From the podium of baseball’s winter meetings in Indianapolis, Zduriencik called Figgins “an infielder” rather than a third baseman, and said it had yet to be determined where in the infield he would play.
“I think we’ve made it clear, we have interest in another infielder who used to be here,” Zduriencik said, leaving a door open to bringing back third baseman Adrian Beltre and moving Figgins to second base.
Beltre’s camp was open to the prospect.
“He is the best defensive third baseman in major league baseball .... there’s a lot of interest in Adrian Beltre,” agent Scott Boras said on Sirius radio. “He has a lot of choices. And, certainly, Seattle is one of those teams that continues to show interest in him.”
A night earlier, Beltre declined the Mariners’ offer of arbitration, and when the team announced the switch-hitting Figgins had signed his four-year, $36 million deal, most thought Beltre’s five years in Seattle officially ended.
Figgins was open, as well.
“Jack talked to me about some other things that might happen, and I’d probably play second base,” Figgins said by telephone. “I’ve moved around my whole career. I’m prepared for anything.”
Beltre could have earned as much as $12 million in arbitration, but clearly the Mariners think they can bring him back for more than one year at less than that figure. They’ve seen that formula work once this offseason.
The team bought out the option on shortstop Jack Wilson’s $8 million contract for 2010, then re-signed him to a two-year deal worth a total of $10 million. Beltre has drawn interest from the Giants and Red Sox, but the market isn’t what he’d hoped to find.
Boras is said to be asking for a four-year, $40 million contract. If that’s a negotiable starting point, it may be something the Mariners can work with.
Zduriencik, however, wanted to talk Tuesday about the player he had, not the one he didn’t have.
“Chone is versatile, he can run, he can bunt, play multiple positions,” Zduriencik said. “He was a player we targeted early on, a unique player and a good fit. There are lots of ways to win games. You can win with power, with defense, with pitching, with speed. The best clubs can beat you a lot of ways, and that’s our goal.
“Chone can beat you a lot of ways. I’m looking forward to seeing Ichiro (Suzuki) and Chone at the top of our lineup.”
Where, exactly, would Figgins bat?
“First or second,” Zduriencik said. “When I called to congratulate him on signing, the first thing he said was, ‘I’m batting second, right?’ ”
“Ichiro is one of the best in the game, and he’s been able to do what he does batting first,” Figgins said. “It’s (manager Don) Wakamatsu’s decision, but I’d be honored to hit behind Ichiro.”
Figgins, 31, was a first-time All-Star last season for the Angels, batting .298, with an on-base percentage of .395 and 114 runs scored. A versatile veteran, he can play the infield or outfield, and last year stole 42 bases.
In a career that began in 1997, Figgins broke into the majors in 2002 and has a lifetime batting average of .291, with a .363 on-base percentage.
One factor in coming to Seattle was the manager and his staff.
“I’ve probably played for all of them in the minors at one point or another, so they know me and I know them,” Figgins said. “It was a good fit.”
Did he have any interest in the National League?
“I had interest in anyone who was interested in me,” he said, laughing. “I would have loved to go back to Anaheim, but in the end everyone is happy. It’s good to be wanted, and the Mariners showed they wanted me right away.”
The Mariners and Figgins agreed to terms last week, but until Figgins passed a physical and team doctors signed off on the results, Zduriencik – a stickler for details – wouldn’t discuss it.
The contract has a fifth year option worth another $9 million.
The unanswered question, though, was whether Beltre would return, and if he does, would Figgins move to second base and force Jose Lopez to move, too?
“The picture will be a lot clearer by spring training,” Zduriencik said.
Two new Mariners rumors cropped up late in the day, one crazy and one with some merit.
The first? Pitcher Carlos Silva to the Chicago Cubs for petulant outfielder Milton Bradley, a swap of bad contracts and a deal that would likely please fans of both teams. Problem is, it wasn’t true. Both teams agreed on that point.
The other rumor involved the same two teams – and outfielder Mike Cameron, the former Mariner who loved playing for Lou Piniella, and in Seattle. Cameron is a free agent Piniella covets, and the Cubs are talking to him.
A team built around pitching and defense with a yen for a right-handed bat in the outfield, the Mariners are interested, too.
Cameron turns 36 in January, and has a career batting average of .250 with 262 home runs. In Milwaukee last year, he hit .250 with 24 home runs and 70 RBI.
They’re talkin’ baseball
One of the pleasures of the winter meetings – and the one that attracts fans to the lobby of the host hotel – is the baseball personalities who attend.
On Tuesday, for instance, former manager Jack McKeon was holding court and telling stories. Some of them were R-rated. All were hilarious. Ozzie Smith chatted with fans and had his photograph taken with his arm around any number of folks.
There were former players such as Tony Perez, Jim Fregosi, Don Mattingly and Bruce Kison, now filling other jobs within the game. At 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 Seattle time – Wakamatsu and Braves manager Bobby Cox sat together talking over coffee.
New Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog was there, answering questions and talking baseball. If he couldn’t make you laugh, you didn’t have a pulse.
Former Mariner Jeff Nelson, working a radio gig, found time to grab Piniella and catch up with him. Piniella, of course, made everyone laugh. Now 66, Piniella said, “I might sign a five-year extension to manage. I’ll need a golf cart to go to the mound.”
Bryan Price, the baby-faced former Seattle pitching coach now with Cincinnati, showed up in the lobby sporting a salt-and-pepper goatee.
Around the meetings
No team has been more active at the winter meetings than the Angels, who are talking to outfielder Jason Bay and fallback options Hideki Matsui and Vladimir Guerrero. GM Tony Reagins is also pursuing ace John Lackey – who reportedly wants a six-year contract – and talking to Toronto about pitcher Roy Halladay. ... San Diego GM Jed Hoyer, who is dealing with a $40 million payroll, on shopping late for free agents: “There are going to be bargains late in the winter. If you are willing to wait, there will be players available.” ... When the Yankees offered Andy Pettitte a one-year, $10 million contract, he turned them down. His agent, however, says Pettitte is talking to only one team this offseason – the Yankees. ... Spurned by starting pitcher Brad Penny, who signed with St. Louis, San Francisco is focusing on a “budget” third or first baseman. That means the Giants are talking to Nick Johnson, Miguel Tejada and Beltre. ... The Mets hired former Mariners manager Bob Melvin – as a scout. ... The Dodgers are the latest to team to contact pitcher Joel Piñeiro, but they’re offering a one-year contract. The former Mariner wants more.