Mariners enjoy quiet day at camp, renew push to bolster roster

Staff writerFebruary 14, 2014 

Flowers? Roses or chocolate? All nice. But the Mariners could view Friday as a Happy Valentine’s Day simply because it seemed to pass without a major incident.

Consider the first few days of spring camp:

The Mariners lost an All-Star pitcher (Hisashi Iwakuma) for at least a month, saw their top prospect (pitcher Taijuan Walker) limited by shoulder soreness and learned outfielder Franklin Gutierrez still isn’t ready to play.

Hey, welcome aboard, new manager Lloyd McClendon and staff.

“It’s all right,” McClendon insisted. “This is part of the game. You expect these things, and you have to be ready for it. It creates opportunities for other talented people. We’ll do the best we can until we get them back.”

It’s probably — probably — not as bad as it sounds.

Iwakuma won’t require surgery and should return to the rotation by mid-April. Walker’s soreness is believed to be minor; he’s taking part in camp activities and is tentatively slotted Monday for his first bullpen session.

And the Mariners weren’t really counting on Gutierrez.

Even so, it’s no surprise the club appears to be escalating efforts to bolster its roster. General manager Jack Zduriencik recently cited a “window” of opportunity to make an impact acquisition.

The Mariners’ emphasis, according to industry sources, is on finding another starting pitcher, preferably a proven arm in light of Iwakuma’s injury, and — perhaps tellingly — away from outfielder Nelson Cruz.

That desire for a pitcher points to renewed interest in free-agents Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. The market for both continues to lag because the cost for signing either one includes the loss of a draft pick.

The Mariners, though, are less affected than other clubs by the penalty.

Their first-round choice — No. 6 overall — is protected (as one of the first 10 picks), and they’ve already surrendered their second pick for signing free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano.

So signing either Santana or Jimenez would cost their third pick.

“It’s one thing to lose your first-round pick for one of those guys (Santana or Jimenez),” said an agent who represents neither player. “That’s a high price. You lose your third pick? Not so bad.”

The Mariners have long been linked to Cruz because of their ongoing search for an impact right-handed bat. But talks appear stalled over the terms of a deal.

“Every club has restrictions for where you’re at this point in the year,” Zduriencik said, speaking in general terms. “But it does get to a point where the years and dollars are going to be factors.”

Baltimore also remains linked to Cruz, and Texas appears willing to retain him if his price falls significantly. Indications are Cruz would prefer those locations, which have hitter-friendly ballparks, over the Mariners.

Even so, many industry insiders expect circumstances to push Cruz back toward the Mariners.

“The best deal he can get will still probably be Seattle,” an official from a rival club said. “They need what he can deliver, but they’re in the driver’s seat unless an injury creates a need on another team.”

The Mariners know all about that.

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