December 5, 2012 in Sports

Mariners stay flexible at winter meetings

Geoff Baker Seattle Times
 
Associated Press photo

Michael Bourn, 29, has a lifetime .349 on-base percentage and has averaged 44 stolen bases per season.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With prices escalating for top players, the Mariners are remaining flexible in their efforts to land at least one big prize.

Sources confirmed Tuesday that the Mariners have contacted the agents for both Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay with the aim of signing one of the veteran outfielders for a reduced rate. That could be part of a two-pronged strategy that would help the Mariners allocate remaining resources toward signing a top-line outfielder from a list that includes Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton.

It had long been assumed the Mariners would try to land two impact bats to upgrade first base and the outfield. But Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik on Tuesday raised the possibility of adding two outfielders – one higher profile than the other – and filling multiple needs that way.

“Yeah, it’s possible, I could see that,” Zduriencik said as Day 2 unfolded at the baseball winter meetings. “It’s very possible.”

And Zduriencik said bringing those outfielders in wouldn’t necessarily preclude an upgrade at first base.

“Sometimes you can get the multiple-position guy that can play the outfield and first base,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s just an outfielder. One piece may be bigger than another. That type of deal.”

And that’s where things get interesting for the Mariners, considered by some to be front-runners for Swisher. Swisher is expected to command close to $12 million-$14 million annually and plays right field and first base, giving that flexibility.

But by inking Ibanez or Bay to a smaller, cheaper deal, the Mariners could use one of them in the outfield corners on days Swisher plays first base. Ibanez, 40, or Bay, 34, could also serve as designated hitters from time to time.

Ibanez still had some power last season, having clubbed 19 home runs for the New York Yankees in a reduced role. Bay’s numbers plummeted during an injury-plagued past three seasons playing home games for the New York Mets at spacious Citi Field – to the point where he was released from the final year of a $66 million deal signed in 2009.

But the Mariners would be hoping that a reduced role for Bay, a return to better health and playing near his Seattle-area home would give them a low-cost boost. A source said Tuesday that a deal between Bay and the Mariners was “close, but nothing final yet” and that any agreement would involve a major league contract.

There is also a chance the team could go in a very different direction from the “big bat” route and sign Bourn, 29, who would become the team’s everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter. Bourn has a lifetime .349 on-base percentage and has averaged 44 stolen bases per season in his career while providing Gold Glove-caliber defense, mostly for terrible teams in Houston.

Signing Bourn – expected to get close to the five years and $75 million that B.J. Upton signed for with Atlanta – would likely prompt the Mariners to move Franklin Gutierrez to right field.

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