"We were very competitive and made a substantial offer in terms of years and dollars," Zduriencik said. "At the end, the player has a decision to make, and he made his decision. Obviously it's in our division and that makes it tough, but again, I think we were aggressive, we were out in front of it. Signing with them caught a lot of people by surprise."
Zduriencik said Mariners officials had "an absolutely terrific meeting" with Hamilton at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., and the team's ownership agreed to be all in with their pursuit of the five-time All-Star.
The fourth-year GM clearly was disappointed by the end result when Hamilton took a five-year, $125 million offer from the Angels, but Zduriencik said he was encouraged to be given the green light and resources to compete toe-to-toe for what the club felt was the impact player it needed.
"They were very supportive," Zduriencik said. "They stepped up last week and over the weekend and allowed me to make a very strong financial commitment. At the end, players make choices for many reasons. And in this case, Josh chose to go elsewhere and we wish him the very best.
"But I thought it was a very strong indicator that for the right player at the right time, moving forward what this ownership group is going to allow us to do. The statement they made allowing me to pursue Josh in the vein we did was substantial."
So what now? There are still several quality free-agent outfielders on the market, led by Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Cody Ross. The possibility of acquiring an impact bat by trade remains, particularly if the Mariners are willing to part with any of their premier young pitching prospects.
Or the Mariners could opt to continue building with their young nucleus of talent and save their assets -- both their payroll flexibility and their well-regarded prospects -- for when they see a better chance to strike the right deal.
"I don't think this is the greatest free-agent class, but there are a couple very substantial pieces," Zduriencik said. "We've had a lot of dialogue going on with clubs as well as players. We were on the phone last night quite a bit, and we'll continue to do that today. We'll see where it ends up. The total impact of Josh Hamilton is not out there, but there are other pieces that can make your club better, and we're going to try to do that."
Zduriencik said he's had plenty of trade offers to date, but nothing he considers fair value in return for the team's top prospects.
"We're committed to staying the course with these kids and trying to build," he said. "I've had several scenarios where I could give up two or three of these players, but what has to be weighed is the return you're getting, the years of control for what you're giving up.
"Could I have made a trade? Of course. But taking on cost and getting a player with less years of control and giving up your very strong assets, that's fine if it makes a lot of sense. As I've said all along, I'm willing to trade apple for orange if it makes us better. But I'm not willing to trade two apples for one orange, and that's what we've been seeing."
So Zduriencik continues his pursuits, while knowing fans are restless.
"I know people are anxious and you can get to a point where you feel you have to do something," he said, "but you only have to do something if it's the right thing from a baseball standpoint. You can't do something that just looks good in the newspaper the next morning. It has to be sound and fair value for fair value.
"I'll do that any time of the day," he said. "I think we've shown that, but dealing with someone who wants to 'win' a deal with you, that's not an avenue I want to go down. I want a deal that helps both of us and is fair. I'm not going to be held up by giving away what I'd consider strong assets when we're in the middle of this whole building process and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. To abandon that now would be foolish."
Besides the big-name free agents, there remains a secondary market with players willing to do shorter deals that can still help teams out. Zduriencik didn't name names, but outfielders like Ross, Scott Hairston, Delmon Young and Raul Ibanez remain available and wouldn't cost a first-round Draft pick, where the Mariners hold the No. 12 selection next year.
"There are players out there that can help your club," Zduriencik said. "One thing we've said is we do want to add some veteran leadership. That's going to be very important to how we play in 2013. We haven't stopped looking at the primary or secondary market. We've looked at a lot of alternatives and so have a lot of other clubs. We'll continue the process.
"The big fish is off the board," he said, "so we'll see what happens now."