SEATTLE — Moving in the fences at Safeco Field next season has become a key part of the sales pitch the Mariners are using with free agents.
Early last week, the Mariners flew free-agent catcher Mike Napoli to Seattle, and one of the first things they did was give him a tour of Safeco Field and explain the planned realignment of the fences. Shorter fences in left-center are expected to help right-handed hitters like Napoli, 31, who the Mariners need as much for his power bat as the positions he plays.
The Napoli visit included an overnight stay in Seattle and a tour of Pike Place Market as well as dinner with team officials. But there was also a lengthy explanation on the study that went into the fence realignment and the impact it was expected to have on hitters.
Last month, when the Mariners first unveiled their fence plans the final week of the season, assistant general manager Jeff Kingston talked about a significant impact on hitters for every additional foot the fences are moved in. The fences are coming in 12 feet in the left-center power alley and up to 17 feet in the portion between left-center and straightaway center.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik expressed hope to reporters at the recent GM meetings in Indian Wells, Calif., that the fences move could help the team sign a hitter.
“It’s come up already in some discussions with agents,” Zduriencik said. “They say, ‘Hey, our player knows you’ve moved your fences in.’”
Napoli is said to be seeking a deal of three or four years and is being courted by multiple teams, including the Boston Red Sox and his former Texas Rangers club. He has hit at least 20 home runs his past five seasons and has a career on-base-percentage of .356 and a .507 slugging percentage.
His on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .812 in a mediocre year for him last season was still better than any Seattle regular. He would also fill an immediate need for a club seeking a regular catcher after the departure of Miguel Olivo.
Talks with the Mariners and other clubs are expected to continue at next week’s baseball winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
The Mariners have first-round draft pick Mike Zunino working his way through the minors as a potential catcher of the future. Zunino added to a growing list of 2012 accolades on Monday when he was one of two catchers named to the Arizona Fall League’s top prospects team.
Mariners shortstop prospect Nick Franklin was also named to the squad — as a second baseman. The Mariners are looking at Franklin as both a shortstop and second baseman and could have him switch positions.
As for Zunino, it’s unlikely he’ll join the Mariners until the second half of the season — if even at all in 2013. That’s where Napoli would help the club in the immediate future on a squad where John Jaso and Jesus Montero had only sporadic catching duties last season and rarely played in consecutive games behind the plate.
Napoli caught five consecutive games for the Rangers in the second half and had two other stints where he caught four games in five days. He also plays first base and has experience as a designated hitter, something the Mariners would lean on, depending on the progress of first baseman Justin Smoak and of Montero as a DH.
• The Mariners released their spring training schedule Monday and will open Cactus League play Feb. 22 against the San Diego Padres in Peoria, Ariz. Pitchers and catchers report to camp Feb. 12 for physicals and hold their first workout on Feb. 13.
Position players must report by Feb. 15 and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day. The spring opener will be the earliest in club history.