SEATTLE — The official announcement that Raul Ibanez had rejoined the Mariners did not come with any corresponding moves.
That suggests the Mariners are a team in need of a bigger move before spring training to address long-term concerns and overcrowding at some spots.
General manager Jack Zduriencik seemed to suggest that he isn’t done rebuilding after minor-league pitcher D.J. Mitchell, acquired in the Ichiro trade, was designated for assignment Wednesday to free a roster spot for the 40-year-old Ibanez’s third go-round in Seattle.
“I’ve said all along that things can change and names can change between now and spring training and even up to the start of the regular season,” Zduriencik said. “A lot can happen, so we’ll just see how it all plays out and take it from there.”
Zduriencik said that Ibanez — who will wear No. 28, as he did before leaving Seattle in 2008 — could play in left field, right field, at designated hitter and even at first base.
“I think what we’re going to do right now is give him a chance to come to camp and compete with our other players already here,” Zduriencik said. “After that, we’ll have a better idea of where this all shakes out.”
How it fits is tough to say because position-player moves so far are mostly one-year deals. The longer-term issues facing the Mariners at first base and in the outfield haven’t really been dealt with.
The Mariners have Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak, Ibanez and Mike Carp at first base and Morales, Smoak, Ibanez, Carp, Jason Bay, John Jaso and Jesus Montero as designated-hitter candidates. In addition, they have Bay, Ibanez, Michael Saunders, Casper Wells and Eric Thames fighting for playing time in just two corner outfield spots.
The additions of Ibanez and Bay are expected to help a clubhouse in need of veteran leadership.
“His veteran presence will be invaluable to our younger group of players,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of Ibanez on Wednesday.
The added competition should also be a good thing for a team that has frequently handed jobs to young players. But many of those players could vanish in a year.
The additions also do nothing to address what happens in center field after 2013, when Franklin Gutierrez has a $7.5 million club option or can be bought out for $500,000. That’s one reason the Mariners are said to still have interest in free-agent center fielder Michael Bourn, 29, an elite defender and natural leadoff hitter.
Bourn was initially expected to garner more than the five-year, $75 million contract B.J. Upton got from the Atlanta Braves. But with the market of potential suitors said to be dwindling, Bourn might come cheaper.
Then again, Josh Hamilton and free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher were initially expected to sign for longer deals, but the Mariners failed to land either. They also saw Mike Napoli head to Boston, Torii Hunter to Detroit and Kevin Youkilis to the New York Yankees.
Seattle had hoped to make an early-winter play for Hunter until the Tigers blew them away with a two-year, $26 million deal for the 37-year-old corner outfielder.
Since Hunter signed, the market for bigger bats has remained inflated. Seattle’s attempts to acquire power via trade were met with demands for several of the top prospects the Mariners appear to covet.
A signing of Bourn would push Gutierrez into the crowded corner outfield mix for 2013 and likely necessitate a trade of one or more incumbents. The topic of whether first baseman Smoak will be traded should also remain a hot one.
Morales is expected to play at least three or four games per week at first base. Ibanez said the Mariners have discussed him playing there as well.
“They mentioned to me that if I can play first base, they might need it,” Ibanez said. “I can play first base, I’ve done it before, so we’ll see what winds up happening.”
Smoak has Class AAA options left, though the Baltimore Orioles are rumored to be interested in trading for him. But giving up on Smoak now with Morales only a year from free agency might be a gamble.
Montero’s status is also up in the air because he stands to lose DH time when not catching. But the Mariners have only one other catcher in Jaso, which suggests they envision more playing time behind the plate for Montero.
“I’d like to think so,” Zduriencik said, when that possibility was raised. “We’ve given him a list of things he has to do this winter to get better, and I’d hope that we see some of that from him this spring. A lot of what he shows us will dictate that, but as of right now, yeah, I’d hope we would be able to see more of him back there.”
Just one more question to be answered.