Mariners hit sour note at Opryland

While Seattle leaves winter meetings with but 1 new player, Josh Hamilton remains on its wish list

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comDecember 7, 2012 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For the Seattle Mariners, the winter meetings at the Gaylord Convention Center at Opryland ended quietly Thursday morning with no standing ovations or encores.

General manager Jack Zduriencik and his staff left without officially signing a player but surrounded by enough speculation to fill the Grande Ole Opry.

The Mariners will make the signing of outfielder Jason Bay official sometime today, depending whether his paper work and physical are completed.

Bay is reported to be receiving a one-year deal worth $1 million, with another $1 million in possible incentives. But the base pay of $1 million is contingent on Bay making the 25-man roster out of spring training. If he does not, he’ll get roughly half of that.

Bay isn’t the acquisition that Mariners fans probably envisioned when the meetings began Monday. There were dreams of Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher or some other “big name” who actually put up solid numbers over the last few seasons.

And those dreams are still out there.

“We’ll continue to have discussions and dialogue, maybe even today at the airport. Who knows?” Zduriencik said. “For us right now, it’d be nice to get back home … sit down with the group and rehash everything that has gone on here and see where we stand.”

Hamilton has suddenly become a realistic possibility for the Mariners. With teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees seemingly out of the market, there are only a handful of teams that can meet or come close to meeting his salary demands.

There was a report from the Seattle Times saying that the Mariners were “very close” to signing Hamilton.

Mariners team president Chuck Armstrong dispelled that report.

“We aren’t close,” he said. “I don’t know how anyone could say we are close. We’ve had discussion. They met with (Zduriencik). But it was just a discussion. There hasn’t even been any figures discussed.”

But Armstrong didn’t rule out further interest in Hamilton, saying that there would be more discussions.

“We are going to keep talking,” he said.

That’s a 180-degree turn from about two weeks ago, when Zduriencik said the Mariners weren’t likely to be a part of the negotiations.

Will the coming talks eventually lead to a signing?

It’s possible. There was a report that the Mariners had offered a three-year, $75 million contract to Hamilton. But that leaked offer may be a way for Hamilton’s agent to manipulate the market and bring in other teams. That number is low considering Hamilton went to Nashville with the goal of getting a seven-year, $175 million deal. But no team has been willing to offer the 31-year-old and oft-injured player more than a four-year deal.

Hamilton has promised the Rangers that they would have an opportunity to match any serious offers from other teams.

But there’s no guarantee the Rangers will want to match. Texas has made negotiations for free agent Zack Greinke – the top available pitcher – a priority, choosing to deal with Hamilton once Greinke makes a decision. There is some debate whether the Rangers would have enough money to match a Hamilton offer if they sign Greinke to a $100 million-plus contract. Texas has also been rumored to be working on a trade for Justin Upton. If they were to acquire the hard-hitting Diamondbacks outfielder, they would have little use for Hamilton.

If Hamilton is not a possibility, the Mariners could turn to Swisher or Michael Bourn – both of whom have watched their market value fall over the past few days.

Swisher wanted to play in the Bay Area, but when the Giants signed Angel Pagan to a four-year, $40 million deal it pretty much ended his hopes of playing there. That likely leaves the Mariners and the Indians as the only serious candidates.

Bourn, who played last season in Atlanta, came into the meetings hoping to sign a deal for about five years and $75 million – similar to what B.J. Upton got from the Braves. That probably won’t happen.

Another of his possible destinations, Philadelphia, decided to trade for Minnesota’s Ben Revere instead of paying the big money. The Washington Nationals, another likely suitor for Bourn, traded for the Twins’ Denard Span.

While some may see the Mariners’ lack of signing activity as an issue, Zduriencik said not many major signings took place this year.

“We had a lot of engaging discussions,” Zduriencik said. “I was up late last night until about midnight having meetings. You never know what’s going to happen. So many times a lot of guys come in here with big hopes of things working and you try to go down every avenue. I think that’s what a lot of clubs have done.”

The next seven to 10 days could be interesting.

“In the end, when the dust settles and you get away from here, reality kind of takes over and you just decide, ‘OK, this is where we’re at and if we want to make a decision, here it is,’ ” Zduriencik said. “That’s why sometimes action happens when you leave here, rather than when you’re here.”

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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