Baseball’s shopping season begins in earnest today when teams are allowed to negotiate with all 171 players who filed for free agency.
Until now, teams could talk only with their free agents, meaning the Seattle Mariners were limited to their seven – first baseman Russell Branyan, third baseman Adrian Beltre, shortstop Jack Wilson, outfielder Endy Chavez, designated hitter Mike Sweeney, and pitchers Erik Bedard and Miguel Batista. Wilson signed a two-year deal last week and the Mariners continue to negotiate with Branyan, who rejected a one-year offer from the team early this month.
It leaves the Mariners with holes at first base, third and left field, plus the need for catching after Kenji Johjima decided last month to return to Japan.
“We have needs and avenues we can go down,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “That’s what (today) does. It kind of opens new avenues, if you will, and probably will help us answer some questions.”
Zduriencik won’t discuss negotiations, and the players have been quiet, too.
Branyan, hoping for a multiyear contract, had little to say Thursday about his talks with the Mariners.
“I haven’t heard anything lately,” he said by phone from his home near Nashville, Tenn. “I don’t really know what the plan is now. My agent is handling all that and I don’t know exactly what they’ve been working through. I’ve been keeping my mind on my kids here and getting some things done around the house.”
Branyan’s agent, Danny Lozano, didn’t return a call.
While Zduriencik established a defense-first approach in most of his acquisitions in his first year as the Mariners’ GM, improving the offense will be a key goal this offseason. The Mariners finished last in the American League in runs.
Today, Zduriencik and his front office can talk with every free agent in baseball, and there are some intriguing names on that list.
If Beltre doesn’t re-sign, available third basemen include Chone Figgins of the Los Angeles Angels, Melvin Mora of Baltimore, Pedro Feliz of Philadelphia and Mark DeRosa of St. Louis.
If Branyan goes elsewhere, among the first-base free agents are Hank Blalock of Texas, Aubrey Huff of Detroit and Nick Johnson of Washington.
Angels look at Bay
Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno did not elaborate, but he did say Thursday that his club would look into signing free-agent outfielder Jason Bay, in part because of his “great bat and great makeup,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Bay, who starred at Gonzaga University and North Idaho College, rejected a four-year offer at “close to $60 million” to stay with the Boston Red Sox, SI.com reported.
The Angels would have to fit Bay into a payroll that appears to have room for one premium free agent. After factoring in raises for players under contract and eligible for salary arbitration, Moreno said the Angels stood at $101 million, with a target of $113 million.