Mariners not close on Melky; widen RF search
SAN DIEGO -- While talk circulated quickly around the start of the Winter Meetings that the Mariners were zeroing in on a deal with free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, word emerged Monday afternoon that the two sides weren't that close and the club was widening its search for a right fielder.
General manager Jack Zduriencik declined comment on Cabrera or any specific free agents, but said Monday evening that nothing was imminent on any fronts after meeting with numerous teams and player agents in the opening day of baseball's annual gathering of executives.
"We have dialogue with a lot of clubs and free agents, but I could not say that we're close to anything right now," Zduriencik said.
A year ago, the Mariners had a number of vacancies to fill as Zduriencik went about rebuilding his roster in the wake of a 71-win season that led to the resignation of manager Eric Wedge.
But Zduriencik went into this winter with far fewer needs -- as well as the rising buzz from an 87-75 club that just missed an American League Wild Card playoff berth -- and thus has focused now on available right-field options to fill the one remaining hole on a club looking like a rising contender in the AL West under skipper Lloyd McClendon.
The Mariners already did much of their heavy lifting before arriving in San Diego, having signed slugger Nelson Cruz to fill their cleanup spot last week and then trading Michael Saunders for veteran Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ to fill out their rotation.
If the remaining available free agents and trade partners set the bar too high, Zduriencik says he won't feel pressured to make moves that don't make sense.
"We like where we're at. We like our club right now," he said. "We've addressed some needs, both short term and long term. If this is the club we went to Spring Training with, we have some flexibility and can look at some options internally that would help us. We'll still continue to pursue other options."
Cabrera, 30, is the best remaining corner outfielder on a free-agent market that saw most of the top offensive names signed even before executives from all 30 clubs arrived in San Diego.
The 10-year Major League veteran certainly would fill Seattle's largest remaining need, given the desire to bolster corner-outfield production. McClendon is pretty set on Dustin Ackley in left field and Austin Jackson in center, but the club traded Saunders and now only has returning rookies James Jones and Stefen Romero in right field, though Cruz could also see some action there when he's not at designated hitter.
Cabrera isn't a big power bat, but he's a quality hitter with a career .286/.339/.415 line who put up an OPS over .800 in three of the past four seasons with the Royals, Giants and Blue Jays.
Alex Rios, 33, is another free-agent option who has been a productive Major Leaguer for the past 11 years. Rios dealt with ankle and thumb issues last season that curtailed his production, though he still hit .280 with 54 RBIs in 131 games for the Rangers.
But Rios could be a strong bounceback candidate, as he's put up a .278/.323/.439 line for his career and averaged 18 home runs and 76 RBIs a year for nine seasons before seeing his numbers dip last season.
After being hit with a 50-game PED suspension in the Biogenesis case in 2013, Cabrera came back to hit .301 with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs in 139 games last season before breaking his finger diving back to first base on Sept. 5. Cabrera was second in the AL with 171 hits at the time, but missed the rest of the season.
Cabrera rejected a $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Blue Jays, so any team that signs him will forfeit a Draft choice. But the Mariners have already surrendered their first-round pick by signing Cruz, so Cabrera would only cost them a second-rounder if he also signs.
Like Cruz, Cabrera is long-time friends with Robinson Cano, having come up in the Yankees organization together as youngsters out of the Dominican Republic. But that doesn't mean the Mariners will pay any price for a player who earned $8 million in the final year of his deal with Toronto.
The trade market could also yield some possibilities, though the Mariners appear increasingly reluctant to give up any of their prize young pitchers to get a player in the final year of his deal, like a Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes.
Zduriencik said he's been asked about all his young pitchers at some point, as well as young shortstops Chris Taylor and Brad Miller. But again, he sounded like a GM who liked what he's already got -- and didn't necessarily like the offers he was hearing on Monday.
"You always keep all your options open and see where dialogue goes, but I think we're in a good position, where we've got really good starting pitching, a really good bullpen and we've added a middle-of-the-order hitter," Zduriencik said. "Everybody else is going to be a year older, so the growth these guys have gone through, the struggles they had a couple years ago, got cleaned up a little last year, and we should see even more of that this year."