Rockies may be interested in Figgins
Japanese shortstop Kawasaki also on Mariners' radar
DALLAS -- Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Monday that Chone Figgins is looking to have a comeback season and compete again for the team's starting third-base job, but there are indications the club has talked to the Rockies about dealing the veteran infielder as the Winter Meetings opened in Dallas.
Colorado could be willing to move outfielder Seth Smith, who is entering salary arbitration for the first time this offseason after making just $429,000 last year. The Mariners clearly would have to absorb a considerable portion of Figgins' contract in any such swap, with the infielder still owed $17 million over the next two years and coming off a season in which he hit just .188.
Smith, 29, batted .284 with 15 home runs, 59 RBIs, a .347 on-base and .483 slugging percentage last year. He's hit 47 home runs over the past three seasons, with most of his playing time coming in platoon situations against right-handed pitchers.
As for Figgins and the third-base situation, Zduriencik said he was comfortable with the veteran competing with rookies Kyle Seager and Alex Liddi for the job this spring.
"Right now we have Figgy, who I think has been in a real good frame of mind this winter," Zduriencik said. "When he left he was determined to come back and have a comeback year. He let that be known to us, that he's been disappointed in himself the last two years and really wants to come back and be our everyday third baseman.
"You also have guys like Seager and Liddi that feel the same way. This is competition and you have to respect all of their feelings. Figgins is a veteran guy who has had a couple down years. And you've got a guy like Seager who has done some nice things for us, so you let them fight it out in Spring Training. And Liddi is a young guy who has a brief time in the big leagues. We'll let them come in and we'll watch them all in Spring Training."
Meanwhile, Zduriencik is openly pursuing a backup shortstop to provide depth behind Brendan Ryan and acknowledged interest in Japanese shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, who said last week he wanted to come play for Seattle and would be willing to accept a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League camp, if necessary.
"From an organizational standpoint, it's somewhat flattering to have someone who has specifically targeted a team he wants to play with," Zduriencik said. "The fact a player is willing to do what he can to play with that team affords you greater flexibility. If he comes into Spring Training and makes your team, fantastic. If not, you know he's willing to do a little more to get there.
"I respect what has been said. We respect the player. And again, we're in the middle of the process of trying evaluate things. That player is one of the players we're talking about."
Kawasaki, 30, played with Ichiro Suzuki on Japan's national team in the 2006 and '09 World Baseball Classic. He isn't regarded as a strong offensive player, but he's an excellent defender. Zduriencik said defense is more critical than offense with a backup shortstop, and that he's seeking a utility infielder who can play second and third base, as well as shortstop.