By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
ORLANDO, Fla. — One of the growing-hotter rumors circulating at this Disney resort on a relatively slow Monday at the Winter Meetings concerns the Seattle Mariners.
And why not? Almost every rumor these days, as even general manager Jack Zduriencik acknowledges, seems to concern the Mariners.
This one isn’t new:
It has the Mariners sending top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker to Tampa Bay in a package for lefty David Price, an established ace who won the Cy Young Award in 2012.
Zduriencik didn’t quite quash it … but close.
“I don’t have intentions of trading Taijuan,” he said. “You listen to any opportunities that present themselves. You go into a lot of discussions with a lot of people, and his name will come up. Why wouldn’t it?
“Taijuan is high profile because he’s rated (as) our top prospect. If I was a club out there, why wouldn’t I ask for Taijuan Walker? That would be a smart thing to do. But I really don’t have intentions of trading him.”
The Rays, in contrast, acknowledge that Price is available.
“This is how we have to operate within our little world,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “Right now, that is part of the war room scenario … talking about all these potential things.”
Price, 28, made $10.1 million last season and has two years arbitration-eligibility remaining before gaining free agency.
Walker, 21, made three late-season starts in his big-league debut and won’t be eligible for arbitration for at least three years. He is under club control through the 2019 season.
Eye of the storm
The Mariners, as noted, are involved in a lot of rumors after creating a stir last week by reaching agreement with free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano on a 10-year deal for $240 million.
That deal figures to become official later this week.
The Mariners are now searching for an impact starting pitcher (hence the Price rumors), along with at least two more bats, preferably including a right-handed-hitting outfielder, and some bullpen help.
“You weren’t sure where things were going to go,” Zduriencik said, “and you really did have to touch base with everybody out there. Why wouldn’t you? Because you never know how it ends up.
“So if someone says, ‘Hey, we’ve been talking to the Mariners,’ they’re probably right. It’s probably pretty accurate, but there are different levels of discussions. Certainly some levels are higher than others.”
Current priority: More pop
Getting Cano was a big first step, but the Mariners want more punch — and Zduriencik acknowledges a strong preference for a right-handed-hitting outfielder.
“I think it would be very important,” he said. “That could very well be our main focus. I also think that if you can add talent, you just have to take a chance.
“Even though we are left-handed-oriented more than I’d like to be, you still have to improve your club. But, preferably, a right-handed bat would be better.”
Result: The Mariners remained strongly linked with free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz and Dodgers trade-target Matt Kemp. But they are also tied to interest in free-agent Shin-Soo Choo, a left-handed hitter.
Zduriencik said he hopes to add two outfielders.
“I think you’d like to look at (getting) one for sure,” he said. “There’s a possibility you could look at more than one. I think that would be beneficial to us if we could add one.”
A Raul reprise
The Mariners continue to show interest in re-signing veteran Raul Ibanez, a fan favorite who is again a free agent.
Ibanez, now 41, batted .242 last season with 29 homers and 65 RBI in 124 games, but his diminishing defensive skills make him a poor fit in the outfield. He projects now, primarily, as a DH.
So the Mariners will wait.
“I think we have to sift through some things here at these meetings,” Zduriencik said, “primarily because we’re so left-handed … We respect him tremendously, but I just think we have to continue to do our due diligence.”
So what aren’t the Mariners targeting? For now, at least, a closer and a backup catcher.
Danny Farquhar was 16 for 18 in save opportunities last season as the closer over the final two months and, at this point, is likely to battle Tom Wilhelmsen next spring for the job.
Wilhelmsen converted 24 of 29 chances before losing his job.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of filling the back end of the bullpen,” Zduriencik said. “The available dollars to go elsewhere, I think we would look at adding a legitimate closer as a lower priority.”
Same goes for a backup catcher. The Mariners would prefer to upgrade but appear content to team Jesus Sucre with starter Mike Zunino.
“We have to figure out other parts of our club right now,” Zduriencik said, “and where we’re going to spend our available dollars. We liked what we saw out of Sucre last year…
“Any deal we might make, we may get a veteran catcher back. Right now, I don’t think that’s a huge priority. There are other things we’d like to address first.”
Tim Hevly, the Mariners’ senior director of baseball information, is this year’s recipient of the Robert O. Fishel Award for Public Relations Excellence.
Hevly, 44, just finished his 24th season with the club. He began his career as an intern in 1990 and was hired to a full-time position prior to the 1992 season. He spent the last 16 years as the head of baseball information.
The Fishel Award dates to 1981 and is named for a long-time executive with the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, New York Yankees and the American League.
Randy Adamack, who currently serves as the Mariners’ senior vice president for communications, was the 2005 recipient.