By Shannon Drayer
Jack Zduriencik will head to Nashville Saturday for the baseball winter meetings, which start Monday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. It is there that Zduriencik will most likely find out if the conversations he has been having with free agents and other clubs will actually turn into players in Mariners jerseys.
"There is some room to try and do something," he said after pointing out that money has already been spent on the smaller signings the Mariners have made, and that more money will be spent with Robert Andino, John Jaso, Shawn Kelley, Josh Kinney, Brendan Ryan, and Jason Vargas arbitration eligible.
"You never know where it is going to end up," he cautioned. "Right now you sit here today and you feel good about your options, but you never know where it is going to go."
The club's main need of offense is obvious and Zduriencik said that he has the flexibility to put that offense just about anywhere on the diamond if it is the right player. He also has been looking for a starter and has had talks with free-agent pitchers and also talked to clubs about trades.
"We are always going to leave the door open to improve pitching," he said.
The Mariners have been linked to catchers as well, and on that front Zduriencik would only talk about what he already has. He mentioned that Jesus Montero could get in the lineup at catcher, DH or first base. As for Justin Smoak, he said that in spite of his strong September, Smoak had better be ready to compete in spring training.
"There is a challenge for him," he said. "This is going to be a good winter for him to come in and make a statement."
The big question, of course, is who he could be thinking of bringing in. A lot of what is available on the market will require more than three years, and when asked if he was at all hesitant to go for a longer deal after the Chone Figgins experience, he said it wasn't something he would shy away from if it made sense for the team at the time. On the flip side, he said he would be open to another Cliff Lee-like, elite-player-with-one-year-remaining-on-the-contract deal.
His overall tone throughout the 15-minute call was one of caution. He has money, but remember, money has been spent and will need to be spent on some other necessary-but-not-new players. There have been plenty of conversations with free agents but you don't know until you really get down to it with them. He is ready and willing to trade, but it takes two to tango.
Zduriencik always plays things close to the vest and no doubt is less than pleased with the number of free agents the Mariners have been tied to so far this offseason as well as the perception that he has huge needs and big dollars to fill those needs.
Perhaps because of this he downplayed those needs when talking about the young talent in the organization, saying that they were in a "unique spot" being young at the big-league level and having players at Triple-A a phone call away if needed.
"My guess would be if several of them don't make the club out of spring training we are going to see another nice group of kids get to the big leagues," he said, "and I think that creates a whole different dynamic on our club because as you go through this summer and into next year you now have players that are big-league ready, big-league proven, so I think it is a real balancing act right now here on going forward."
Maybe, but if the focus is on the big-league club, offensive help is needed immediately. Zduriencik knows that and said several times in the interview that he would like to be able to bring that help in. Does he feel pressure to do so heading into his fifth year as general manager?
"What I want to do is what is best for the organization," he answered. "What is best for the big-league team right now, I think that is the focus.
"I looked at the big picture and I think we have done some things to strengthen the organization. You look at the club and say, 'Yeah, I would like to make it better,' but we also have some nice pieces. Look at what we have. I am not going to go out and have the motivational factor be the statement to make a splash. I would like to make a splash period because I want to bring a good player here. But I wouldn't do it for the sake of just do it. I would do it because it made sense and it was the right thing for us to do and it continues with the plan that we put in place when I got here."
A bat or two would help that plan and a starter certainly wouldn't hurt. Things are heating up with more signings and trades in the week before the meetings. These meetings have the potential to be more than "laying-the-groundwork" meetings. Things could get interesting for the Mariners in just a matter of days.