Mariners getting inquiries about Putz
Several clubs in the market for a closer at Winter Meetings
LAS VEGAS -- Most of the attention the Mariners are getting from other Major League teams at this week's Winter Meetings involves right-hander J.J. Putz, general manager Jack Zduriencik said Monday."There are a lot of clubs in baseball that need that guy [a closer], and there have been inquiries about J.J.," said Zduriencik. "We have talked about him but have not made a determination about what we are going to do. That's a very important position for us and a lot of clubs in baseball.
"In my estimation, if anything happened on that front, then we would have to consider it is something that helps this organization short term and long term -- as any trade would be."The 31-year-old closer could become the chip that Zduriencik uses to bolster an offense that ranked near the bottom of the American League this past season in almost every category. The Mariners probably are going to lose left fielder Raul Ibanez to free agency, forcing the organization to find a way (or ways) to replace the 23 home runs and team-leading 110 RBIs Ibanez had last season. "We do have to figure what's going to happen with our left-field situation," Zduriencik said. The first day of the four-day Winter Meetings yielded more talk than action -- and no potential left fielder of the future. The Mariners did sign three Minor League players, including first baseman Chris Shelton, who will get a chance to earn a spot on the big league roster during Spring Training. Shelton's resume includes 18- and 16-home run seasons with the Tigers in 2005 and '06, but only two since then. Most of the talk on Monday was about Putz. The Tigers and Mets appear to be the most aggressive pursuers for his services, but exactly what either team would be willing to give up for the Michigan native remained unclear. One rumor had Detroit offering left fielder Matt Joyce or corner infielder Jeff Larish, but it would take more than that for the Mariners to part with Putz, who was 40-for-42 in save chances two years ago and 15-for-23 this past season, which was interrupted several times by injuries. Right-hander Brandon Morrow, one of several relievers who picked up the slack while Putz was on the disabled list, has closer stuff and would be the leading candidate to move into that role. The 24-year-old registered 10 saves and held opponents to a .143 batting average as a reliever. Though he didn't do as well in a late-season starting role, the Mariners still have him penciled in as a potential starter. But that could change if Putz is traded. "I talked to J.J. a week or 10 days ago, and he asked the question, 'Are you going to trade me?'" Zduriencik said. "My response to him was, 'You know, J.J., you are in a position where a lot of people are looking for a closer. I cannot control when someone calls me on the phone and wants to discuss that.' "J.J. is a desirable player for a lot of clubs, including our own, and again, as a general manager, I have to listen. But I'm not saying anything is going to happen. I don't know if anything is going to happen. "You have to entertain those types of discussions. Not that you have to do anything with it, but a lot of that is part of my responsibility is to hear what people have to say." In somewhat of a surprise, Zduriencik said he has not fielded even one inquiry about third baseman Adrian Beltre, although rumors were rampant in the Bellagio Hotel and Resort lobby that the two-time Gold Glove winner was being courted by other teams. "People have asked me questions about him in passing," he said, "but I've had no one come up to me and say, 'I want to sit down and talk you about acquiring your third baseman.'" Beltre is entering the final year of his five-year contract. The Twins and Giants reportedly were interested in adding Beltre to their lineup, with the Twins possibly including outfielder Michael Cuddyer in the deal. In other developments, Zduriencik said he has had more conversations with Ken Griffey Jr.'s Cincinnati-based agent, Brian Goldberg. "They've been soft, mild, but haven't been anything concrete," Zduriencik said of the talks. "I've talked to Brian a couple of different times about some different thoughts and ideas. Again, why wouldn't I listen to what he had to say? "I'm not closing the door to anything, but there's no dialogue going on that would lead to something. All it is is cordial conversations." Griffey, a free agent, has expressed a desire to finish his Hall of Fame career where it started -- in a Mariners uniform.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.