Mariners continue to pursue free-agent outfielder Hamilton

NASHVILLE — For the Seattle Mariners, baseball’s winter meetings ended quietly Thursday at Opryland’s Gaylord Convention Center with no standing ovations or encores.

General manager Jack Zduriencik and his staff left without officially signing a player, but they departed surrounded by enough speculation to fill the Grande Ole Opry.

The Mariners were expected to make the Jason Bay signing official some time today, once the paperwork and physical were completed. Bay is reported to be receiving a $1 million contract with another $1 million in incentives. But the base pay of $1 million is contingent on him making the 25-man roster out of spring training. If he fails to make the team, he will receive roughly half of that $1 million.

Obviously, Jason Bay isn’t the acquisition Mariners fans envisioned when the meetings started Monday. They were dreaming of Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher or some other bigger “name,” who actually put up solid numbers over the past few seasons.

And those dreams are still out there.

“We’ll continue to have discussions and dialogue maybe even today at the airport. Who knows?” Zduriencik said. “For us right now, it’d be nice to get back home … sit down with the group (today) and rehash everything that has gone on here and see where we stand.”

Hamilton has suddenly become a realistic possibility for the Mariners. With teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees seemingly out of the market, it leaves only a handful of teams that can meet or come close to his salary demands.

There was a report from the Seattle Times saying Seattle was “very close” to signing Hamilton, but Mariners team president Chuck Armstrong dispelled that report.

“We aren’t close,” he said. “I don’t know how anyone could say we are close. We’ve had discussions. They met with (Jack). But it was just a discussion. There hasn’t even been any figures discussed.”

The good news for offense-starved Mariners fans is that the discussions are not over. “We are going to keep talking,” Armstrong said.

That’s a 180-degree turn from Zduriencik saying two weeks ago that the Mariners weren’t likely to be part of the negotiations.

There was a report that the Mariners have made a three-year, $75 million offer. But that leaked offer may be a way for Hamilton’s agent to manipulate the market and bring in other teams. That number is low considering Hamilton came into Nashville with the goal of landing a 7-year, $175 million deal. But no team has been willing to offer the 31-year-old and oft-injured outfielder more than four years.

Hamilton has promised the Rangers they will have an opportunity to match any offer.

But there’s no guarantee the Rangers will match. Texas has made free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke its top priority. There is some debate whether the Rangers have enough money to match a Hamilton offer if they sign Greinke to $100-plus million contract. Texas also has been rumored to be working on a trade for Justin Upton. If the Rangers were to acquire the Arizona outfielder, they would have no use for Hamilton.

If Hamilton is not a possibility, the Mariners could turn to Swisher or Michael Bourn, both of whom have watched their market value decrease over the past few days.

Swisher wanted to play in the Bay Area, but when San Francisco signed Angel Pagan to a 4-year, $40 million deal, it pretty much ended any hope of that happening.

Bourn came into the meetings hoping to land a 5-year, $75 million deal, but that’s not likely to happen. One of his possible destinations — Philadelphia — acquired Ben Revere from Minnesota on Thursday. The Washington Nationals, another likely suitor for Bourn, earlier traded for the Twins’ Denard Span.

While some may view the Mariners’ lack of a signing as an issue, Zduriencik noted that few major signings took place.

“We had a lot of engaging discussions,” Zduriencik said. “I was up late last night until about midnight having meetings. You never know what’s going to happen. So many times a lot of guys come in here with big hopes of things working and you try to go down every avenue. I think that’s what a lot of clubs have done.”

So this next week to 10 days could be quite interesting.

“In the end, when the dust settles and you get away from here, reality kind of takes over and you just decide, OK, this is where we’re at and if we want to make a decision, here it is,” Zduriencik said. “That’s why sometimes action happens when you leave here, rather than when you’re here.”

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