Mariners have plenty to do at winter meetings

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comDecember 9, 2013 

ORLANDO, Fla. — OK, Jack … what’s next?

The Mariners arrived at baseball’s winter meetings Sunday sporting aglow from their still-unofficial signing of the game’s top free agent, second baseman Robinson Cano.

Now the goal for general manager Jack Zduriencik and his staff is to build on that momentum in filling the holes remaining on their youthful roster.

Good thing, because there are plenty of holes to fill while the meetings last through Thursday at a Walt Disney World resort.

Where to start?

“Offense would be one area,” Zduriencik said. “Obviously, another pitcher would be great. You’re never going to walk away from a good bullpen arm.”

Priorities?

“I’ve always felt you’ve got to make your club better the way you can make the club better,” Zduriencik said. “Sometimes, you may target an outfielder, but it just doesn’t work.

“So if you have a chance to land a quality player at another position, then you have to go ahead and do that.”

The head-turning deal for Cano, reportedly 10 years at $240

million, could be announced as soon as Monday. Nothing can top that — right? — but the Mariners could continue to hog the spotlight over the next few days.

Some items to watch:

 • Tampa Bay is shopping 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner David Price, who has two years of club control remaining before becoming a free agent. In return, the Rays want a package that starts with a top pitching prospect.

The Mariners have that in right-hander Taijuan Walker. That doesn’t mean a deal gets done; lots of teams are expected to pursue Price, which should goose the cost necessary to land him.

But if the Mariners are willing to surrender Walker to get Price, they should find an interested listener in Tampa Bay general manager Andrew Friedman.

The Tampa Bay Times, in fact, cites the Mariners as the Rays’ likeliest trade partner for Price as the meetings commence.

Bottom line: Price is generally viewed as the best starting pitcher likely to be available through trade or free agency. The Mariners have the elements to dream about a rotation featuring Felix Hernandez, Price and Hisashi Iwakuma.

 • Zduriencik is shopping for at least one more bat, preferably a power-hitting outfielder. Three possibilities stand above the rest: free-agents Nelson Cruz and Shin-Soo Choo and trade target Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It’s worth noting that Cruz, a true bopper, is close friends with Cano. That can’t hurt, but Cruz is also coming back from a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use. How well his power (135 homers since 2009) translates to Safeco Field is also debatable.

Choo began his career in Seattle before an ill-conceived July 26, 2006, trade sent him to Cleveland. He offers pop (304 extra-base hits in the past six years), and he typically ranks among the leaders in on-base percentage.

The Los Angeles Dodgers would like to unload Kemp, who has $128 million remaining on his contract over the next six years. The Mariners can handle that payroll hit better than most clubs but must weigh the risk.

Kemp played just 179 games over the past two seasons, including 73 in 2013, after averaging 159 from 2008-11. If healthy — a big if — he’s one of the game’s top hitters.

 • The Mariners remain interested in designated hitter Kendrys Morales, who became a free agent by rejecting a qualifying offer for $14.1 million after batting .277 with 23 homers and a club-leading 80 RBI for the Mariners in 2013.

That means any team signing him loses a top draft pick, which figures to depress his value and could lead him back to Seattle.

Kansas City figured to shop designated hitter Billy Butler, whom the Mariners have always liked, if it had acquired free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran.

But Beltran signed with the Yankees, and the Royals now figure to hold onto Butler. But Kansas City is looking for a second baseman, and the Mariners no longer have a spot for Nick Franklin.

The Mariners have other needs. They’d like to find a veteran catcher to pair with Mike Zunino and need to add a couple of bullpen arms. Kansas City has those, too, and is willing to deal.

“The fact that we’re linked to a lot of people,” Zduriencik said, “we probably should be. Just from the amount of work we’ve done.”

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners

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