Even with Hernandez off limits, the Mariners have some talented arms that carry value on the trade market, including All-Star closer Brandon League and young starters Jason Vargas and Doug Fister. Veteran lefty Erik Bedard will come off the disabled list to start Friday, and lots of teams will be watching to see how he fares.
Given that Bedard will be a free agent at the end of the season, he's the most likely of the Mariners' pitchers to be dealt if teams see enough to be comfortable with his sprained left knee.
Veteran infielder Adam Kennedy is another pending free agent who could bring a young prospect in return. Milwaukee might be a suitor for Kennedy after second baseman Rickie Weeks suffered a nasty ankle injury Wednesday and appears lost for some time.
As the Brewers' former scouting director, Zduriencik is familiar with Milwaukee's system, which includes a couple young catching prospects who could help fill a Mariners void. The Brewers just promoted catcher Martin Maldonado to Triple-A Nashville, and he's regarded as a strong defender with an improving bat.
The Brewers also have young catching prospect Cameron Garfield, a second-rounder in 2009 who has missed most of this year with a knee injury.
Any trades that would bolster the thin catching position or bring position prospects will certainly be considered by Zduriencik. But while Zduriencik is well aware the club needs to improve its offense in order to be a future contender, robbing the pitching surplus to improve the hitting isn't his idea of a sound approach to building the franchise long term.
"As much as I wish we had another bat -- and I sure as heck would like to have one -- when you're giving up something else that's strength of yours, you've just weakened a strength," he said. "We've all sat here and watched our club struggle to score runs. But with our pitching as good as it's been, that's why we're in ballgames.
"That's a strength, and that's what we want to keep together. I want to add to it, I don't want to take away from it. This thing, we said all along, isn't going to happen overnight. To think you can just snap your fingers and there's the bat you need, you better develop them and figure out that it's a process that takes place. It's just not as easy as one might think."
Zduriencik sounds more inclined to keep his pitching core together and pursue offensive additions when the club frees up some salary to pursue free agents. League is under team control for another year, as is Vargas. Fister has three years remaining until he can be a free agent.
The club believes it has two top-of-the-line starters in Hernandez and rookie Michael Pineda, with Hernandez under contract through 2014 and Pineda five seasons away from free agency. Zduriencik knows those are considerable strengths to build around.
"When you're talking about pitching, you got your closer, tough thing to find. They don't grow on trees," he said. "[Nos.] 1 and 2 starters, tough thing to find. Middle-of-lineup hitters, tough thing to find. Those are great commodities. If you don't have them, you're going to try to find them or develop them. So when people call and are trying to get them, it's very expensive. It's unique situations sometimes when you're able to get them, if you don't develop them."
Zduriencik said teams aren't eager to trade away top position prospects in a year many clubs are having offensive issues, which is why he's bullish on developing talent in the Minor League system. The Mariners have brought up rookie second baseman Dustin Ackley and outfielders Mike Carp and Greg Halman this year, while also taking looks at Carlos Peguero and Kyle Seager.
"We don't have the big hitter, but some of these guys are going to grow and turn into that," Zduriencik said. "We've given a lot of guys chances this year and rightfully so, because a couple of these guys have tools that are going to carry us if they ever become players.
"They've got to experience this to get to where you want to get to. And it's hard. Trust me, I see it. But there's learning, there's education going on and we're going to get to a point where we're going to be happy."
A big part of the education is the Mariners themselves discovering exactly what their youngsters can do and where they'll need help filling in the gaps. Zduriencik said from the start of Spring Training, this year would be largely about giving the kids a chance. After four months, that process is well under way.
Going forward, whether through trades or next offseason, Zduriencik knows the offense must be a priority. He's just not eager to rob from his pitching strength right now to make that happen.
"There's no question what we need to have," he said. "There'll be some resources available to go out and try to do something. We'll talk about a lot of these younger players going to play winter ball. We'll be seeking and looking in every way we can to find the right components here to get us to the next level."