BY John Hickey 08:10AM 12/11/2010

M’s looking to 2012 while planning for 2011

DH Jack Cust is aboard and catcher Miguel Olivo is soon to follow, but payroll issues will keep Seattle out of the rest of the free agent market for the most part.

Jack Zduriencik - Seattle Mariners - 2010 - 1

Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik is trying to plan for the years beyond 2011 / Ben Van Houten, Mariners

On Friday the Mariners made it official that they’ve added Jack Cust, a DH with some power as well as high on-base and strikeout numbers, to the roster for 2011, a one-year deal for $2.5 million with some incentive clauses.

Next week they’ll unveil the addition of catcher Miguel Olivo, who has a little power (23 homers two years ago for the Royals) and can handle the grind of calling pitches game after game. He’s getting a two-year, $7 million deal.

The real question is where the club goes from here. Cust and Olivo should be decent fits in Seattle, but a team that lost 101 games isn’t going to turn around with those two additions.

General manager Jack Zduriencik didn’t say that in so many words, of course, but in talking about Seattle’s path forward, he confirmed the essence of the Mariners taking small steps this fall and winter in preparation for larger steps in the offing a year from now.

“We’ve had (financial) flexibility before and we’ll have flexibility again,’’ Zduriencik said.

The Mariners are putting many of their hopes on the 2012 season, reasoning that going from 61 wins in 2010 to the 90-plus win total it takes to be competitive in the American League West is not a one-year operation.

The club doesn’t want to say 2011 is going to be another rocky ride, but that’s the reality.

“The one thing we are not going to deviate from is our long-range plan,’’ Zduriencik said. “We are still building this organization. We are laying the cement. It’s a construction process that is ongoing.

“We would like to be as competitive as we can be. But we’re trying to stay the course and build.’’

The rationale is that it will be easier to do that with Cust, who has never been on the disabled list in a nine-year career, than it would have been if Seattle had fallen through to keep its other DH option, first baseman Russell Branyan, who ended each of the last two seasons with back pain that put him on the shelf early.

Cust also brings to the table a well-chronicled ability to draw walks – his personal best is an AL-best 111 in 2008 – and to hit homers – he launched 97 in the last four years while playing for the A’s. And while he led the AL in strikeouts in three of those four years, Seattle will just have to live with that.

While the DH spot has been taken care of (Milton Bradley will have to settle for getting most of his at-bats as the left fielder), the catching will be taken care of by Olivo. Now the club has to settle on what to do at second base and third base. Chone Figgins is back after moving from third to second last year in what was basically a struggle for him as he moved over from the Angels as a free agent.

Jose Lopez has been traded, and 2009’s first round draft pick, Dustin Ackley is seen as a rising star at second base, so Figgins could move to third. But Ackley probably needs another half-season in the minors before he’s ready to go, a fact the Mariners are completely cognizant of.

So it would be in Seattle’s interest to bring in another infielder. Seattle has considered trading with the Indians for former Mariner minor leaguer Luis Valbuena, and free agent Jorge Cantu, who has been playing with the Marlins, also is on the club’s short list. A third baseman/first baseman, Cantu drove in 100 runs two years about, but an off-year in 2010 (.256, 11 homers, 56 RBIs) may have lowered his stock enough that the financially strapped Mariners could make a run at him.

Valbuena can play second and short – Cantu can’t make that claim – but is much less an offensive force. He hit .250 in his first full season for the Indians after the Mariners let him go in a trade after seeing him play 18 games in 2008, then tumbled to .193 last year.

“Offense is at the top of the list,’’ Zduriencik said when asked what he feels he needs to address – no small thing considering the Mariners’ offense fell to historic lows in 2010 in terms of power and on-base percentage, issues Cust was brought in to address.

“Any time you look at a club not banging the ball around, there have to be other ways to win,’’ the GM said, whether it is grinding out at-bats or working counts.’’

But the financial problems – $65 million of a projected $94 million player payroll is going to just seven players – Ichiro Suzuki, Franklin Gutierrez and Milton Bradley in the outfield, starter Felix Hernandez, Figgins and shortstop Jack Wilson in the infield, Cust and, eventually, Olivo.

As the Mariners look forward, they could look at making trades more than exploring free agency, because they money allotted to player payroll just isn’t there. The club is already looking forward to next year when the $17 million that goes to Wilson and Bradley will come off the books. At the same time, Hernandez’s haul will jump by $8.5 million to $18.5 million, so it’s not like Zduriencik will be awash in cash to spend.

As for free agency this year,  “I don’t think we’re going to be huge players in this,’’ Zduriencik said.

Twitter: @JHickey3


  • My partner and I really enjoyed reading this blog post, I was just itching to know do you trade featured posts? I am always trying to find someone to make trades with and merely thought I would ask.