SEATTLE — The Mariners closed out the year Tuesday by acquiring veteran outfielder Seth Smith from San Diego in a deal that checks off the final major item on their winter shopping list.
To get Smith, the Mariners dipped into their deep bullpen to by sending right-hander Brandon Maurer to the Padres.
“We were in search of adding another outfielder,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “and in Seth Smith, we got a player who is a professional hitter.
“He’s a guy we think is really going to give us good ABs, particularly against right-handed pitching.”
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Maurer, 24, showed signs last season of mastering his potent arsenal once he shifted to the bullpen, but he faced a stiff battle next spring to hold his job in the club’s relief corps.
“It was a tough decision to trade Brandon,” Zduriencik said. “We think a lot of him. We know his value. We know his upside. He’s a guy I would have loved to hold onto.
“We had to give something up of quality to get something in return that is going to be a good fit for us…That’s what we did in the case of Seth Smith for Brandon Maurer.”
Smith will get a chance next spring to win a regular job but, at minimum, he figures to serve as the left-handed platoon partner with Justin Ruggiano in right field.
“When you look at what Ruggiano can do against left-handed pitching,” Zduriencik said, “and what Seth can do against right-handed pitching, I think it’s a good combination.”
The trade is the Mariners’ latest off-season move to bolster an attack that 11th in scoring among 15 American League clubs. They were also last in on-base percentage.
The Mariners previously signed free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, who led the majors in home runs, and acquired Ruggiano, a right-handed hitter, in a trade from the Chicago Cubs for minor-league reliever Matt Brazis.
Zduriencik stopped short of ruling out further moves but indicated nothing major is likely before spring training.
“To say we’re done,” he said, “I don’t think that would be accurate…I don’t think they’ll be anything big in terms of a multi-player deal or some earth-shattering free-agent signing. I don’t think that’s going to be the case.
“I do think there are ways we can help our ballclub. There are fits for our ballclub. We will continue to investigate them and see where it ends up.”
Smith, 32, is an eight-year pro who batted .266 last season with 12 homers and 48 RBIs in 136 games. He also drew 69 walks, which boosted his on-base percentage to .367, and he posted a a .440 slugging percentage.
As a point of comparison, Robinson Cano was the only Mariners’ regular last season who posted a higher OBP (.382). Cano and Kyle Seager (each at .454) were the only regulars with a higher slugging percentage.
“(Smith) doesn’t strike out a ton,” Zduriencik said. “He knows how to walk. He can give you a good AB. His on-base percentage this year was .367. He had a really good OPS.
“We think it’s a really nice fit for our ballclub.”
Smith is under contract through 2016: $6 million in 2015 and $6.75 million in 2016. His deal also contains a contains a club option for 2017 at $7 million with a $250,000 buyout.
“It’s a very agreeable contract,” Zduriencik said. “He’s 32 years of age, and he’ll play the whole year at 32. I think you’re getting a player who can be with you for at least the next three years.”
The Mariners began targeting Smith even before they failed to sign free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, a switch-hitter who would have played regularly.
Once Cabrera signed with the Chicago White Sox, the Mariners responded by obtaining Ruggiano, a six-year veteran who projects best as the right-handed portion of a platoon.
Since the Mariners traded veteran Michael Saunders to Toronto for veteran lefty J.A. Happ, their top remaining in-house left-handed platoon option was James Jones, who faltered last season after a strong rookie debut.
Club officials preferred a veteran alternative and focused on Smith, who became available after San Diego rebuilt its outfield by getting Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton in trades.
“Seth Smith is a valuable guy,” a Padres official said. “He can help a team…but where’s he going to play here? There’s no DH in our league.”
The Padres pushed for Maurer, who compiled a 2.17 ERA in 31 relief appearances with 38 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings after a 7.52 ERA in seven starts.
Maurer was a 23rd-round pick in the 2008 draft as a 17-year-old. He reached the majors in 2013, when he was 5-8 with a 6.30 ERA in 22 games, including 14 starts. He was 1-4 overall last season with a 4.65 ERA.
“I told Brandon that this was a hard one,” Zduriencik said. “I really wanted to keep Brandon here.”
Even with Maurer’s departure, the Mariners appear well-stocked with All-Star closer Fernando Rodney heading a unit that last season led the major with a 2.59 ERA.
Returnees include Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Dominic Leone and Carson Smith.
Furbush is the only lefty in the returning group, but the Mariners have at least three candidates to replace free-agent Joe Beimel in Lucas Luetge, Edgar Olmos and Rule 5 pick David Rollins.
The Mariners also recently signed veteran right-hander Mark Lowe to a minor-league deal and could now find it easier to create a spot, if they want, for Erasmo Ramirez as a swingman.
Ramirez is out of options and would need to clear waivers next season to be sent back to the minors. Club officials believe it’s unlikely that he’d clear waivers.
NO WORRIES AT FIRST
Zduriencik dismissed concerns regarding the need for the Mariners to acquire a backup for first baseman Logan Morrison, who has played fewer than 100 games in each of the last three seasons.
“We’re going to work real hard with Jesus Montero in spring training,” Zduriencik said. “We’ve talked about the strides he’s made this winter. We’ll see if he’s a player or not.
“That’s going to be up to him, and we’ll see what happens in spring training.”
Personal issues plagued Montero over the last two seasons, including a pair of season-ending suspensions. He was connected in 2013 to the Biogenesis drug scandal and had an on-field dispute last year with a scout.
Another possibility is Brad Miller — if he fails to beat out Chris Taylor as the starting shortstop. Zduriencik did not mention Miller, but club officials often point to Miller’s athleticism is assessing possible position changes.
“We have other players on our 40-man roster who could fit the bill,” Zduriencik hedged. “We’ll see what happens. In no way am I panicking about our first-base situation.
“If we were put in a position where something would happen to Logan, I certainly feel we could fill that role, and I think we’d fill it comfortably.”