PEORIA, Ariz. – Bill Bavasi has watched his baseball team for five weeks at spring training and come to one conclusion.
“I like it a lot,” the Seattle Mariners’ general manager said.
Of course, he liked it a lot before spring training began. He liked it as the Mariners added Raul Ibanez in left field, Scott Spiezio at third base, Rich Aurilia at shortstop and Eddie Guardado in the bullpen.
That’s not to say Bavasi is satisfied.
“We need to keep searching,” he said. “We’d like a stronger bat off the bench to protect us (from injury), not so much to take anybody’s place, but to protect us.”
The search for another bat isn’t anything new. The Mariners took a swing in the offseason at Miguel Tejada before the Orioles blew their four-year offer off the table with six years and $72 million, and the M’s pursued free agent Ellis Burks before he signed with the Red Sox.
“We’ve been looking for that kind of guy, a proven offensive player,” Bavasi said. “It didn’t really matter the position, just somebody to give us some production off the bench and to protect us against injury.”
As the search goes on, the Mariners are in good position in both players they are willing to trade and money to pay for someone significant, thanks to the Kazuhiro Sasaki money that’s still in their pockets. Sasaki would have gotten $9.5 million the next two years but walked away from that contract in order to stay in Japan, leaving considerable cash for the Mariners to spend.
It takes two to swing a deal, and Bavasi says other teams aren’t eager to move anyone who meets the Mariners’ needs because they have needs themselves.
“I know what’s available and what’s not available, and there’s more not available,” he said. “There’s no big bats that people are out there trying to move, believe me. If you look at what would be a good fit for us, those clubs just won’t move them because they have a chance to win.”
In the trade talks that Bavasi has had, he said other teams are asking too big a price in return.
“People have their clubs kind of set,” he said. “If they feel they have a chance to win, to take any piece away from that, even though it might be an extra piece, they feel that they have to be over-sold.”
That could change by the July 31 trade deadline, when teams that fall from playoff contention may look to unload those players. All the Mariners can do is be patient with the cards they’re willing to deal.
“Between now and then, there’s restrictions to doing a deal,” Bavasi said. “Sometimes it’s because you don’t have the players it takes to get the players you want, or the players you want aren’t available, or you don’t have the money.
“We have to pursue the right guys. We have to be willing to trade the right guys, which we are. The money is not an issue because we’ve got it.”
If the Mariners begin the season with their current roster, Bavasi seems perfectly pleased with that.
It’s a team, after all, that had the best record in the Cactus League entering Tuesday night’s game against the Rockies.
“If you judge it on spring training, most of the good teams you wouldn’t like,” Bavasi said. “But knowing what I know about the guys and their history, there’s a lot to like about this team. If they play to their capability, you kind of know what you’re going to get.”
What he has, he likes.