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News » Zduriencik's mission still not complete


Zduriencik's mission still not complete


Zduriencik's mission still not complete
LAS VEGAS - As most of the staffers filed out of Thursday's Rule 5 draft - the unofficial signal of the end of Baseball's winter meetings - Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik wore a small look of satisfaction, if not total contentment.

His first winter meetings as a general manager had not been dull, disappointing or unfulfilling. In fact, Zduriencik made quite an impression at the Bellagio Resort over the four-day affair, pulling off a massive 12-player trade - his first as a GM - that sent four Mariners, including star closer J.J. Putz, to different teams. And in return, Seattle received seven players - a mixture of current big-leaguers expected to make an impact and prospects to be looked to in the future.

"You have to try to get players and you have to be creative," Zduriencik said. "I think we took a step in that direction yesterday by acquiring some minor-league talent and help to our big-league roster."

Zduriencik wasn't done after the trade. He added three more players - shortstop Reegie Corona and pitchers Jose Lugo and Patrick Ryan - in the Rule 5 draft.

"Between yesterday and today, we've brought 10 new players into the organization," Zduriencik said. "That was important to us. We'll see how this unfolds going forward."

But don't think for a second that he's done making moves. Zduriencik might not make another one before he takes his flight back to Seattle, but there were enough discussions in Las Vegas for possible moves in the future - through trades or free agency.

"Talks will continue," Zduriencik said. "We've laid groundwork for other discussions, but you never know how far those are going to take you. It may not go anywhere. But there are discussions ongoing, in our mind, to improve the ballclub."

Zduriencik wouldn't tip his hand as to those areas, but did admit that the team still needs to improve offensively.

The Mariners improved their defense significantly with the addition of outfielders Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez in the Putz trade, but with top run-producer Raul Iba?ez opting for free agency, the Mariners' offensive capability went from weak to anemic.

Zduriencik tried to add some pop earlier this month by signing free-agent Russell Branyan to one-year deal, and he believes Gutierrez could provide more offense than he has in the past, and that returning catcher/DH Jeff Clement will have a big season.

"It's possible they may become big-time contributors," Zduriencik said.

Even if all that happens, it might not be enough. So Zduriencik will continue to look for hitting.

"I think we would prefer a left-handed bat," he said. "If we move forward to pursue another player, it doesn't necessarily need to be a left-handed bat. We need talent, and there may not be a left-handed bat available. You have to get the best bat that's out there."

There is a left-handed bat available in Iba?ez. Zduriencik hasn't given up completely on the idea of bringing Iba?ez back. He spoke with one of Iba?ez's representatives Wednesday and plans to have more discussions in the future.

"Iba?ez is still out there," Zduriencik said. "We'll still talk to his agent and see where that takes us. I wouldn't want to close the door to that opportunity."

Zduriencik said he has no idea where Iba?ez is leaning and admitted he might discuss the option of a multiple-year contract.

At this point it seems unlikely the Mariners would match the type of contracts other teams are offering. The Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels seem like the strongest candidates.

The Phillies, who have former Mariners GM Pat Gillick advising them, need to fill their left-field spot if free agent Pat Burrell doesn't re-sign. It's been reported that the Angels view Iba?ez as an option if they lose out on the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes. Both reportedly are willing to offer Iba?ez a three-year contract at $10 million a year.

Zduriencik wouldn't rule out looking at other lower-tier free- agent hitters on the market, either.

Then there is the bullpen. Zduriencik traded away two key members in Putz and Sean Green. Despite injury-fueled struggles last season, Putz is an established and reliable closer.

"The one thing about closers, it's very tough to get those high-echelon guys because there are very few of them," Zduriencik said. "There's a lot of clubs that do things where somebody emerges as a closer."

Will that "somebody" for the Mariners be Brandon Morrow? The former first-round draft pick was impressive as the interim closer when Putz was hurt before embarking on the much-anticipated transition to starter late last season, and had some real moments of brilliance.

Morrow has voiced his desire to remain a starter. And Zduriencik, at this point, said nothing has changed along those lines. But he reserved the right to change his mind.

"We have to sift through this," Zduriencik said. "For me to make that decision today would be unfair. I think the things that have been said to Brandon will hold true. We'll wait and see how Don (Wakamatsu) and his staff view these players in spring training and decide what their best role is."

Miguel Batista could fill the closing role on a temporary basis. He held that job for two seasons with the Blue Jays and also pitched out of the bullpen last season. Zduriencik said he isn't a fan of "closer by committee."

"If that's what has to happen, that's what happens," he said. "Sometimes that happens when you don't have that one guy, and I'm not sure we don't."

There are two established closers still on the market. One, Brian Fuentes, is reportedly close to a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. The other is Trevor Hoffman, Baseball's career saves leader.

Hoffman might represent more of a financial investment than the Mariners want to make and could be on the downside of his career.

Putz's departure won't place a premium on signing No. 1 draft pick Josh Fields. The hard-throwing right-hander, drafted out of Georgia with the No. 20 overall pick, is said to be close to major-league ready. But negotiations between the Mariners and agent Scott Boras broke down over a difference of about $500,000 in signing bonus.

Zduriencik met with Boras briefly on Wednesday, but it wasn't to speed up negotiations with Fields. Zduriencik has maintained that nothing that happens with the 25-man roster would affect his thoughts on signing Fields.

"It's not related," Zduriencik said. "Here's a guy who has never thrown a ball at any (professional) level. From our standpoint, if we move forward and sign him, it's to get him in pro ball.

"To envision this guy as part of our club and filling a role, that would be pretty creative, and I'm not ready to be that creative at this moment."

Zduriencik is still hoping to speak with Boras about Fields sometime in the next week

That won't be the only phone call Zduriencik will make in his ongoing efforts to rebuild the Mariners. Progress was made here in Las Vegas, but the process never ends.

"You'd love to address everything, but sometimes that's not always possible in a short period of time," Zduriencik said. "Sometimes have to go with what you have and do what you can and accumulate talent over a period of time."

Don't expect him to rest. The only rest he'll take from working to improve the Mariners will be the two-hour flight home.

"It's all part of the job," he said.

- - -

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483

blogs.thenewstribune.com/Mariners

MOre acquistions

The Mariners added three more players to their roster Thursday.

n 2B/SS Reegie Corona, from double-A Trenton roster in the Yankees organization

n P Jose Lugo, from single-A Fort Myers roster in the Minnesota Twins organization.

n P Patrick Ryan, from double-A Huntsville in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

n Mariners' 40-man roster, C5


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 13, 2008

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