Mariners will look for right fit at Meetings

Mariners will look for right fit at Meetings

SEATTLE -- Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings open next week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and his crew will head to Disney World with open ears when it comes to finding ways they can improve their franchise's talent level.

Seattle certainly has needs, coming off a 101-loss season and one of the worst offensive showings in modern history. But finding the right matches and places to upgrade will require some creative thinking, given the current roster construction and players already under contract for next season.

Mariners needs

Offensive punch: Finding places to add bats isn't as easy as you'd think on a team that scored the fewest runs in the Major Leagues last year. Ichiro Suzuki (right field), Franklin Gutierrez (center), Jack Wilson (shortstop), Chone Figgins (second or third) and Milton Bradley (DH) are all under contract through at least 2011. And the Mariners have highly regarded prospects targeted for the other positions with Justin Smoak (first), Dustin Ackley (second), Michael Saunders (left field) and Adam Moore (catcher). Designated hitter would be an obvious area of upgrade if Zduriencik can find a way around Bradley's $12 million contract. Otherwise it might require a trade to open up space to add some new pop, while the Mariners count on bounce-back years from the veterans and quick development from the youngsters. Left field is another spot for a potential upgrade or platoon situation.

Utility infielder: Wilson has been injury prone at shortstop, playing just 92 games since being acquired from the Pirates at the Trade Deadline in 2009. Additionally, the Mariners don't want to rush Ackley (the second-overall pick in the '09 Draft) at second base and he likely will open the season in Triple-A. So it would make sense to have a solid option to start the year at second and plug in at short if needed later.

Starting pitcher: With Felix Hernandez, the Mariners have a bona fide ace, and Jason Vargas and Doug Fister showed promise in their first full season as starters. After that, things get a little dicey. Recently resigned Erik Bedard will have to prove himself healthy after a lost 2010 season. Michael Pineda is a big, powerful right-hander, but he's a 22-year-old rookie with just 12 starts at Triple-A under his belt. David Pauley, Luke French and Chris Seddon provide depth, but not proven big league track records. So a veteran starter who fits in somewhere in the middle of the rotation certainly would be welcome.

Backup catcher: The Adam Moore/Rob Johnson tandem didn't hit a lick last year, and while Moore remains one of the club's highly regarded prospects, the Mariners desperately need to get more production from that position.

Who they can or need to trade

RHP David Aardsma: With 69 saves in the past two seasons, Aardsma, 28, appears to be one of the Mariners' obvious trade chips in their search for much-needed offense. He'll likely make about $4 million in the arbitration process, so Zduriencik could clear a little payroll flexibility and give their young, hard-throwing bullpen options a chance to take his place.

2B-3B Figgins: The idea of bringing Figgins in as a No. 2 hitter behind Ichiro faltered last year as he struggled in that role, his on-base percentage falling from .395 with the Angels in '09 to .340. The 32-year-old seems suited to a team needing a scrappy leadoff man, but finding a trade partner might be complicated by the three years and $26 million remaining on his contract. He's a versatile weapon who can play a lot of positions and stole 42 bases last year, but the Mariners seem to need punch more than an extra table-setter at this point.

OF-DH Bradley: Yeah, he's available after losing the last two months of the season to arthroscopic knee surgery. And the Marins would likely be willing to pick up a chunk of his $12 million salary rather than start new manager Eric Wedge's tenure off with a player he butted heads with in Cleveland in '04.

Top prospects

RHP Pineda, Mauricio Robles, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Blake Beaven, Taijuan Walker. LHP Mauricio Robles. 1B Smoak, Mike Carp, Rich Poythress. 2B Ackley, Kyle Seager. 3B Matt Mangini, Alex Liddi. SS Nick Franklin, Carlos Triunfel. OF Greg Halman, Johermyn Chavez, Guillermo Pimentel, Nate Tenbrink, Mike Wilson. The Mariners are looking to build through their farm system, so unlikely to move their premier prospects like Pineda, Ackley, Smoak and Franklin, who are regarded as the core of the future.

Big contracts they might unload

Bradley

Arbitration eligible

Aardsma, Brandon League and Vargas.

Payroll summation

The Mariners have nearly $60 million wrapped into six players for next season (Hernandez, Ichiro, Bradley, Figgins, Gutierrez and Jack Wilson) and are looking to maintain player payroll near last year's $91 million mark, so they won't be chasing big-money free agents. Instead Zduriencik will look for veteran players who fit specific needs or trades that might open up space for some offensive maneuvering.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohns1 as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.