SAN DIEGO — The goal this week for the Mariners, as the baseball industry convenes for its annual Winter Meetings, is fairly simple: Acquire a right fielder without surrendering one of their young arms.
Or any arms, really.
After last week’s deal that netted lefty J.A. Happ from Toronto, general manager Jack Zduriencik dispelled the notion that it signaled an increased willingness to dangle, say, Taijuan Walker to nab that coveted outfielder.
“That’s a little bit of a dangerous road,” Zduriencik cautioned. “You look at our pitching staff, and when you analyze it, a couple of those young starters didn’t pitch a lot of innings last year.”
Walker and James Paxton each spent substantial time on the disabled list, and one-time top prospect Danny Hultzen missed the entire season while recovering from shoulder surgery. Rookie lefty Roenis Elias didn’t pitch after Sept. 16 because of an elbow injury.
Further, veteran Chris Young departed as a free agent. In effect, Happ replaces Young on the rotation depth chart. Manager Lloyd McClendon currently projects Happ as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter.
Multiple club officials flatly dismiss the idea of trading either Walker or Paxton, whom they control for the next six and five years, to get a one-year rental such as Atlanta’s Justin Upton or Boston’s Yoenis Cespedes.
While the Mariners could pursue Upton if the price drops, they show little interest in Cespedes, whom the Red Sox are shopping after acquiring him July 31 from Oakland.
The Mariners, instead, show increased interest in free-agent Melky Cabrera, switch-hitter who projects as a smooth fit as the lineup’s No. 2 hitter.
In addition to whatever Cabrera would command in salary, the Mariners (or any club but Toronto) would also surrender a draft pick as the penalty for signing a player who received a qualifying offer from his former club.
If talks with Cabrera, 30, stall — and he’s seeking a five-year deal — the alternative could be a second-tier free agent, such as Alex Rios or even Jonny Gomes.
The Mariners underscored their reluctance to part with a starting pitcher in recent efforts to pry veteran outfielder Matt Kemp away from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Sources say the two clubs were moving toward a swap that didn’t include Walker or Paxton but had the Mariners paying roughly half of the $107 million remaining on Kemp’s salary over the next five years.
Talks stalled when the Dodgers, perhaps after gauging Kemp’s potential return from other clubs, sought a revised deal that would include either Walker or Paxton and boost the Mariners’ share of Kemp’s salary.
The Mariners, at the time, had not yet signed Nelson Cruz and were in desperate need of a impact right-handed bat for the middle of their lineup.
Even so, they backed away.
“If they weren’t willing to give up Walker (or Paxton) before they signed Cruz,” an official from another club concluded, “it’s hard to believe they’d do it now unless they’re just blown away (with an offer).”
Even so, the Mariners remain interested in Kemp and seem certain to re-engage the Dodgers in discussions over the next few days.
The trade that brought Happ from Toronto for outfielder Michael Saunders also included some cash for the Mariners — enough the bridge the difference in salaries.
That figures to be more than $3 million.
Happ is under contract next season for $6.7 million, while Saunders is eligible for arbitration after making $2.3 million in 2014.
WILLS ON BALLOT
Former Mariners manager Maury Wills is one of 10 player under consideration Monday for election to the Hall of Fame by the Golden Era Committee, which covers 1947-72.
The 16-member committee will announce its vote Monday at the Winter Meetings. Candidates must be cited on 12 of the 16 ballots — 75 percent — to be elected.
Others under consideration: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Luis Tiant.
Wills, now 82, played primarily for the Dodgers in a 14-year career from 1959-72. He was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1962 when he stole a then-record 104 bases.
The Mariners hired Wills on Aug. 4, 1980 as the second manager in their history — and it didn’t go well. The club went 26-56 under Wills before he was fired on May 6, 1981.