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Mariners GM already making mark

Moves at meetings ‘made our team better’

Jack Zduriencik will return next season as the Mariners GM. (Lenny Ignelzi / The Spokesman-Review)
Jack Zduriencik will return next season as the Mariners GM. (Lenny Ignelzi / The Spokesman-Review)
By Geoff Baker Seattle Times

LAS VEGAS – Barely an hour before completing a whopper of a first career trade, new Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik gave his take on the art of deal-making.

Zduriencik, who had just gotten off the phone Wednesday night with New York Mets GM Omar Minaya, was mulling over the final stages of a trade that would send closer J.J. Putz, reliever Sean Green and outfielder Jeremy Reed to the Big Apple and infielder Luis Valbuena to Cleveland in return for a seven-player haul. Taking a few moments for a breather, having spent the day juggling trade conversations with a half-dozen teams, Zduriencik confided that the best deals aren’t about fleecing an opponent.

“You can wait too long sometimes and nothing ever happens,” he said, sitting in the team’s suite high above the Vegas strip, a view of the Bellagio Hotel’s famed cascading fountains beneath him. “You can wait for the perfect, ideal deal and something falls apart. I think that when all is said and done, you have to do something that the parties involved all feel good about.”

And Zduriencik felt good about his first winter meetings as a GM.

“Well, we didn’t come away with Mays or Mantle,” he said with a shrug and smile. “But they weren’t available. Yeah, I think we accomplished our goals. We’ve upgraded significantly in the outfield and made our team better.”

The Mariners spent far more time fielding offers for Putz than for Adrian Beltre, another highly coveted trade commodity. One reason is that the Minnesota Twins, in need of a third baseman, were added by Beltre to his limited no-trade clause at season’s end.

Players will often make such a move as a negotiating ploy if they know a team has interest, which the Twins did last summer. Sources close to the situation said it has complicated any Twins-Mariners talks on Beltre but is not an insurmountable barrier.

Zduriencik selected three players in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, using the second overall pick on New York Yankees infield prospect Reegie Corona, 22, to possibly fill the utility-man role vacated by free agent Willie Bloomquist. Zduriencik then traded cash to the Kansas City Royals for left-handed reliever Jose Lugo, 24, who had been plucked from Minnesota with the 11th choice.

In the Class AAA portion of the draft, Zduriencik nabbed reliever Patrick Ryan, 25, from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Zduriencik may be in his first season as a GM, but the 57-year-old spent decades working in baseball front offices, observing how the best deal-makers went about their business.

And in orchestrating the Putz deal, which brought Indians outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, Mets pitcher Aaron Heilman, Mets outfielder Endy Chavez and four minor leaguers to Seattle, Zduriencik employed the same personality traits that made him so respected for years in scouting circles.

Zduriencik was able to do some give-and-take with Minaya. And in the end, when Zduriencik needed it, Minaya stepped up.

Several scouts think Valbuena’s glove is ready for the majors right now and that his bat will come around quickly in AAA as he matures.

“Jack was familiar with our players already,” Indians GM Mark Shapiro said. “It was a very natural conversation. Very straightforward. The conversation was direct, and that’s how constructive conversations happen.”

Shapiro, who called it “a great trade for everyone,” broke into baseball scouting at a time when Zduriencik was already established. When the time came to deal, Shapiro knew Zduriencik wouldn’t be pulling any fast ones.

Minaya suggested that the deal eventually put together, encompassing 12 players from three teams, was a throwback to the days before eight- and nine-figure contracts made GMs gun-shy about taking risks.

“The best thing I can say about this trade is that it’s an old-fashioned trade,” Minaya said. “Here we are, in the year 2008, and we’re talking about millions of dollars, but this is how trades were done. Just a pure, baseball trade.”

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