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Mariners weighing their options via free agency

Mariners weighing their options via free agency

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Mariners weighing their options via free agency
SEATTLE -- With Josh Hamilton off the board, the question now is what possibilities remain for the Mariners to improve their offense in a winter where the premier free agents are starting to dwindle.

The Mariners made a hard run at former Rangers catcher Mike Napoli as well as Hamilton, but Napoli agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox that still hasn't been finalized. Hamilton took a five-year, $125 million deal from the Angels after Seattle offered very similar numbers with a potential for a sixth year.

According to the Tacoma News Tribune, the Mariners presented Hamilton four guaranteed years at $100 million, with option years for a fifth and sixth season based on fairly easily attainable playing-time levels.

That bid signified a sizeable investment by the Mariners, but it's unclear if they feel there is another free agent worth a major push this winter.

The biggest remaining names are outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. While Seattle has been mentioned as one of several teams interested in both, their markets have been slow to develop. That could change now that Hamilton has signed, with Swisher reportedly scheduled to visit Cleveland on Monday night.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik expressed disappointment on Friday that the Hamilton pursuit didn't pay off, but didn't tip his hand on what else might be of interest this offseason.

"We'll continue to look," the GM said. "I'd like this thing to be sped up, too. We'd love to do something substantial. Obviously this one didn't work [with Hamilton], but next year has the potential to be a really good free-agent market. And we'll continue to look at every opportunity that presents itself."

Zduriencik said the trade route might be the best remaining option, but he's yet to find fair value in return for any of his top prospects.

As for potential free agents, Swisher and Bourn are very different players. Bourn is a premier center fielder and leadoff-type hitter who creates runs with his speed. Swisher has been a model of consistency in the regular season as a right fielder with the A's, White Sox and Yankees. He could fill more of the middle-of-the-order bat Seattle seeks, though he hit mostly second or sixth in the Yankees' lineup last year.

Swisher, a switch-hitter, has had good success at Safeco Field in his career, batting .287/.375/.538 with a .913 OPS, 11 home runs and 29 RBIs in 171 at-bats over 45 games.

Interestingly, those numbers are much better than Hamilton's Safeco numbers of .224/.338/.408 with a .746 OPS with six homers and 17 RBIs in 125 at-bats over 34 games.

But Swisher is a career .256 hitter with an .828 OPS and one All-Star appearance in nine years in the Majors, as opposed to Hamilton's .304 average, .913 OPS and five All-Star berths in six seasons. At 32, teams must decide whether he's worth a significant long-term contract.

Bourn, 29, is the youngest remaining free-agent outfielder on the market. He's never played at Safeco Field, but is a left-handed speedster who presumably wouldn't be negatively impacted by the park. Yet the Mariners' greatest need is for a power-hitting corner outfielder, which certainly doesn't describe Bourn.

Both Swisher and Bourn received $13.3 million qualifying offers from their former teams, which means whoever signs them will forfeit a first-round Draft pick next year unless they are in the Top 10 picks, in which case they'd surrender a second-round selection. The Mariners hold the No. 12 pick in the first round and Zduriencik said "that is a consideration" in regard to available free agents.

"You look at what we've done in the Draft, our first-round picks are all going to have impact," he said. "Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen, Nick Franklin, Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino ... those are all assets. You would give up [a first-round] pick for the right player, but it is something that certainly has to be considered."

Of the remaining free agents who won't require Draft pick compensation, the most-interesting outfielders include Cody Ross, Scott Hairston, Raul Ibanez, Delmon Young and Grady Sizemore.

Ibanez, 40, has been with the Mariners twice before and could provide the sort of veteran presence Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge have been talking about. Ross, 31, is a solid hitter coming off a 22 home run, 81 RBI, .267 season with the Red Sox.

Hairston, 32, had a career-best 20 home runs in a season with the Mets during which he hit .247 with 57 RBIs. Young had a big postseason for the Tigers, but didn't have a very good regular season for Detroit and is regarded as a defensive liability with some off-field concerns.

Sizemore is a Seattle native who was a three-time All-Star for Wedge in Cleveland, but missed all of last year with back and knee issues and hasn't been full go since microfracture knee surgery in 2010.

If Zduriencik opts for the trade route, more avenues remain open, but those moves are hard to predict. Last year, he dealt top rookie pitcher Michael Pineda for Yankees catcher Jesus Montero in mid-January.

The Mariners still have some premier pitching prospects -- led by Hultzen, Walker, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer -- but Zduriencik has worked hard to compile those assets over the last few years and won't give them up without what he regards as fair return.

"We'll see where it ends up," Zduriencik said. "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."

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.

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