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Scarred by past contracts, Mariners need to make right
Published 12/6/2012 6:00:00 AM
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While Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings wage on, the Seattle Mariners seem to be desperately searching every available nook, cranny and avenue via trade or free agency, for hitters to upgrade a team that ranked dead last in multiple offensive categories in 2012.

Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik has reportedly left no stone untouched in meeting with the representatives for numerous big-ticket free agents including outfielders Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. He has inquired on the trade availability of Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton and Royals first basemen Billy Butler, among others.

The Mariners have typically been active in December during Zduriencik’s five-year tenure in Seattle but speaking to players’ agents only go so far.

Zduriencik must find a way to improve the Mariners’ starting lineup before Opening Day even if it means trading one of the “big three” in top pitching prospects Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.

Although the Mariners recently signed underperforming outfielder Jason Bay to a one-year deal and traded for utility infielder Robert Andino, one can’t help but notice that the M’s two biggest pick-ups so far this off-season have been a gigantic new video screen in center field and a themed restaurant in left field.

Not to worry, the Mariners said, these expenditures are covered by a different payroll than player acquisitions.

If that’s the case, then we can almost hear the collective voice of tortured Mariners’ fans across the nation screaming in unison, “Show Hamilton the money!”

The Mariners reportedly have raised their team payroll to over $90 million in 2013 and could technically afford to add a big bopper such as Hamilton to the lineup.

Hamilton posted an impressive .285/.354/.577 slash line with 43 home runs and 128 RBI in 2012 and would provide the much-needed power source the Mariners crave from the outfield position. However, at 31 and ready to receive his last big contract, Hamilton would cost a lot. Also, he may not even want to play for the Mariners considering the youth of the team and extended hiatus from playoff contention.

Zduriencik’s last big splash at the winter meetings came in 2009 when he signed veteran utility man Chone Figgins and traded for 2008 A.L. Cy Young Award recipient, Cliff Lee from the Phillies in exchange for three prospects.

Lee went 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA but was traded to the Rangers mid-season when it became clear that the Mariners would not make the playoffs.

The Figgins signing ended up a colossal failure for the Mariners and a disastrous mark against Zduriencik’s resume and line of success in Seattle. Figgins was designated for assignment in a month ago after his batting average and offensive numbers continued to drop with each passing season.

If the Mariners lose out on Hamilton, it can be expected that their focus will turn to Bourn and Swisher who are coming off good years at the plate and play multiple positions.

Bourne, a multi-tool threat, is one of the best base-stealing and defensive outfielders in the game. However, he doesn’t offer power from the corner outfield spots that the Mariners would hope to gain in somebody like Hamilton, Swisher or Michael Morse.

Hopefully the Mariners pull off some free agent magic this off-season or swing a trade or two to acquire some bats, because as it stands, the only thing keeping the Mariners from a fourth consecutive last place finish in 2013 is the addition of the Houston Astros to the A.L. West and even then, there’s no saying what might happen.

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