With less than three weeks before spring training begins, this is the time of the baseball year when most of the big deals already have been made.
This isn’t your average baseball year, however, and in a free agent and trade market that have developed slowly — if at all — the Seattle Mariners continue to angle for a big deal.
Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi told reporters Thursday that there’s a good chance he’ll make a trade or free agent signing before spring training begins Feb. 14.
“We have tried to keep all of our lines in the water for premier guys out there,” Bavasi said during the Mariners’ annual preseason media preview at Safeco Field. “We have been involved in several of them out there and have stayed involved.”
While Johan Santana of the Twins remains available for a sizable price, the Mariners’ most realistic trade target is Baltimore Orioles left-hander Erik Bedard. The Orioles are rebuilding and hope to land a package filled with top prospects. The Mariners have made an offer, but Bavasi made it clear he isn’t willing to strip the minor league system bare.
“We are prepared to move, but there is a limit,” he said. “On more than one pitcher out there that’s available, we have provided deals that I don’t think anybody is going to beat.”
The most recent reports say the Mariners have offered outfielder Adam Jones, pitcher Chris Tillman and infielder Carlos Truinfel, with some mentioning left-handed setup reliever George Sherrill, for Bedard.
So far, Bavasi has drawn the line at right-handed pitcher Brandon Morrow and catcher Jeff Clement.
Andy MacPhail, the Orioles president of baseball operations, hasn’t wavered in his demands but he has altered his timeline. Three weeks ago, MacPhail said that if a trade wasn’t competed by the end of January, Bedard would remain with the Orioles.
Thursday, in the Baltimore Sun, MacPhail extended his timeline.
“I’ve been telling everybody by the end of the month,” MacPhail told The Sun. “But it’s not necessarily a calendar issue. There is no magic date between Jan. 22 and Feb. 2. The date that probably matters more is Feb. 13.”
That’s the day pitchers and catchers for both the Mariners and Orioles are required to report for spring training.
“With all the clubs we have talked to, we have taken our best shot,” Bavasi said. “We have dropped everything on them we can drop on them. Now, maybe they are thinking about the finer points of the deals. We know we are still in them, but we don’t know where the finish line is, yet.”
As for the Orioles’ desire to get all of the Mariners’ best prospects — particularly Morrow — Bavasi isn’t willing to let that happen.
“I don’t think you can give a club its terms and its price. You can give them their price or their terms, but not both,” Bavasi said. “We can move a premier prospect and some numbers, but not a high number of premier prospects.”
With the Angels favored to win the American League West again, Bavasi was asked if the Mariners are closer to competing with them in 2008.
“We did that last year, but competing isn’t what we want to do,” he said. “We want to win it.”
The Mariners won 88 games last year, a big improvement on three straight last-place finishes, but they fell from contention because of an August-September skid when they lost 15 of 17 games.
“Last year we were able to compete and, at the wrong time, we stopped competing,” Bavasi said. “We want to get to the point where they are competing with us.”
To do that, Bavasi knows it will take better starting pitching.
“We feel we have to make one move more, whether it’s a big one or small one,” he said. “We are not done. We want to turn the tables a little and get better enough that we are not just competing, but winning our division.”