Is Melky on Mariners' post-Meetings agenda?
Club still looking to fill right-field spot in advance of Spring Training
SEATTLE -- The Mariners are back home after four quiet days at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, so the obvious question is: What now?
It's not too surprising that they didn't close out any deals at the Meetings. While many teams were active, the Mariners already landed free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz the previous week and they have just one very specific need remaining -- signing a right fielder who upgrades the lineup.
Free-agent Melky Cabrera remains a primary target for Seattle, with ESPN Deportes reporting on Friday that the Mariners have made a three-year offer to Cabrera, but he is holding out for a four-year deal.
Cabrera is one of 12 players who were given $15.3 million qualifying offers from their teams, which means Draft-pick compensation is attached. While that situation led to some lengthy delays last year for some qualified free agents, only three of this year's 12 remain unsigned -- Cabrera, along with pitchers Max Scherzer and James Shields.
It's not clear what kind of market Cabrera has outside of Seattle, though the Orioles, Royals and Giants are among the teams that have been reportedly interested in him.
There is no rush for players to sign at this point, other than for their own peace of mind in knowing where they're headed. And teams also have two more months to finalize their rosters before Spring Training begins.
The Mariners were one of eight teams that didn't make any moves outside of the Rule 5 Draft, along with the Yankees, Brewers, Orioles, Giants, Rays, Blue Jays and Nationals.
Outfielders Matt Kemp and Yoenis Cespedes were traded during the Meetings, but the Mariners never seemed too engaged in talks for the high-priced Kemp and they have made it clear they're not giving up their premier young pitching prospects for one-year rentals like Cespedes or Justin Upton.
Ideally, Seattle would like to add to its nucleus without having to give up any of its top young talent and that makes the free-agent market attractive.
Cabrera, 30, would be a nice fit in the Mariners' lineup as a No. 2 hitter behind leadoff man Austin Jackson and in front of Robinson Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager. Cabrera is a career .286/.339/.415 hitter who has posted an OPS over .800 in three of the past four seasons.
Cabrera, a 10-year veteran, is close friends with Cano, as the two came up in the Yankees organization together. Cabrera played his first five seasons with the Yankees, before spending the past five years with the Braves, Royals, Giants and Blue Jays.
Cabrera hit .305 with 44 doubles, 18 home runs and 87 RBIs for Kansas City in 2011. He then was an All-Star for the first time in 2012 with the Giants and he was leading the National League with a .346 average to go with a .906 OPS in 113 games before being suspended for the remainder of that season for testing positive for a banned substance.
Cabrera, a Dominican native, signed a two-year, $16 million deal as a free agent with the Blue Jays and hit .293 in two seasons in Toronto, though he played just 88 games in 2012 due to hamstring and knee issues. He then had a benign tumor removed from his lower back after the season.
Cabrera came back last season to hit .301 with 35 doubles, 16 home runs and 73 RBIs in 139 games before breaking a finger diving back to first base on Sept. 5 and missing the rest of the year.
The Draft-pick compensation can be a deterrent to some teams, but Seattle already has forfeited its first-round pick by signing Cruz, so the club would give up its second-round pick (currently 57th overall) if it signed Cabrera. The Mariners also have a Competitive Balance selection following the second round, which is currently the 70th overall.
The Mariners have also had contact with free-agent outfielder Alex Rios, who is represented by Scott Boras. Rios is known as an excellent clubhouse presence and solid outfielder. At 33, he's three years older than Cabrera and is coming off a season when his power numbers dropped while he battled thumb and ankle injuries.
Rios did hit .280 with 30 doubles and eight triples in 131 games for the Rangers, but he totaled just four home runs and 54 RBIs. Rios averaged 19 homers and 76 RBIs the previous four seasons, however, and was a two-time All-Star earlier in his career for the Blue Jays.
Boras, who was just hired by Rios this offseason, said at the Winter Meetings that the market was heating up for the veteran.
"Quite a bit now as the outfield tiering has unfolded," Boras said. "He certainly is a guy who had two really good seasons in '12 and '13. He averaged about 20 home runs, hitting .290, steals about 20 bases. He gives you defense, offense, he's really a two-way player. So we're starting to see a number of the clubs come to us, and we've had meetings on him here in just the last few days."
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has also explored the trade market. While the club has been linked to pursuits of Dayan Viciedo from the White Sox, that idea has been largely shelved. Seth Smith of the Padres is a possible trade target and should be readily available now that San Diego acquired Kemp, though he is a left-handed hitter who would fit best in a platoon situation given his career .277 average and .839 OPS against right-handers compared to .208 and .605 vs. lefties.
Smith, 32, has two years remaining on his current contract at $12.75 million, plus a $7 million club option for 2016. He's a career .265/.347/.453 hitter who batted .266 with 31 doubles, 12 homers and 48 RBIs in 136 games for the Padres last year.
The Mariners spent much of the four days in San Diego discussing any and all right-field candidates and will regroup now and zero in on their best options.
"Just because there wasn't a deal done [at the Winter Meetings] doesn't mean there won't be anything happening," Zduriencik said. "There's a lot of time before now and Spring Training."