A year ago, as the story goes, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik had a chat with his counterpart from the Phillies in the airport on his way home from these winter meetings. The result was Cliff Lee coming to Seattle via trade.
It doesn't appear any splash of that magnitude is in the cards this go around, as the meetings wrap up and the Mariners—while linked to many rumors—leave as minor players. For the second consecutive year the club has been a bargain bin shopper, looking for low risk-high upside players, as they have another year before significant payroll relief.
Here's a look at the moves they were, or are rumored to be, involved in.
C Miguel Olivo signed a two-year $7 million contract
This was simply not a great move. Generally, I trust Jack Zduriencik and his scouting team. I'm having a rough time with this one, though. Olivo played for the Mariners once, you may recall. He came over from Chicago in the Freddy Garcia trade. Safeco is not nice to right-handed pull hitters, and Olivo was no exception.
His numbers have improved a bit, but if you look at the splits, there's no question Coors Field was a contributor. At home in Colorado, he hit a respectable 318/.349/.556 but on the road a laughable .211/.276/.322.
Read those road numbers again and try not to cringe. That the Mariners added a second year makes this possibly the worst move of the Zduriencik era (TBD: depends on how Morrow turns out in Toronto). Though, it was an area of need, and what we may not know is that the front office has all but given up on Adam Moore and none of the other free agents bit.
Here is one positive way to look at this: Seemingly every year some playoff contending team needs a fill in for their injured catcher. I don't think Jack is an idiot. I could easily see Olivo spun into some interesting prospect(s) at the trade deadline. Nothing premium, but this organization needs all the talent it can find.
DH Jack Cust signed a one-year $2.5 million contract
Okay, I know your initial thought. But we have to remember that the Mariners are bargain shopping again this year waiting for salary relief in 2011. While the Olivo deal doesn't fit well into that plan, this one does. Cust is a left-hander with some pop, and could see a boost from Safeco Field.
Though, he does have much of his power to left-center, which is why right-handers generally do poor here. So, I expect this to be a push as far as home park help/hurt, but the price doesn't kill the budget.
I initially thought this would lead to a Milton Bradley DFA, but it appears the club is ready to keep him on board and split time at DH and left field between the two veterans and Michael Saunders.
RP Jose Flores acquired form Cleveland Indians in Rule 5 Draft
There isn't much to say here. This is likely one of those guys that will be returned at the end of spring training. Flores is a guy who sits in the low to mid 90s with good command, with no secondary pitches behind his fastball and has only played as high as A ball. You never know, I guess. But, I'm again left scratching my head at the decisions made by a scouting organization I highly respect.
Rumor: M's interested in Cleveland INF Luis Valbuena
Yes, that Luis Valbuena. As you likely recall, the Mariners sent Valbuena to the Tribe as part of the three team trade that netted them Franklin Gutierrez and sent JJ Putz to the Mets. It was a home run of a trade, and with Valbuena struggling last year it is possible they could get him back for something small in return.
No real details of a possible proposal have come out, and it may be that he was just a target of the front office. That would be strange if the case, since generally the Mariners are a very tight lipped front office and leaks often come from companion teams in trade talks. So, it may have at least been floated to the Indians.
How many games will the 2011 Mariners win?
Valbuena is still young, and has shown he has nothing to prove at AAA. It's possible he ends up as one of those AAAA type guys who never transitions to the majors well, but the Mariners are a team that can fit him into their current roster. He can man second base until Ackley is ready, then slide to shortstop when Jack Wilson has his annual injury.
International: SS Esteilon Peguero signs for $2.9 million
This was the fourth largest bonus ever given by the Mariners. Only Ackley, Ichiro and Jeff Clement have received higher bonuses. It was also the largest bonus given to any international signing this season, and one of the biggest ever.
Cliff notes: You just don't know. Some scouts project Peguero as a guy who will have to slide to second or third base. Jack Zduriencik says they still project him a a shortstop for now. But everyone seems to agree that he'll hit. While probably not a big bopper, he could fill out his frame and be a nice gap doubles hitter. Remember, he's 17.
- The Mariners still need to figure out what they're doing with Chone Figgins. They could use Josh Wilson at second base if they really want to move Figgins back to third (or if he demands). With Jose Lopez being traded to Colorado, it makes the most sense to move Figgins back there regardless. It's not entirely impossible that Figgins is traded, but his contract puts the plausibility in question.
- Don't write off the possibility of a secret squirrel Zduriencik trade in the next few days. This team still needs to be set up for 2012. They'll have more money next year, and if a Justin Upton type scenario pops up, and the price is right, it could happen.
- What to do with Cust/Bradley/Saunders. If Saunders isn't in a trade package, I don't know what happens here. Bradley will surely be on the DL at least once this season and his contract is the reason he's here in the first place. I suppose it's better than Griffey/Sweeney/Bradley, but the problem is still there.
There's still a lot of work to make this roster into one that doesn't lose 100 games. They should get some help from bounce back seasons from some of the guys. There's just no way that many players have the worst year of their career again.