Mariners seeking big bat, veteran starter

Mariners seeking big bat, veteran starter

Mariners seeking big bat, veteran starter
SEATTLE -- When Jack Zduriencik arrives at the Winter Meetings in Dallas on Monday, he'll have his shopping list like every other general manager. But Zduriencik is preaching patience as well, knowing much of his talent base with the Mariners is young and needs time to grow.

For Seattle, the goal this offseason is to add a few veterans in key places to bolster a youthful nucleus led by All-Star pitchers Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda and impressive rookie hitters Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp, while expecting bounce-back years from veterans Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez.

"Overall, we're still going to be young," said Zduriencik, whose club used 18 rookies last year. "But we'd like to see what is out there and go down a couple different avenues and complement our ballclub with some veteran guys and maybe bring guys on like we did the other day [in a trade with Tampa Bay for catcher John Jaso] who we'd have control over for a number of years."

Zduriencik has said the Mariners will look into the interest -- and price -- of Prince Fielder. But realistically, Seattle figures to spend most of its energy and available budget on several different veterans either through free agency or the trade market in order to help its young roster.

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"There are pieces out there," Zduriencik said. "Obviously, everyone talks about Prince and [Albert] Pujols, but other pieces are interesting. We've had discussions with a lot of different scenarios, but until you engage in real dialogue, it's hard to know where it's going to go. Agents are still feeling things out to see where the market will be."

Here is a look at the Mariners' offseason checklist:

Club needs:

A bat (or two): When you finish last in the American League in scoring for three straight years, it's not hard to figure where help is needed. Zduriencik has said he'll at least look into Fielder's situation, but that figures to be a pricey battle. More likely, Seattle will look to add a shorter-term designated hitter or veteran left fielder with some pop, with Carp then manning the other position.

Backup shortstop: With Brendan Ryan suffering a neck issue that led to him missing 26 games in the final two months, the Mariners want to cover their bases with a veteran reserve who could step in if needed. Rookie Kyle Seager filled in at the end of the season, but he's more of a second and third baseman.

Left-handed reliever: The Mariners have some promising young right-handed power arms in the bullpen, but they are looking to add a veteran lefty to the mix. Their only southpaw relievers on the current 40-man roster are Cesar Jimenez and Mauricio Robles. Jimenez had a 5.40 ERA in eight late-season appearances and Robles, 22, has yet to make his MLB debut. Outside of closer Brandon League, the Mariners are thin on experienced relievers.

A veteran starter: With Hernandez and Pineda already in the rotation and prize prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Taijuan Walker knocking on the door, the Mariners are rich in young arms. But they need a veteran to help bridge the gap until the youth movement fully arrives. At this point, only Hernandez, Pineda and Jason Vargas are rotation locks. Rookies Blake Beavan and Charlie Furbush filled the final two spots after Doug Fister and Erik Bedard were traded in midseason.

Who they can or need to trade:

3B Chone Figgins: Since signing a four-year, $36 million deal, Figgins has largely lost his place in Seattle's plans after hitting a career-low .259 in 2010 and then .188 last year before finishing the season on the disabled list. The Mariners moved Seager and Alex Liddi into third base the last half of the year and will let those two battle with Figgins for the job in Spring Training, barring a trade.

Top prospects: LHPs Hultzen, Paxton. RHPs Beavan, Jose Campos, Ramirez, Chance Ruffin, Walker. INFs Vinnie Catricala, Nick Franklin, Liddi, Francisco Martinez, Seager, Carlos Triuenfel. OFs Johermyn Chavez, Chih-Hsien Chiang, Carlos Peguero, Guillermo Pimentel, Trayvon Robinson.

The Mariners aren't inclined to deal young prospects for short-term veteran help in their current rebuilding mode, but they might move some of their surplus of pitching if they could find the right offensive help in return.

Big contracts they might unload: Figgins, two years, $18 million remaining.

Arbitration-eligible: LHP Vargas; RHPs League, Shawn Kelley.

Payroll summation: The Mariners haven't made public their projected player budget, but they are expected to remain in the $95 million range as the past three seasons. The jettisoning of Milton Bradley, Jack Wilson, David Aardsma and Jack Cust freed up about $25 million, but Hernandez gets a $7.5 million raise up to $19.2 million, and Ichiro enters the final year of an $18 million annual deal. With other raises and arbitration hikes, the Mariners figure to have roughly $15 million of available payroll to pursue free agents or trades.

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