12/20/12 4:20 PM ET
After Morales deal, Mariners look to fill other needs
GM Zduriencik continues to explore market for outfielders, starting pitchers
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
Timing may not be right for any more additions before the holiday, but that certainly doesn't mean Seattle is done with its roster maneuverings.
Wednesday's trade of Jason Vargas for Angels first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales helps the Mariners' offense, but creates a hole in the rotation that Zduriencik can still look to fill either through free agency or another trade.
The Mariners also still have financial flexibility, given they figure to actually save several million dollars in the difference between what Morales will earn compared to Vargas in their final year of arbitration eligibility.
The assumption all offseason has been that Zduriencik would look to add offense in the outfield, given the departure of Ichiro Suzuki in right field opened up both a natural power position and considerable payroll.
That money can be used in different ways, of course. Right fielder Nick Swisher remains available in free agency and seems to be the right fit, but if he signs with Seattle, it will likely take most of the remaining salary space.
The other option would be to use the same money to make several acquisitions, perhaps with pitching more of a priority now following Vargas' departure. Among the top remaining starter options in free agency are Kyle Lohse, Shawn Marcum, Brett Myers, Freddy Garcia, Joe Saunders, Chris Young, Aaron Cook and Francisco Liriano.
The Mariners almost certainly will also bring in a veteran or two as Minor League non-roster invites, as they did with Kevin Millwood a year ago.
As for position players, Zduriencik has talked of adding a veteran defensive-oriented catcher as well as outfield help. Swisher received a full-court press during his visit to Cleveland on Tuesday and is continuing to check out his options, which are believed to still include Seattle.
It's not clear how much interest the Mariners have in Michael Bourn, the other top free-agent outfielder. Bourn isn't the run-producing power bat Seattle had been seeking, but the addition of Morales reduces their need in that area and it might make more sense now to pursue the speedy leadoff hitter.
One American League scout, not with the Mariners, said he thinks Morales should hit .285 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs or so, if he has players who get on base in front of him. Seattle used Dustin Ackley in the leadoff role after Ichiro's trade last year, but manager Eric Wedge has always said Ackley could slot into any of the top-three spots in a lineup.
Bourn is a center fielder, which again isn't an area of need for the Mariners, who have Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders capable of playing there. But adding Bourn would allow Gutierrez and Saunders to move to the corner spots and would make for an extremely impressive defensive outfield.
Or Seattle could still take on salary through a trade for a veteran hitter. Mariners officials continued working the phones hard on that front after Wednesday's deal for Morales, and Zduriencik still has all his top prospects available as trade chips if needed.
Where does he stand in regard to his outfield at the moment? One of the major questions is the health of Gutierrez, who played just 40 games last season. The 29-year-old is performing well in the Venezuelan Winter League, however, raising his average to .333 through 20 games after going 3-for-4 with a double, home run and five RBIs on Wednesday.
"It's encouraging to see what's happened with Guti this winter," Zduriencik said. "The fact he's playing baseball now is positive. Saunders took a real leap last year. We still have Casper Wells. If we were opening today, it would be between them, Jason Bay, Eric Thames and Carlos Peguero.
"We'll continue to see what else is out there just to make the club better. If there's something that makes sense, we're wide open to it. If nothing pans out, that is the group that will be given the opportunities."