Did Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik offer a clue earlier this week regarding Melky Cabrera when asked whether the club’s pursuit of a right fielder was limited solely to right-handed hitters?
“Not necessarily,” Zduriencik said. “A switch-hitter would be tremendous. ... Right-handed would be good, but you’re not going to walk away from a good hitter.”
Cabrera, 30, is the top switch-hitting outfielder remaining on the free-agent market and, according to industry sources, is drawing increased interest from the Mariners.
Kansas City, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Baltimore have also shown interest in Cabrera, who batted .301 for Toronto with 16 homers and 73 RBIs in 139 games before missing the final month due to a broken finger.
Cabrera rejected a $15.3 million, one-year qualifying offer last month from the Blue Jays, who subsequently broke off negotiations by refusing to budge beyond a three-year deal.
Sources say Cabrera wants a five-year contract for $50 million-plus. Toronto signaled its intention to move on Wednesday by acquiring outfielder Michael Saunders from the Mariners for left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ.
Any club that signs Cabrera would forfeit a draft pick because of the Blue Jays’ qualifying offer. But the penalty for the Mariners would be less severe because they lost their first-round pick by signing outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The Mariners, by signing Cabrera, would lose their second pick.
Cabrera previously indicated he preferred to remain with Toronto or another club in the Eastern time zone for personal reasons. Sources say he now appears willing to consider other clubs.
In some ways, Cabrera might be the best possible fit for the Mariners, who also continue to pursue discussions with the Los Angeles Dodgers regarding a possible trade for Matt Kemp.
Manager Lloyd McClendon indicated his preference is to find someone capable of slotting into the lineup’s No. 2 hole between leadoff hitter Austin Jackson and No. 3 hitter Robinson Cano.
The Mariners viewed veteran Torii Hunter as a possible fit for that role before he signed a one-year deal with Minnesota for $10.5 million. Kemp might fill that role, but he probably fits better in the middle of the order.
But Cabrera batted second for much of the past four seasons while playing for the Blue Jays, Giants and Royals. He also batted .309 in that span with a .351 on-base percentage and a .458 slugging percentage.
The Mariners used Dustin Ackley as their No. 2 hitter last season over the final two months, but McClendon prefers to position Ackley lower in the lineup.
“He did OK up there,” McClendon said. “But if you remember, when he did really well is when we had him lower in the order. He just seemed more comfortable down there.
“I kicked myself every day for batting him second, but I didn’t feel we had a better option.”
Ackley posted a .233 average/.277 on-base percentage/.435 slugging percentage slash in 50 games as the No. 2 hitter but was .330/.404/.466 in 28 games when batting eighth in the lineup.
The Mariners moved again to bolster the depth of their rotation by signing journeyman right-hander Justin Germano to a minor-league contract.
Germano, 32, spent most of this past season in Triple-A at Round Rock in the Rangers’ system before an August trade sent him to Albuquerque in the Dodgers’ chain. He was a combined 5-14 with a 5.02 ERA.
The Mariners confirmed the Germano signing two days after acquiring Happ from the Blue Jays. McClendon said Happ currently projects as the Mariners’ No. 3 or No. 4 starter.
Zduriencik cited rotation depth as an offseason priority after watching injuries torment the Mariners throughout 2014. Felix Hernandez was the only staff member to make 30 or more starts.
“You’re not going to make it through the season with just five guys,” Zduriencik said. “It just doesn’t happen. You really need eight or nine guys who can step in.”
Germano’s résumé includes parts of nine seasons in the big leagues with seven teams. He is 10-30 with a 5.40 ERA in 96 career games, including 48 starts. He made two relief appearances last season for Texas.