M’s like what they hear from Rodriguez

  • Thursday, December 7, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Herald news services

Alex Rodriguez seemed vitally interested in the Seattle Mariners’ scouting and minor league systems.

The Mariners, most of all, wanted to hear whether the free-agent shortstop truly wanted to play again in Seattle.

Based on his response Thursday, they’ll take it as a “Yes.”

“Alex told us he is interested in coming back to Seattle,” general manager Pat Gillick said after the club’s first formal meeting with Rodriguez and his agent, Scott Boras.

Rodriguez and Boras met Thursday near the shortstop’s home in Miami with Gillick, manager Lou Piniella, assistant GM Lee Pelekoudas, scouting director Roger Jongewaard and newly hired coaching consultant Lee Elia.

Rodriguez is believed to want a contract worth at least $200 million over 10 years, including a guarantee that his salary would remain among the highest in baseball, plus escape clauses after the third and sixth years that would allow him to become a free agent.

There was no indication that an offer was made Thursday, but Rodriguez’s intention was the most important element at this point.

With baseball’s winter meetings beginning today in Dallas, the Mariners wanted an honest answer from Rodriguez. If he isn’t interested in coming back to the Mariners, they need to know now as they pursue trade possibilities at the meetings.

They like what they heard.

“Now that we have ascertained his level of interest in returning, we will make organizational decisions with this in mind,” Gillick said in a statement released by the Mariners.

By entering the winter meetings confident that they can retain Rodriguez, the Mariners can focus on the few remaining areas needed to strengthen the team, namely a hot-hitting third baseman and possibly a left-handed-hitting catcher.

If they had learned Rodriguez is out of the picture, Gillick’s work the next five days in Dallas would be much more complex.

“We had a good discussion on a variety of issues,” Gillick said. “Alex has taken a keen interest in the scouting and player development part of a major league franchise …”

Rodriguez has said he wants to play on a team that consistently contends for championships, and he has looked at every aspect of the organizations he has spoken with. The Mariners, Braves, Rockies, Dodgers, White Sox and Rangers are believed to be front-runners.

Catcher Tom Lampkin, himself a free agent as he recovers from elbow surgery, says the Mariners offer Rodriguez everything he could want.

“I wold be surprised if he didn’t re-sign,” said Lampkin, who has played for six different teams, including the Mariners the past two seasons. “This is a great place for him to play. He’s in a city that loves him, on a team that loves him, in the best ballpark in baseball, with great ownership that is committed to winning. They’ve got a great minor league organization, a good coaching system and a great spring training facility.

“From what I’ve seen, this organization appears committed to winning from top to bottom.”

The M’s came within two victories of reaching the World Series this year and already have improved two weaknesses by signing Japanese batting champion Ichiro Suzuki and right-handed relief pitcher Jeff Nelson.

In addition, the M’s have re-signed Edgar Martinez and Stan Javier, two of Rodriguez’s closest friends on the team, and on Thursday announced that outfielder Jay Buhner will return for another season.

“We … reinforced to Alex that our No. 1 priority at the Mariners is to win on a consistent basis,” Gillick said. “Everything we do as an organization is directed at accomplishing that goal.”

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