Mariners hope their biggest splash is yet to come
Nine days ago, the Mariners acquired Kendrys Morales from the Angels for Jason Vargas, adding the first baseman/designated hitter to their free-agent haul of Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez. Those three moves should help to revitalize an offense that last season placed last in the American League with a .252 TAv, but for an offseason that saw Seattle emerge as a finalist for Josh Hamilton—getting “very close,” according to Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times—they rank as a collective disappointment and leave the Safeco Field faithful wanting more.

General manager Jack Zduriencik is cognizant of his fans’ wishes, and he told FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal on Thursday that he is “wide open” to further reinforcements for his lineup, ideally including a “leadoff man” and “middle-of-the-order bat.” Hamilton denied earlier this week that the Mariners were seriously involved in his sweepstakes, but Zduriencik said on the KJR 950 radio show, “Mitch in the Morning,” that Seattle offered him a four-year deal worth $100 million, with vesting options for 2017 and 2018. The competitiveness of that proposal is debatable, but the GM’s transparency eliminates any doubt that he has abundant payroll flexibility with which to continue improving the team.

That’s a good thing for Zduriencik, because—as Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller mentioned in response to a listener’s email on yesterday’s “Effectively Wild” podcast—Jack Z. is entering his fifth year at the helm, the point when, in most cases, a general manager can be held fully responsible for the state of his organization. Zduriencik’s seat may not be so hot that he would get sacked if the Mariners fail to earn a post-season berth in 2013, but a fourth consecutive losing season won’t be easy for the brass to swallow.

Based on Rosenthal’s description of Zduriencik’s holiday wish list, a certain dawdling center fielder seems a perfect match, as Ben noted in his overview of the possible fits for Bourn yesterday. The Mariners were first connected to Michael Bourn at the Winter Meetings, in this blog post by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, and most of the other teams that Heyman mentioned have since plugged their center-field holes. His bidding is most likely down to the Mariners and Rangers, and while his agent, Scott Boras, is in no hurry to finalize a deal, Zduriencik—given the aforementioned five-year window—might be every bit as desperate as his counterpart, Jon Daniels.

Some hesitation to commit big money to Bourn is understandable on Zduriencik’s part, considering that his four-year, $36 million hitch with Chone Figgins devolved into a fiasco. Coming off of a 7.2 WARP campaign for the Angels, the now-34-year-old Figgins cost the Mariners 2.4 wins over three seasons, before finally getting designated for assignment in November. Bourn is a similar player to Figgins, in that speed and defense play a significant role in his overall value, but unlike Figgins, he is an up-the-middle defender with a relatively clean injury history and a more consistent track record of 3.0- to 4.0-win production.

Another hindrance to signing Bourn, from Seattle’s standpoint, is that he declined a qualifying offer from the Braves, and thus would require the Mariners to cough up the 12th overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. As is evident from the top-10 list compiled by our prospect staff, Zduriencik’s system is teeming with high-ceiling pitchers but suffers from a dearth of impact bats, with last year’s first-rounder, catcher Mike Zunino, possibly representing a notable exception. Zduriencik, perhaps because of the importance of the coming year or two, was willing to part with the pick to sign Hamilton; whether he would surrender it for Bourn remains to be seen.

With Hamilton and Nick Swisher already signed, if the Mariners choose to look past Bourn, Zduriencik will probably turn to the trade market. And while the Mariners may not match up especially well with the pitching-rich Diamondbacks, Kevin Towers can expect plenty of calls from other teams in the coming days…

Guess who might be back on the block? Justin Upton
… because, as a source told Heyman (and as was widely expected following the Cody Ross signing last week), “someone will go.” Someone could mean Jason Kubel or Gerardo Parra, with the member of that duo who stays sharing left field with Ross, but it could also mean Upton, if the right return package comes along.

The problem with trading Kubel, as an executive told Rosenthal on Thursday, is that the Diamondbacks “wouldn’t get a lot for him.” A part-time player (.257 career TAv versus left-handed pitching) with poor range, even for a corner outfielder, Kubel is best utilized in a designated-hitter platoon, and he has not delivered more than 0.6 WARP in a season since 2009. With a $7.5 million payday coming for 2013, to go with a $1 million buyout on an equally rich 2014 option, Kubel also is not a bargain. Put those two factors together, and it’s easy to see why Towers will struggle to extract a useful piece in exchange for the 30-year-old former Twin.

Upton, as Heyman wrote, is unlikely to be moved unless the Rangers cave on Towers’ demand of a young shortstop—namely, either Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar. So far, there have been no signs that Daniels is inclined to include either of them, and it’s possible that both could contribute to the Rangers in 2013, if second baseman Ian Kinsler moves to first. The Mariners could make a play for Upton, but they lack the young left-side infielders that Towers covets, and the Rays, who were once among the rumored suitors, have since reeled in Wil Myers from the Royals. 

That leaves Parra, who, like Kubel, bats left-handed, but, unlike Kubel, is a very good defensive outfielder. Trading Parra would leave the Diamondbacks with a $12.5 million Kubel-Ross timeshare in left field, and potentially a need to supplant Kubel after the season. It would also entail a steadfast commitment to either Adam Eaton or A.J. Pollock in center field, since none of the other incumbents can adequately handle the position. On the other hand, Parra—who is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter—could attract far more suitors and fetch a much more enticing piece than Kubel would.

With Bourn representing the last man standing in the free-agent outfield market, the ball is in Towers’ court—and, as R.J. Anderson pointed out in his analysis of the Ross signing—the veteran GM “once called himself a sludge merchant for a reason.” Someone will go, but to find out who it will be, all we can do is wait.