NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Patience appears to be paying off this time for Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik as he wrapped up the baseball winter meetings with some big targets in his sights.
The biggest is free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, whom the Mariners are said to be “very close” to reaching a deal with due to an ever-shrinking market for his services. A year ago, Zduriencik had patiently waited in vain for the Prince Fielder market to soften as time went by, only to see the first baseman sign a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers.
This time, though, the list of potential suitors for Hamilton grows smaller by the day, with his former Texas Rangers club apparently being the most serious competitor standing between the Mariners and having the slugging outfielder come to Seattle.
The Rangers are waiting to see whether they can sign free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke to a contract in the $150 million range and were also reported by be trying to land outfielder Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks in a multiteam trade.
Either move would likely price the Rangers out of the Hamilton market and leave the door wide open for Zduriencik, who left the meetings Thursday morning in somewhat of a holding pattern on big-ticket acquisitions.
“A lot of things are out of your control, there’s no doubt,” Zduriencik said, without referring to any targeted player by name. “We have our desires, be they on the trade market or the free-agent market, but the other parties have their desires as well. So, as you go through this process, there are certainly components that you don’t have any control over. So, you just have to wait and let things unfold.”
A source said the Mariners and Hamilton were “very close” to a deal depending on what happens next with Greinke. A report by Fox said the two sides had already discussed multiple three-year offers in the $20 million to $25 million-per-season range.
Zduriencik did leave the meetings having signed free-agent outfielder Jason Bay to a one-year, $1 million deal with up to $2 million in incentives. The deal guarantees only $500,000, with the rest contingent upon Bay making the team out of spring training.
Zduriencik on Thursday declined all comment on Hamilton when asked whether anything had changed since two weeks earlier, when he’d all but ruled out acquiring him because of the expected price tag. Hamilton was initially said to be seeking a six- or seven-year deal.
“I’m not going to comment on any of our discussions with any agents or any trade discussions,” Zduriencik said. “That should be held between whoever you’re talking to. I just think that’s the best way to handle things.”
That’s an abrupt change from two weeks ago, when Zduriencik proclaimed there was little chance of signing Hamilton. Zduriencik said at the time that he felt he owed it to fans not to get their hopes up for nothing.
On Thursday, he was back to not talking about Hamilton. Mariners president Chuck Armstrong was talking, taking issue with the part of a Times story Thursday that quoted a source saying the two sides were “very close” to a deal.
“We haven’t even exchanged numbers and figures yet,” he said. Armstrong did not deny the Mariners were still pursuing Hamilton. “We’re still interested in him, yes,” Armstrong said. As for the formal exchanging of offers and counteroffers in talks, that does not always happen until sometimes very late in the process. It also does not preclude both sides from laying the groundwork for a deal.
Within hours of Armstrong’s comments, Fox correspondent Ken Rosenthal wrote that major-league sources had told him the Mariners were getting serious with Hamilton’s camp and that they had discussed three-year deals.
Reports indicate that Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye, met with Rangers general manager Jon Daniels on Tuesday night and offered to let him match any offer for Hamilton. But with Daniels unable to move on Hamilton before a resolution in the Greinke pursuit, there is no reason for the Mariners to rush to make any formal offers.
The Rangers and Dodgers are believed to be the only teams seriously competing for Greinke. Reports say he is lukewarm about staying in Los Angeles after finishing the season with the Angels.
The Mariners have also been pursuing free-agent outfielders Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. Both are also seeing a dwindling market for their services.
Swisher plays right field and some first base, while Bourn plays center field. Another item of interest was Zduriencik’s reported inclusion as a fourth partner in a proposed four-team trade that would send Diamondbacks outfielder Upton to Texas and bring Rangers left-hander Derek Holland to Seattle. Zduriencik has repeatedly said he might bring another pitcher into the fold.