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Mariners put catcher, relievers on back burner

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Judging by general manager Jack Zduriencik's comments on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings on Monday, the Mariners' priority is to add an outfielder and starting pitcher before using what resources remain to consider a backup catcher and bullpen help.

Although rookies Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre are the only catchers on the 40-man roster, Zduriencik said a backup backstop is not as high on his wish list as other areas of need.

"We've looked at it, but we have to figure other parts of our club right now and where you're going to spend your available dollars," he said. "We liked what we saw out of Sucre last year [as a backup]. I think he's very capable of doing that.

"It's challenging to go with two young kids like Zunino and Sucre, but as you go down the road with other areas of your club, if that's what you're forced to do, then that's what you do. And in any deal we might make, we may get a veteran catcher back. But right now, that's not a huge priority at this point. There are other things we need to look at first."

Seattle has been mentioned in connection with free-agent closers Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit, but that also would seem a lower priority with Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen both having closing experience.

"It comes down to cost," Zduriencik said of potential free-agent closer. "If you take an available chunk of money and put it into a closer, that would help. That would be great, but that may prevent you from addressing other areas of your ballclub."

Farquhar saved 16 games in the final two months last season after taking over that role from Wilhelmsen.

"If you look at this organization since I've been here, we've had some guys step up and do a nice job, going back to David Aardsma my first year," Zduriencik said. "Brandon League did a nice job for us and Tom Wilhelmsen did a great job for a while and he'll be given that opportunity this spring. And then you have Farquhar, who did a nice job.

"We've done a pretty good job of filling the back end of the bullpen. I think we would look at adding a legitimate closer as a lower priority right now."

Zduriencik is high on hard-throwing youngsters Carson Smith and Dominic Leone and said both will be given a shot at earning a roster spot this spring, but neither is a potential Major League closer yet and realistically may be more targeted for Triple-A after pitching last year for Double-A Jackson.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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