Mariners could have Prince on their radar

Mariners could have Prince on their radar

Mariners could have Prince on their radar
DALLAS -- Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik likes keeping things close to the vest, to the point where he declined to say Monday whether his team is in pursuit of free agent Prince Fielder as the Winter Meetings opened at the Hilton Anatole hotel.

Without naming names, however, Zduriencik seemed to acknowledge that he's talking with agent Scott Boras about the slugging first baseman.

"I don't think I can go down that road yet," Zduriencik said Monday evening when asked what he could say about interest in Fielder. "I've had discussions with some prominent agents. We've discussed their clients as well as our organizational needs. That's pretty much all I can say right now."

The Fielder question looms large, as the Mariners -- or any interested team -- must decide whether to hold substantial salary space for that push or to go forward with other signings.

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"I think you have to be patient in the process, but there's also a point where you get to an end game and you have to make a decision and do what you think will help you going forward," Zduriencik said. "You get a little better feel as time goes on. A week from now, we should know more. Three days from now we'll probably know more. But when you really have a feel for where years or dollars are ending up on any of these free agents, [you know] if you're in or you're out."

The Fielder situation is interesting because more teams are dropping hints that they're not willing to jump in on the 27-year-old, whose price tag figures to be as high as one of the game's premier power hitters in his prime. Fielder hit 38 home runs with 120 RBIs this past season when he finished third in the National League MVP voting after posting a .299/.415/.566 line.

Among the rumors circulating Monday from the Meetings were that the Nationals, Blue Jays and Brewers -- all possible Prince pursuers -- weren't going to leap into the fray. With the big-money Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies all possessing big-ticket first basemen already, there may not be as large a bidding war as expected for Fielder.

But Zduriencik noted it's impossible to tell whether teams are laying low and playing possum. He himself prefers the low-key approach, not just in regard to Fielder but with any pursuit of free agents or trades.

"I don't love to jump out there. We do our business and we're trying to build this thing," he said. "I don't think you want to be out there making proclamations about making a big splash. To me the big splash is if you ever do one. Some of the deals we've done in the past, it wasn't until the very end when word got out and then it was well received.

"Sometimes things fall apart and it's not always because of you. It's because the other side didn't buy into it. Those are the unknowns. From our standpoint, to go out and blow your trumpet doesn't do any good."

As usual, there were numerous reports of potential dealings Monday, but little in the way of finished business emerging on the opening day of the offseason gathering at the sprawling hotel in north Dallas.

The most prominent Seattle-based national story line was Jon Paul Morosi of tweeting that the club had interest in veteran pitcher Jamie Moyer and fellow lefty Jeff Francis, a 30-year-old Vancouver, B.C., native who is a free agent after going 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA in Kansas City last year.

Zduriencik won't address specific players he's pursuing, but he is interested in finding a veteran starting pitcher to help fill out a rotation that has Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda and Jason Vargas as returning starters, but one that could use another proven arm to ease the timeline on the promotion of several promising prospects who might not quite be Major League ready.

Moyer obviously is well known in Seattle and presumably would only be of interest to the Mariners as a Minor League signee with an invite to Major League camp, given that he's 49 and coming off Tommy John elbow surgery.

Francis is younger, but had a shoulder issue that wiped out his 2009 season. He was back to full strength last year, pitching 183 innings before Royals manager Ned Yost shut him down for his final few starts in order to not push him too far beyond his 104 1/3 innings the prior year in Colorado.

Though Francis' win-loss record didn't show it, he pitched relatively well for Kansas City on a one-year, $2 million contract. Like Moyer, Francis relies on control over velocity, with a fastball in the upper 80s to go with his change and curveball.

Zduriencik has said his offseason wish list includes a potent bat, a veteran starter, a left-handed reliever and backup depth at catcher and shortstop. The catching box was crossed off with the recent trade of reliever Josh Lueke to Tampa Bay for John Jaso.

The other pursuits continue, with the big bat obviously being something that looms over the rest if it belongs to Fielder.

Greg Johns is a reporter for 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.