NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik spent the final day of the baseball winter meetings assuring fans that his first move isn’t expected to be his last.
The Mariners came to an agreement Wednesday with former Gonzaga star and Seattle-area resident Jason Bay on what’s expected to be a one-year, six-figure contract that won’t be officially announced until sometime after the meetings end. Bay, 34, is expected to share time in left field and at designated hitter for the Mariners coming off a terrible, injury-plagued three-season stint with the New York Mets.
But the Mariners remain in a hunt for a bat and a source indicated late Wednesday that they still haven’t given up on bringing in free-agent slugger Josh Hamilton. Seattle’s chances of landing Hamilton, 32, depend largely on whether the Texas Rangers are able to outbid the Dodgers for the services of starting pitcher Zack Greinke.
If the Rangers land Greinke, they are expected to abandon their pursuit of Hamilton. And if that occurs, the source says the Mariners and Hamilton would likely get a deal done “very soon” after.
In a late-afternoon meeting with reporters, Zduriencik didn’t seem optimistic about his chances of landing a top free agent before he leaves here Thursday morning.
“We’ve had several meetings today with clubs as well as player representatives,” Zduriencik said as the final full day of the winter meetings wrapped up at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. “We have some tonight as well, so we’re just going to continue to push forward and explore every option. And if it leads to a road well-taken by both parties, then hopefully something gets done. Otherwise, you just keep doing it. You keep doing the work and hope something clicks.”
The Mariners do not expect to be active in Thursday morning’s Rule 5 draft since their 40-man roster is already full and they will already have to drop a player to accommodate Bay. Most agents and team officials will leave here immediately after the draft, making it unlikely the Mariners will complete any more moves before the winter meetings end.
The Mariners continue to be tied to Nick Swisher, a free-agent right fielder and first baseman, along with center fielder Michael Bourn. But with free-agent prices climbing and teams demanding a premium in young players via trade, Zduriencik raised the idea he might not land a premium bat this winter.
“At the end, if you can’t get the offensive piece that you would like to have, or it doesn’t fit, or the cost is too high, then you still try to do things to make the club better,” Zduriencik said.
One of those things might be to acquire more pitching, either for a young rotation or an even younger bullpen. The Mariners are also looking at several lower-cost bat options in addition to Bay, since they still would like to add a catcher and a first baseman.
For now, the option of adding a premium bat still appears out there, with the market for Swisher dwindling after the Orioles signed Nate McClouth to a one-year deal Wednesday — ending their pursuit of any additional outfielders.
On the Bourn front, his agent, Scott Boras, said he met with the Mariners here and feels his speedy, sure-gloved client is a strong fit for spacious Safeco Field. Boras said he expects to have further talks in the days and weeks ahead.
“I expect that we’ll have the usual follow-up,” he said. “We know where they’re at and they know where we stand, but I imagine we’ll continue talking.”
Going with Bourn would cause the Mariners to shift incumbent center fielder Franklin Gutierrez to right field. Earlier in the day, in his pre-scheduled media session with reporters, Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he expected big things out of Gutierrez and a number of younger players next season.
One of those is first baseman Justin Smoak, who had a strong final month in an otherwise dismal season. Wedge echoed Zduriencik in saying the team will likely add another player capable of playing first base in order to have a backup plan should Smoak falter.
“We gave him plenty of space last year to figure it out and ultimately had to send him out (to the minors),” Wedge said. “He came back and ultimately, we saw what we wanted to see the last four or five weeks. Now, it’s up to him to take it on this year from day one and understand that there has to be a level of consistency for him to be able to start each and every day.
“But rest assured. We’ll have something else in our back pocket if we need to give him a break or if it’s not working out, so that we’ll have somewhere to go.”
The shopping list could get long if Zduriencik can’t find any multi-positional players.
For now, the right-handed-hitting Bay appears the only sure thing on Seattle’s radar.
“You’ve got to feel good about taking a chance on a guy that’s been a good performer at times at the big-league level,” Wedge said. “He adds some strength with a right-handed bat, he’s a high-character guy, a hard worker. Good personality. He’s had a tough couple of years. So, I think that if it does come through for us, he’s a great pickup.”