SAN DIEGO — Melky to the Mariners?
While everything points to the Mariners emerging as a clear favorite to sign free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, multiple sources Monday at the Winter Meetings contend no agreement is imminent.
Kansas City, San Francisco and the Chicago White Sox have also shown recent interest in Cabrera, a 30-year-old switch-hitter who is believed to be seeking a five-year deal that could approach $60 million.
“Everything I hear is (the favorite is) the Mariners,” said an official from one of those rival clubs pursuing Cabrera. “He’s still talking with other teams, but it sure sounds like the Mariners are the team to beat.”
General manager Jack Zduriencik previously cited an outfield bat as the club’s top remaining off-season target, but he insisted the Mariners are not close to a deal with Cabrera — or any other major move — at the moment.
“No, we are not,” Zduriencik emphasized. “We have dialogue with a lot of clubs and some free agents. But I could not say that we’re close to anything right now.”
Other sources support Zduriencik’s statement by saying the Mariners continue to explore other possibilities, such as a trade for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp or pursuing free-agent outfielder Alex Rios.
Zduriencik also said the club has internal options but declined to elaborate.
“I’d like to be careful on that,” he said. “Until you talk to your players — they’re the first ones who would need to know what we’re thinking once we get through this next period of time.”
Zduriencik said that time frame could last into next year, but his comments suggest a possible position switch for one or more players. Brad Miller looms as a likely candidate if Chris Taylor is the regular shortstop.
“I think we need to let this evolve,” Zduriencik said, “and see how the club looks, let’s say, at the first of the year. I think, then, we could start to make some phone calls on some ideas we have — if we don’t add anything.”
The Mariners’ preferred option appears to be Cabrera, a 10-year veteran who batted .301 last season for Toronto with 16 homers and 73 RBIs in 139 before suffering a broken finger in early September.
SATISFIED AT CATCHER
Catcher John Hicks, added Nov. 20 to the roster, is ready to step into a big-league role, Zduriencik said, if an injury to starter Mike Zunino or backup Jesus Sucre creates an opening.
“Everybody likes John Hicks,” Zduriencik said. “I think everyone feels this guy, if you had to run him to the big leagues right now, he could be a big-league player.
“He’s very athletic. He’s very smart. He’s a nice receiver. He’s got some offensive ability. It’s a nice package. He’s got a very accurate arm, and a quick release.”
Hicks, 25, was a fourth-round pick in 2011 and split last season between Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma. He has a .288 average in four minor-league seasons with 26 homers and 181 RBIs in 320 games.
The Mariners want to add a lefty to their bullpen to fill the hole created when veteran Joe Beimel became a free agent.
“You’d really like to have more than one left-handed reliever (in addition to Charlie Furbush),” Zduriencik said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. We do have some internal options.”
Zduriencik declined to comment on the club’s possible interest in re-signing Beimel, who was 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 56 games in returning the big leagues for the first time since 2011.
Beimel, 37, missed 2012 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and spent all of 2013 at Triple-A Gwinnett in the Atlanta system. He is a veteran of 12 big-league seasons with seven clubs.
“Whether or not we sign a free-agent left-handed pitcher,” Zduriencik said, “would really depend on how things fall into place in the next week to 10 days and what else is still out there.”
AWARD FOR JACKSON
Outfielder Alex Jackson, the Mariners’ top pick in last year’s draft, will receive his award Tuesday at the Winter Meetings as Baseball America’s high school player of the year.
Jackson, who turns 19 on Christmas, won the award as a catcher at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego. The Mariners converted him to an outfielder in order to shorten his timetable for reaching the big leagues.
The magazine also recently cited Jackson as the Mariners’ top prospect.
MORALES WANTS BIG DEAL
First baseman/DH Kendrys Morales told The News Tribune late in the season that he hoped to land a multi-year deal once he again became a free agent after the season.
