SAN DIEGO — The Winter Meetings, as often happens, closed Thursday in a flurry of major deals and free-agent signings that resonated throughout the industry.
The Mariners, though, returned home with their roster unchanged beyond the selection of left-handed pitcher David Rollins from Houston in the Rule 5 Draft.
“There’s this (feeling) that when you’re at the Winter Meetings,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “there’s this hype. It’s like, `It’s all going to happen at the Winter Meetings.’ But that isn’t the case.
“Sometimes, it’s better to get away from here. Get back and let the dust settle. You’ve had all of these discussions. The one thing you realize when you’re here, is there are a lot of discussions. They follow one another.
“There are so many things that get thrown out there…And it’s like, wait a minute. We like some of these ideas, but we just need to back off a little bit. We’re in the middle of December.”
The Mariners did much of their heavy lifting before arriving at the Manchester Grand Hyatt by signing free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz and acquiring left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ from Toronto in a trade.
That ticked the first two items on their off-season checklist.
They remain interested in acquiring another bat, preferably a right-handed hitter who can play right field. They also need a replacement for left reliever Joe Beimel— hence the selection of Rollins.
“We’ll keep all of our irons in the fire and see where it ends up,” Zduriencik said. “We’ve talked trade, and we’ve talked free agent. We’ll keep the dialogue going.”
Even so, some potential targets are now off the board.
The Mariners were once close to a deal to acquire outfielder Matt Kemp before talks stalled over the Dodgers’ insistence that either Taijuan Walker or James Paxton be included in the swap.
Kemp is now heading to San Diego in a trade for a package built around catcher Yasmani Grandal.
The Mariners never showed much interest in outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, but he is now bound for Detroit in a deal that returned pitcher Rick Porcello to Boston.
The best remaining free-agent outfielder is switch-hitter Melky Cabrera — and many in the industry believe he will sign eventually with the Mariners.
That might happen, but Cabrera, 30, is seeking a five-year deal believed to be in the $60 million range, while the Mariners appear unwilling to move beyond three years.
The Mariners are also unlikely to offer Cabrera a higher annual salary than what Cruz received — $14 million over each of the next four years. If so, that means a three-year offer to Cabrera tops out at $42 million.
The impasse hinges on whether Cabrera can get a bigger offer elsewhere. So far, no club appears willing to go beyond three years.
The Mariners, meanwhile, signaled a growing willingness in recent days to look at second-tier possibilities.
“The high-profile, upper-echelon dollars,” Zduriencik said, “we’re not going to be in that market. It’s just not going to happen. But I do think we have room to make a move that will help the club.”
Club officials now downplay reports of renewed interest in Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo, whom they asked about in the past, but continue to see free-agent Alex Rios as a bounce-back candidate.
The snag with Rios is his agent, Scott Boras, appears to believe Rios will benefit by waiting until the market settles. At that point, if the strategy works, clubs that need an outfielder will push the bidding higher.
The Mariners remain interested in Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton but not at the Braves’ asking price. They also appear cool, at this point, to Washington’s efforts to trade shortstop Ian Desmond.
Upton and Desmond would be one-year rentals since each will be free agents after next season — and pricy one-year rentals: Upton at $14.5 million, and Desmond at $11 million.
Sources say the Mariners have some interest in outfielder Seth Smith, who could be available from San Diego following the deal that sent Kemp to the Padres.
That’s not an ideal fit: Smith is a left-handed hitter whose career right/left splits are significant, but he’s the sort of proven veteran the Mariners appear to covet, and would come with three years of club control.
Smith, 32, is under contract for $12.75 million over the next two years with a club option for 2017 at $7 million with a $250,000 buyout. He batted .266 last season with 12 homers and 48 RBIs in 136 games.
Club officials are also toying with the idea of converting shortstop Brad Miller, also a left-handed hitter, into an outfielder if they fail to fill to hole through a trade or a free-agent signing.
“We'd still like to have one more bat in the lineup, one quality bat,” manager Lloyd McClendon acknowledged. “Whether it's a right-hander or a left-hander doesn't make a difference.
“But I think we're sitting in a good position, and we’ll see what happens.”
Whenever it happens.
“I don’t feel hurried or rushed here,” Zduriencik said. “You shouldn’t view this as `If you don’t come away with your club in place on Dec. 12, wow, it’s not going to work.’ That isn’t the case.”
Zduriencik pointed to All-Star closer Fernando Rodney, whom the Mariners didn’t sign last season until spring training was already under way.
“I think we’d be really happy,” Zduriencik said, “if we delivered a Fernando Rodney-type at another position on Feb. 15 (if) we got the same kind of results we got from Fernando Rodney.”
RULE 5 SELECTION
Score one for persistence.
The Mariners tried twice previously to acquire left-hander David Rollins through a draft before finally landing him from Houston in the Rule 5 Draft.
Rollins, 24, was 3-4 with a 3.81 ERA last season as a swingman at Double-A Corpus Christi in the Astros’ system and projects as a candidate to fill the Mariners’ need for a lefty reliever.
“He’s got a pretty good fastball,” Zduriencik said. “It’s 94-95 (mph). We think he’s got a breaking ball, and he’s got velocity. He’s a tough kid. We have a history with him.”
The Mariners selected Rollins in the 23rd round of the 2009 new-player draft and in the 46th round of the 2010 draft. Each time, he chose to remain in college.
Rollins finally signed when picked by Toronto in the 24th round of the 2011 draft. He was traded to Houston in 2012.
Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft cost $50,000 and must remain on an active big-league roster for an entire season. They must be offered back to their former club for $25,000 before they can be sent to the minors.
“Our thought is this is a good arm,” Zduriencik said. “When you look at the chances of a guy sticking in the Rule 5, your odds of sticking are better as a pitcher. And a left-hander, it even increases the odds a little bit.”
While the Mariners haven’t ruled out efforts to re-sign Beimel, they now have three candidates on their 40-man roster lined up to compete for his job as the bullpen’s situational lefty: Lucas Luetge, Edgar Olmos and Rollins.
The Mariners did not lose any players in any phase of the Rule 5 Draft.
MORALES TO THE ROYALS
Kendrys Morales finally landed his long-coveted, multi-year contract when he agreed to a two-year deal with Kansas City for $17 million.
Performance bonuses could boost the value each year by another $750,000.
Morales, 31, rejected a qualifying offer of $14.3 million from the Mariners after the 2013 season but didn’t sign as a free agent until June 8, when he agreed to a one-year deal with Minnesota for $7.41 million.
The Mariners reacquired Morales on July 24 in a trade for reliever Stephen Pryor. Morales batted just .218 in 98 games for the Twins and Mariners with eight homers and 42 RBIs.