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Retooling of M’s roster begins

Baseball’s winter meetings start today

Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre may be the subject of trade talks at the winter meetings this week in Las Vegas. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre may be the subject of trade talks at the winter meetings this week in Las Vegas. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
By Kirby Arnold Everett Herald

Jack Zduriencik goes to his first winter meetings as a general manager this week, and chances are good he’ll need no introduction. All of baseball knows who he is and, more important, what he may have to offer them as he looks at ways to improve the Seattle Mariners.

Less than two months since Zduriencik became the Mariners’ G.M., he has reworked the front office, hired a new manager and filled all but one coaching position.

The next big task is altering a roster that lost 101 games this year, and the work begins in earnest at the winter meetings, which begin today in Las Vegas.

“I’m open-minded,” Zduriencik said. “I’ve gotten some calls from other general managers, feeling me out, wanting to talk about players. It takes two to tango and I’m not in a mood to give anybody away. I’m in the mood to improve this ball club. If there’s a move that will improve this ball club short-term as well as long-term, I’m willing to entertain that.”

The Mariners won’t make any changes without long-term success as the prime consideration.

That’s why speculation over other teams’ interest in the Mariners – closer J.J. Putz and third baseman Adrian Beltre already have been mentioned, and the Mariners are deep in catching – won’t necessarily result in a hair-trigger trade by Zduriencik unless prospects are among the return to Seattle.

“There are possibilities that things will happen there,” Zduriencik said. “Am I expecting to have conversations with several ball clubs? Yes, I am.”

Zduriencik goes into the meetings with room on the roster to add players, either through signings, trades or the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. Moves so far – among them waiving pitcher R.A. Dickey on Friday – have left the Mariners with 36 players on the 40-man roster.

The Mariners’ most pressing needs entering the off-season were at first base, left field, center field and bullpen depth. And, of course, offense will be a high consideration in most moves after the Mariners ranked near the bottom of most American League hitting statistics.

Zduriencik addressed the first base situation last week by signing free agent Russell Branyan, although there’s no guarantee Branyan is the answer. He brings much-needed left-handed power, but also is prone to slumps and strikeouts, two factors that have kept him from being an everyday player throughout his career.

Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki is the only certainty in the outfield.

Left fielder Raul Ibanez must decide today whether he will accept or reject the Mariners’ arbitration offer. He almost certainly will reject it and shop himself as a free agent. If he signs with another team, the Mariners would gain two additional draft picks, which could be a boon to an organization that needs to replenish its talent in the minor leagues.

Jeremy Reed finished this year in center field, although the Mariners would like to upgrade that position offensively.

The bullpen, the Mariners’ most solid unit early this year, finished the season severely lacking depth after the losses of Brandon Morrow and Ryan Rowland-Smith to the starting rotation, plus the trade that cost left-hander Arthur Rhodes. The Mariners would like to bring versatile knuckleball pitcher Dickey back on a minor league contract, but could lose him if another team makes a decent offer.

Zduriencik won’t say who on the roster is untouchable trade-wise, although Suzuki and star pitcher Felix Hernandez would be at the top of such a list.

“It always depends what you get back in return,” Zduriencik said. “We have players I would not have a strong desire to trade. There are certainly a few keepers here, but you have to look at any option to improve your ball club.”

•Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu has finished his coaching staff for the 2009 season, hiring Alan Cockrell as hitting coach.

Cockrell spent the last two seasons as hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies. Until now, the 46-year-old spent his entire coaching career with the Rockies organization. He was hitting coach at Triple-A Colorado Springs for four years; the Rockies’ roving hitting coordinator for two seasons; a minor league manager for two seasons; and a professional scout for one year.

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