His agent, Scott Boras, is trying to find just such a deal — “multiple years and substantial dollars” — according to an official with an American League club, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.
That could be a tough sell.
Morales, 31, batted just .218 last season with eight homers and 42 RBIs in 98 games for the Twins and Mariners after sitting out more than two months because he couldn’t find a similar long-term deal last winter as a free agent.
One difference: Morales isn’t weighed down this year by a qualifying offer, which means any team that signs him won’t also be required to surrender a draft pick.
GUTIERREZ ON HOLD
Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez isn’t completely off the Mariners’ radar — but it seems he’s getting close. He is only now starting to test his recovery from gastrointestinal problems by playing in winter ball.
Gutierrez, 31, played for the Mariners from 2009-13 but missed all of last season because of his illness. He is now a free agent.
“We’ll see,” Zduriencik said. “He missed the whole year. I don’t know where he’s at mentally or physically. He had planned on playing some portion of winter ball to kind of gauge where he was at.
Gutierrez began his winter season Monday when he played center field for Caracas in 6-0 victory over Zulia in Venezuela. He had a homer, a sacrifice fly and a walk in three plate appearances.
WILLS FALLS SHORT
Former Mariners manager Maury Wills fell three votes short of reaching the Hall of Fame when the Golden Era (1947-72) Committee announced its results.
The 16-member committee failed to elect any of the 10 finalists. Election required 12 votes — 75 percent. Dick Allen and Tony Oliva each fell one year short.
Jim Kaat finished behind Allen and Oliva with 10 votes. Minnie Minoso had eight, while five candidates received three votes or fewer: Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, 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 Golden Era Committee is one of three veterans committees. The Pre-Integration Committee (prior to 1947) will meet next year, and the Expansion Era Committee (post-1972) will meet in two years.
***Arizona confirmed its six-year deal with Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas, an outfielder/third baseman. The deal is believed to be worth $68.5 million.
***Right-hander Jason Hammel returned to the Chicago Cubs on a two-year deal for $20 million. He gets $9 million in each of the next two seasons, and the Cubs must pay $2 million if they exercise a buyout for a $10 million option in 2017.
Hammel, 32, began last season with the Cubs before a July 31 trade sent him to Oakland. He was a combined 10-11 with a 3.47 ERA in 30 games. A nine-year veteran, Hammel attended South Kitsap High School.
***Oakland first baseman Brandon Moss, who had five homers and 13 RBIs last season against the Mariners, is headed to Cleveland in a trade for minor-league second baseman Joe Wendle.
Moss’ departure means the A’s head into next season with their three top home run hitters from last season: Josh Donaldson 29 (traded to Toronto), Moss 25 and Yoenis Cespedes 17 (traded last July to Boston).
***The Los Angeles Angels acquired outfielder/first baseman Marc Krauss in a waiver claim from Houston. Krauss, 27, is a left-handed hitter who batted .194 last season with six homers and 21 RBIs in 67 games.
***Toronto claimed outfielder/first baseman Chris Colabello from Minnesota. Colabello, 31, batted .229 with six homers and 39 RBIs in 59 games.
***Texas claimed left-hander Scott Barnes from Baltimore. Barnes, 27, was 3-2 with a 3.69 ERA last season in 25 games for Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland system.
The claim came less than two weeks after Orioles obtained Barnes from the Indians in a cash transaction.
***Pittsburgh claimed right-hander Josh Lindblom from Oakland and sent right-hander Angel Sanchez to the minors on an outright assignment.
Lindblom, 27, spent most of last season at Triple-A Sacramento, where he was 4-3 with a 5.79 ERA in 17 games. The Pirates claimed Sanchez in July from the Chicago White Sox, but he has yet to pitch about Double-A.
***The White Sox claimed catcher Rob Brantly from Miami. Brantly, 25, played 96 games for the Marlins in 2012-12 but spent last season at Triple-A New Orleans, where he batted .255 with four homers and 37 RBIs in 101 games.