Seattle Mariners

Jack Zduriencik says Mariners’ payroll will increase; cites mid-order bat as top off-season priority

A near-postseason miss has the Seattle Mariners already pointing toward next season. General manager Jack Zduriencik said the club’s payroll will increase and identified a clear goal in the weeks before spring training.

Find some more lineup punch.

“We will explore every opportunity out there,” Zduriencik vowed. “I think we’ll be reasonably aggressive in trying to do something to try to add an offensive piece or two.

“Where all of this ends up, none of us knows. We’ll enter the free-agent scenario, and (we’ll) see what’s available on the trade market. We will be pretty aggressive in trying to add to this ballclub.”

The Mariners concluded their first winning season in five years Sunday at 87-75 — a 16-game improvement over 2013 — but still finished one game behind Oakland in the battle for the American League’s final wild card spot.

So while the A’s played Tuesday at Kansas City in the wild card game, Zduriencik joined manager Lloyd McClendon in a season-concluding news conference at Safeco Field.

“All in all, it was a very successful season,” McClendon said. “But am I satisfied with where we are? No. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Listen, ultimately, everybody’s goal is to win a World Series.

“That’s one thing I want to impress upon our fans. We are not satisfied with the year that we had. We’re pleased with the improvements that we made. But in the end, we want to win a World Series.”

The biggest need is for added run-production muscle. The Mariners led the AL with a 3.17 ERA and had the league’s best fielding percentage but finished 11th among the 15 clubs in runs scored.

McClendon said he is hoping for two additional bats, preferably right-handed, to boost the middle of the club’s lineup.

“I’ll take three or four,” he said. “If you look at real good lineups, you’re talking about (the) three-four-five-six (spots) that are very legit. I think we’ve got to get to that point. I’m looking for at least two bats.”

Zduriencik expects to have the resources to pursue those needs.

“The payroll is going to rise,” he said. “What the exact number is, I don’t know yet because we haven’t had that meeting. I’m sure within the next few weeks, that will take place, but I’m encouraged that our payroll will increase.”

HULTZEN UPDATE

Left-hander Danny Hultzen, once regarded as the club’s top pitching prospect, turned in an encouraging effort in the Instructional League in the latest step in his ongoing recovery from major shoulder surgery.

“He went 25 pitches,” Zduriencik said. “He threw to hitters. He’s shown an average fastball, a really good curveball, a good change-up. He was confident. His delivery was sound.

“This was the third time he’s been on a mound pitching to hitters. He’ll go home and come back in January and be ready for spring training. He should be (full-go in spring training).”

Hultzen, 24, was the second overall pick in 2011 and appeared on the verge of promotion to the majors when shoulder miseries struck in 2013. He underwent surgery a year ago Wednesday.

Zduriencik didn’t rule out Hultzen pitching well enough in spring training to force his way onto the club.

“Common sense would say he’s going to have to get innings in Triple-A,” Zduriencik said. “Could be be a factor at some point in time? You’d think, maybe.”

WINTER PLANS

Look for right-hander Taijuan Walker to log time in the Arizona Fall League in an effort to make up for innings lost this season due to should problems.

But lefty James Paxton will spend his winter working out in Seattle.

“We talked to (Paxton) about winter ball,” Zduriencik said, “and he was a little uncomfortable with that. We didn’t want to force the issue. He’s going to stay here this winter, in Seattle.”

McClendon said the Mariners are hoping Walker can pitch 25 to 30 innings in the Fall League after logging 1201/3 innings this season between the majors and minors.

While a strained back muscle limited Paxton to just 87 innings, McClendon cited a heavier 2013 workload (1692/3 innings) as a compensating factor.

“If he’s healthy,” McClendon said, “I don’t have any doubts that he can be a 200-inning guy for us.”

Walker pitched 1561/3 innings in 2013.

CY COMPARISON

Felix Hernandez and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber are generally viewed as the two leading candidates for the American League’s Cy Young Award. So it’s no surprise they ranked one-two this season among AL pitchers in ultra-quality starts, which are defined as games in which a pitcher works at least seven innings while allowing two or fewer earned runs.

Hernandez had 23 such starts but, because of the Mariners’ run-production problems, went just 12-3 in those games.

Kluber had 19 ultra-quality starts and went 14-1 in those games.

No other AL pitcher had more than 16 ultra-quality starts. Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto led the National League with 22, and he was 17-2 in those games.

Hernandez had nearly half of the Mariners’ 48 ultra-quality starts, which ranked fourth among AL clubs.

Detroit led the league with 51, while Kansas City and Oakland each had 49.

ATTENDANCE HIKE

The Mariners registered a 17 percent increase in attendance this season, which marked the highest percentage jump in the majors.

They drew 2,063,622 for their 81 home games for an average of 25,477 a game. In 2013, they drew 1,761,661 for an average of 21,749.

That’s an overall increase of 301,961, and an average increase of 3,728.

SHORT HOPS

McClendon said the entire coaching staff will be back in 2015. … Zduriencik agreed it’s a “no-brainer” that the Mariners will pick up their $7 million option to retain right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma for next season. The Mariners are hoping to work out an extension. … Zduriencik said left fielder Dustin Ackley will undergo an examination in the near future on his troublesome left ankle. At this point, no surgery is expected. … Zduriencik also said designated hitter/first baseman Jesus Montero, reinstated Monday from the suspended list, is working out at the club’s year-round complex in Peoria, Arizona. Montero is expected to spend most (if not all) of the offseason in Arizona under club supervision. … Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez is working out in Florida and has expressed interest in resuming his career after missing the past season because of gastrointestinal issues. Zduriencik said if Gutierrez returns, it would be on a minor-league contract.

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