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Zduriencik continues trade talks, but no deals yet

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While talk continues to circulate at the Winter Meetings that the Mariners are pushing for a significant trade to upgrade their offense, general manager Jack Zduriencik didn't pull the trigger on anything Monday.

No big surprise there, given there weren't any trades anywhere on the first day of the Meetings, which instead saw the earliest moves made with free-agent catcher Mike Napoli landing with the Red Sox for three years at $39 million and outfielder Angel Pagan returning to the Giants at four years and $40 million.

"We've talked a lot," Zduriencik said Monday evening after spending the day meeting with agents and executives from other teams in his suite at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. "I know our fans would love us to make a deal and make a big splash. And that's kind of fun. We did it the first year with the 12-player trade [that brought Jason Vargas, Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Carp and others to Seattle] and that got a lot of attention.

"That worked out pretty good, actually," he said. "But sometimes you just have to let it happen and clubs get to the point where they say, 'OK, this is what we really need to do.'"

One rumor that continues surfacing involves the Mariners pursuing Kansas City first baseman Billy Butler, though there appears to be little motivation for the Royals to give up a 26-year-old who is a big part of their own plans. It might make more sense from Kansas City's perspective to offer highly regarded outfield prospect Wil Myers.

But any impact bat would come at a high cost, likely several of Seattle's premier young pitching prospects. So Zduriencik continues wrestling with the possibilities while waiting to see if the right match emerges.

One thing he won't do is sell out the farm system now just for a short-term fix to improve his own job security as he enters the final year of his contract.

"I can't do that," Zduriencik said. "I don't want to chase that. I was brought here for a reason. I was brought here for my skill-set, building an organization and bringing in players and trying to get this thing going. Player development and scouting has been what I've done. You stay true to who you are. You always keep the organization's best interest at heart and I'm going to do that.

"We want to build this thing the way we're doing it. If we can augment it, we will. But I'm not going to chase my tail and do something that is not in the best interest of this city or organization or fan base, despite the fact there are some that wish I'd done that yesterday. That's not the right thing to do. If we cut this thing off right now, this organization will suffer for more years. I don't want to do that."

Zduriencik recalled the group the Brewers were building around in his final years in Milwaukee, with Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo and J.J. Hardy all being talented young players in the minimum-salary range with three years or less of Major League time.

He said youngsters like Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero -- along with the flock of top prospects coming up like Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin -- could be a similar core of inexpensive but highly productive players just heading into their prime.

"You have to make sure you're right," Zduriencik said of potential trades involving such top talents.

Free agency is the other route, but that is a competitive market that often requires overpaying or tying up a player who is on the downside of his career on a long-term deal. The Mariners have some payroll flexibility, but whether to use that in signing a free agent or trading for a veteran remains one of the key questions.

With Napoli out of the mix, the most likely place to add a free-agent bat appears to be in the outfield or at first base, where Zduriencik noted that Justin Smoak and Mike Carp still need to prove themselves.

Zduriencik said he's open to adding a veteran catcher, but more likely as a non-roster invitee or someone who can play multiple positions. That figures as a lower priority, with Napoli now gone.

"We liked Napoli," he said. "Congratulations to him on his contract and to Boston for getting him. Napoli brought things to the table that we liked. He's an offensive guy, right-handed bat, veteran guy. But he's no longer available."

So the Mariners will look to other options. They'll continue talking to free-agent hitters, trying to find a match. They'll weigh the value of trading their own prospects vs. the potential of adding shorter-term value to improve the present.

They'll offer and counter offer, waiting for agents and other teams to decide if they want to make a move as well. As Zduriencik always says, it takes two to tango. That's the nature of the Winter Meetings. And the dance continues.

St. Louis Cardinals