By KIRBY ARNOLD
Their sales pitch is polished, and now the Seattle Mariners are ready to unload their finest persuasive powers.
On Alex Rodriguez?
Well yeah, him too.
That meeting will take place Thursday in Miami, where Mariners executives will make their first big push to retain the free-agent shortstop.
It’s at baseball’s winter meetings, which begin Friday in Dallas, that the Mariners hope to make some serious headway toward plugging the holes that have been obscured by Rodriguez’s considerable shadow.
One guy they’re going after may seem a surprise.
The San Diego Padres’ Phil Nevin apparently is back on the trade radar, one month after a deal fell apart and just a day after Mariners general manager Pat Gillick said the team probably wouldn’t obtain a third baseman.
“We’re still talking to San Diego about a third baseman,” Mariners manager Lou Piniella said Tuesday without naming Nevin specifically. “I’m not sure if anything is going to happen, but we’re still pursuing it.”
Early last month, the Mariners reportedly offered infielder Carlos Guillen and right-handed pitcher Brett Tomko to the Padres for Nevin. The Padres backed off.
If Rodriguez leaves, the M’s would ache for his offensive production. Nevin, who’ll be 30 on opening day, hit .303 with 31 home runs and 107 runs batted in last year. He’ll enter the final year of a contract that paid him $875,000 in 2000.
Such a trade won’t seem so vital if Rodriguez returns to the Mariners. But the M’s still could use offensive punch, plus a more reliable glove at third than what Guillen gave them.
How reliable Nevin can be defensively is uncertain. He made only three errors in 170 chances at third in 1999, but committed 26 errors in 364 chances last season.
“We basically have the same combination there as last year,” Piniella said, referring to David Bell and Guillen. Bell is a sure-hands player at third, short and second, but hit just .247 after a season-long struggle with the bat.
And, Piniella pointed out, the addition of free agent reliever Jeff Nelson gives the Mariners even more to dangle from an already overflowing pool of pitching talent.
“With the signing of Jeff Nelson, it’s going to free a little pitching for us so we can fortify our offense,” Piniella said. “I think we’ll do that in the winter meetings.”
The Mariners also would love to add a left-handed reliever to take the late-inning load off lefty Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes wore out down the stretch when the Mariners turned to him game after game as they battled to make the playoffs, and then against the White Sox and Yankees in the postseason.
“We talked about that long and hard,” Piniella said. “But the only guy we really liked was (Rheal) Cormier and he signed with the Phillies. Unless we trade a right-hander for a left-hander, I don’t see it happening.
“But what happens with Alex will depend on how much offense we need.”
Translated, that means a strong young pitcher like Tomko could be used as trade bait for a potent hitter or a solid left-handed pitcher for the bullpen, depending on the Mariners’ greatest need.
That will be determined by Rodriguez. Piniella is betting, with hardly a hesitation in his voice, that his superstar will return.
“I feel very positive about it,” he said. “Alex likes Seattle and I think the chances are good that he’ll stay.”
Piniella will meet tonight in Miami with Gillick and other front-office executives, then sit down with Rodriguez and agent Scott Boras on Thursday.
“Basically, we will tell him that this organization intends to win, and where is a better situation to play than this,” Piniella said. “Alex has gone out and, rightfully so, talked to other clubs. Now it’s our turn to come to bat.”
Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, said Tuesday that eight teams are in the running for his client’s services, and that five are involved in active negotiations.
In addition to the Mariners, those teams are thought to be the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies.