Fittingly, for a franchise looking to build for the long haul with young prospects, the Mariners announced just two official moves during their stay in Florida, and both involved little-known project-type players -- the claiming of Indians Class A pitcher Jose Flores in the Rule 5 Draft and the international signing of Dominican shortstop Esteilon Peguero, a highly touted 17-year-old.
For the Mariners, the four days at Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort were mostly about laying groundwork. A year ago, that process eventually led to a trade for Cliff Lee a week later. Such fireworks aren't expected this season, as the club doesn't have much payroll flexibility and also wants to give some of its young prospects a chance to show their stuff, but certainly the Mariners will make more roster additions in the days ahead to bring in some veteran presence in the right spots.
Without question, the Mariners wanted to add some help behind the plate, where top prospect Adam Moore hit just .195 last season. Olivo, who averaged 16 home runs and 56 RBIs the last five seasons for Florida, Kansas City and Colorado, brings a proven bat and nine seasons of big league experience. But the right-handed-hitter struggled badly in Safeco Field when he played for Seattle in 2004-05, hitting just .176 in 312 at-bats.
Zduriencik said the Mariners haven't given up on Moore, but merely are looking to add depth at a critical position.
"Adam is young and talented," Zduriencik said. "He's just young and inexperienced. You look at that position -- a year ago, he got hurt. Rob [Johnson] got hurt at the end. The year before Kenji [Johjima] had his broken toe and injuries, and Rob had his series of surgeries. You're never completely covered at that position, just because it's demanding and the injury factor [is] there."
Five Mariners catchers combined to hit .201 with 10 home runs, 42 RBIs and a .566 OPS last season, so there's plenty of room for improvement. Similarly, Seattle hopes Cust will provide a boost at the designated-hitter position, which produced the lowest numbers in the American League last year with a. 194 average, 21 home runs, 60 RBIs and a .609 OPS.
But Zduriencik feels roster-wide improvement can come from returning vets and the upcoming young nucleus more so than through trades and free agency.
"I'd like better production [in] a lot of places," Zduriencik said. "We're hoping guys are physically and mentally prepared to come in and get back to playing who they are ... [that] young guys grow up and veteran players settle in and be who they are. That would be a nice start."
Deals done: Nothing official yet, though the Mariners have agreed to terms with Cust and Olivo. Seattle also signed Peguero, whose $2.9 million bonus is the biggest international signing of the year in terms of dollars.
Rule 5 activity: The Mariners took right-handed reliever Flores from Cleveland with the No. 2 pick in the Major League portion of the Draft. Flores, 21, has never pitched above Class A ball and thus seems a long shot to make the Mariners' 25-man roster, but Zduriencik likes his arm and upside and says it's a $50,000 gamble worth taking. Seattle lost outfielder Jose Rivero, a 20-year-old Venezuelan, to Arizona in the Minor League Rule 5 Draft. Rivero split time between Class A Everett and Pulaski last season.
Goals accomplished: Landing Cust should provide some needed pop in the middle of the batting order, though he was non-tendered by Oakland both in '09 and again this offseason. Cust sounds motivated to show what he can do and should fit nicely in Safeco Field, which favors left-handed power.
The Mariners were also looking to add a veteran catcher to work with Moore, and appeared to have found their man in the 31-year-old Olivo.
Unfinished business: Zduriencik has been seeing what is available in left field to supplement 24-year-old Michael Saunders as well as a utility infielder to work into the mix until prize prospect Dustin Ackley is ready for promotion.
GM's bottom line: "We've created a lot of dialogue, and I think people understand where our interests are," Zduriencik said. "We've had a lot of conversations. You never know where things will end up, but we'll continue to talk and explore and see what happens."