik stayed busy throughout the afternoon. He engaged in trade talks and met with the agents for free-agent pitcher Jeff Francis and infielder Carlos Guillen, the fomer Mariner who played with Detroit last season, among others. Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, made a brief appearance at the hotel before vanishing upstairs to private rooms for meetings.
Nothing is expected to happen on Francis, who pitched for Kansas City last season, until after the meetings, with at least two other clubs talking to the pitcher. When asked about his pitching needs, Zduriencik said he'd like to bring in a veteran starter to "come in and work with our young guys."
That would appear to rule out the M's importing a Japanese arm like Yu Darvish, expected to post as a free agent soon. Though Zduriencik did not rule out a Japanese pitcher being able to exude leadership qualities in a different way, he conceded they'd face a learning curve adapting to life in the majors.
Zduriencik said he's yet to make a formal offer to any free agent. And when it comes to such negotiations — whether with Fielder or anyone else — he'd rather be viewed as a front-runner once a deal is done and not before.
"As I've said with all of this stuff, I'd prefer to be low key on any discussion," he said. "My style is not to build up a big fanfare. Sometimes these things get legs of their own. To say anybody is a front-runner, I don't know how that would have come out."
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