12/9/2013 7:39 P.M. ET
Mariners put catcher, relievers on back burner
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Judging by general manager Jack Zduriencik's comments on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings on Monday, the Mariners' priority is to add an outfielder and starting pitcher before using what resources remain to consider a backup catcher and bullpen help.
Although rookies Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre are the only catchers on the 40-man roster, Zduriencik said a backup backstop is not as high on his wish list as other areas of need.
"We've looked at it, but we have to figure other parts of our club right now and where you're going to spend your available dollars," he said. "We liked what we saw out of Sucre last year [as a backup]. I think he's very capable of doing that.
"It's challenging to go with two young kids like Zunino and Sucre, but as you go down the road with other areas of your club, if that's what you're forced to do, then that's what you do. And in any deal we might make, we may get a veteran catcher back. But right now, that's not a huge priority at this point. There are other things we need to look at first."
Seattle has been mentioned in connection with free-agent closers Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit, but that also would seem a lower priority with Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen both having closing experience.
"It comes down to cost," Zduriencik said of potential free-agent closer. "If you take an available chunk of money and put it into a closer, that would help. That would be great, but that may prevent you from addressing other areas of your ballclub."
Farquhar saved 16 games in the final two months last season after taking over that role from Wilhelmsen.
"If you look at this organization since I've been here, we've had some guys step up and do a nice job, going back to David Aardsma my first year," Zduriencik said. "Brandon League did a nice job for us and Tom Wilhelmsen did a great job for a while and he'll be given that opportunity this spring. And then you have Farquhar, who did a nice job.
"We've done a pretty good job of filling the back end of the bullpen. I think we would look at adding a legitimate closer as a lower priority right now."
Zduriencik is high on hard-throwing youngsters Carson Smith and Dominic Leone and said both will be given a shot at earning a roster spot this spring, but neither is a potential Major League closer yet and realistically may be more targeted for Triple-A after pitching last year for Double-A Jackson.
Ibanez talk idle as Mariners eye righty bat
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While Raul Ibanez led the Mariners with 29 home runs last season at age 41, general manager Jack Zduriencik indicated Monday at the Winter Meetings that re-signing the veteran outfielder is not a high priority right now for a club more in need of adding a right-handed bat.
Ibanez has said he'd like to play another year after hitting .242 with 65 RBIs and tying Ted Williams' record for most home runs hit by a player while in his 40s. But the opportunity to break that record might have to come from another team.
"We're very fond of Raul," Zduriencik said. "We have to sift through some things at these Meetings, primarily because we are so left-handed. As much as he and I would like to get something done, I think we need a little more time to figure out how we're going to allocate and what opportunities present themselves here. And that's hard to say because he had such a good year and he's such a great guy. But we certainly again are touching all our bases on a lot of players."
The Mariners are on the verge of finalizing a deal for left-handed-hitting second baseman Robinson Cano and also have left-handers Kyle Seager at third base and Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders in the outfield.
Seattle has just three returning outfielders from last year's final Major League roster in Ackley, Saunders and September callup Abraham Almonte, who is a switch-hitter, so a right-handed hitter there would be optimal.
"It would be very important," Zduriencik said. "That could very well be our main focus. But I also think if you can add talent, you just have to take a chance. Even though we are more left-handed oriented than I'd like to be right now, you still have to try to improve your club. But preferably a right-handed bat would be better."
The top right-handed-hitting outfielders on the free-agent market include Nelson Cruz and Corey Hart, while Shin-Soo Choo is a left-hander.
Zduriencik said he'd like to add one outfielder, possibly two if things fell right. But utility man Willie Bloomquist can play the outfield, so that adds some depth after the veteran signed a two-year deal last week.
Mariners' Hevly earns top PR award
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Longtime Mariners director of baseball information Tim Hevly was named the 2013 winner of Major League Baseball's Robert O. Fishel Award for Public Relations Excellence on Monday at the Winter Meetings.
Hevly, 47, has been the club's baseball information director the past 16 years and has worked for the Mariners since 1990.
"The biggest thing is it's a nice acknowledgement of the people I get to work with in my department," Hevly said. "It's more about them. It's an acknowledgement from the people in our industry that our organization does a great job."
The annual award goes to the "active, non-uniformed representative of Major League Baseball whose ethics, character, dedication, service, professionalism and humanitarianism best represent the standards propounded by Robert O. Fishel," who was the inaugural winner in 1981 after working with the Indians, Browns, Yankees and the American League office.
The nominees are voted upon by active past winners, MLB officials and the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"I'm very excited for him," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "It's a great recognition and recognition that he deserves. We are all fond of him and we are looking forward to seeing him give his acceptance speech."