Mariners will explore opportunities
GM Zduriencik enters Meetings looking to improve club
LAS VEGAS -- Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and most of his baseball operations staff will be off and running Monday morning when the four-day Winter Meetings open at the Bellagio Resort & Casino.And while the organization's hopes are high that moves can be made to strengthen a team that fell far below expectations last season, the first day figures to bring more talk than action. "At least at this moment, there's nothing that looks like it will happen," Zduriencik said heading into the Meetings. "The biggest thing we would like to do is to get this club healthy."
Among the highlights during the annual Winter Meetings are the pre-1943 and post-1942 Hall of Fame Veterans' Committee ballots results, which will be announced at 10 a.m. PT on Monday; the Baseball Writers' Association of America's Spink Award winner, which will be announced at 9 a.m. on Tuesday; and an announcement by Major League Baseball regarding the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday.Nagging injuries to right-handed closer J.J. Putz and left-handed starter Erik Bedard kept the bullpen and rotation in flux for most of the 2008 season, contributing mightily to the Mariners' 101-loss campaign. But even with perfect health going into Spring Training, the Mariners need some rebuilding. "There are areas on this club that we need to improve," said Zduriencik, hired as the GM in mid-October. "How we get those addressed is a little uncertain right now." Either Zduriencik or others on his staff have had numerous telephone conversations with other general managers, but nothing has progressed far enough to get excited about. "We've had conversations, and there are players on our club that other clubs are inquiring about," Zduriencik said, "but it takes two to tango. The discussions we've had are in the infant stages. "We will approach this in how it will improve our ballclub. If there's something that will help us, whether it's through the free-agent side or through a trade, then we're going to entertain that." Seattle made a move last Wednesday, signing versatile free-agent left-handed-hitter Russell Branyan to a one-year contract. At the moment, he is the leading candidate to start the 2009 season at first base. Seattle also created some room on the 40-man roster by removing pitchers R.A. Dickey and Sean White, leaving four openings. The Mariners list of so-called "untouchables" could be a short one -- pitcher Felix Hernandez and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Other than that, feel free to call to request a player. "There are certainly a few keepers here," Zduriencik said. "We have players I would not have a strong desire to trade, but you have to look at any option to improve your ballclub." He said there has been interest in third baseman Adrian Beltre and Putz, among others. But nothing he's heard so far makes him believe a trade is close. The Mariners presumably could add a player or two via the Rule 5 Draft, which will occur Thursday morning. Seattle selected Dickey out of the Twins' Minor League system last year in Nashville. Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must be included on the 25-man Opening Day roster and remain there all season or be offered back to their original club for half the claiming price.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.