Hot stove: M's GM weighs in on Ellsbury

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
12:21
AM ET
ORLANDO -- Jack Zduriencik is an affable sort in an uncomfortable spot. Zduriencik has been general manager of the Seattle Mariners for the past five seasons, a period in which the Mariners have had just one winning season -- his first. They are on their third manager, Lloyd McClendon, and have finished last in the league in scoring in four of those seasons.

The Mariners' attendance, at 3.2 million 10 years ago, was down to 1.7 million during the 2013 season, even though the team plays in one of the most beautiful parks in baseball, Safeco Field. The Mariners have two of the best pitchers in baseball in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and have nothing to show for it.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Ellsbury
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsJacoby Ellsbury is in line for a huge payday, no matter where he ends up landing in free agency.
Zduriencik needs to think big if he wants to make the Mariners relevant again. He admits as much. It is the reason his Mariners are so often mentioned as a potential landing spot for Jacoby Ellsbury, the free-agent outfielder whose roots are in the Pacific Northwest (Madras, Ore.) and who is one of a handful of elite players available on the market this winter.

Two days into their annual meetings, no general manager will openly discuss specific players they are targeting. But Zduriencik was willing to field a few questions about Ellsbury on Tuesday, even as a couple of his peers privately predicted that the Mariners will be a player for the center fielder's services.

So, is Ellsbury on Seattle's radar?

"How we enter this winter, right now we're going to be wide-open to a lot of things," Zduriencik said. "I don't have an answer right now where that's going to take us. There are some attractive guys out there, and we're going to have to dot our i's and cross our t's on several of them."

A fair non-answer. No upside for Zduriencik to tip his hand this early in the process.

But has he gained a sense of what Ellsbury's market is going to be?

[+] EnlargeEllsbury sign
Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesDuring the Red Sox's duck boat parade after their World Series victory, one fan implored Jacoby Ellsbury to remain in Boston.
"On any free agent, it's hard to say," Zduriencik said. "It's just too early to tell until someone starts bidding or you start hearing things. Many times you really don't know. Even if you hear things, you don't know. But yeah, I mean it's too early to dictate that."

Based on recent precedent, it's pretty easy to predict that Ellsbury will approach, or exceed, an average salary of $20 million per year, and it's hard to see him accepting an offer of fewer than six years, which may be conservative. The length of contract may be the component that ultimately takes the Red Sox out of the equation; they went that route with Carl Crawford (7 years, $142 million), although in one sense it's profoundly unfair to compare the two. The Sox already know that Ellsbury can play in Boston.

A final question for Zduriencik on Ellsbury: Did the GM feel that Ellsbury's package of skills would play in his ballpark?

"I think his package of skills plays well in any yard," Zduriencik said. "He's a good player."

At this early stage, it remains difficult to discern potential landing spots for Ellsbury, though baseball sources categorically ruled out two big-market teams that had been floated as possibilities, the Dodgers and Tigers. The Giants just re-signed Hunter Pence to big bucks (five years, $90 million) and San Francisco GM Brian Sabean told reporters Tuesday it was doubtful the team would sign a free agent who would cost the club a top draft pick. The Cubs? Theo Epstein and top operatives Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod all have history with Ellsbury, but Chicago remains in rebuilding mode for at least another year or two, and it's hard to see the Cubs parting with the draft picks they hold so dear. Mets? By all accounts, they don't have the money.

If we know one thing about Ellsbury's agent, Scott Boras, it's his ability to create a market when none seems to exist, Prince Fielder representing one of Boras' more recent displays of his uncanny ability to reap a big-ticket payoff for one of his clients. The Mariners need more than one player to upgrade their offense, and their need for a right-handed bat is particularly acute, but it's hard to believe they will not take a hard, long look at Ellsbury.

A few other notes from Day 2 of the GM meetings:

• Mixed signals on how much interest the Sox have in free-agent catcher Brian McCann, one GM saying he heard that the Sox are not as interested as advertised. Still, there is an upside to Boston maintaining appearances, if for no other reason than to drive up the price on McCann for the Yankees, who are in the market for a catcher. McCann is the top catcher on the market and is expected to command a five-year deal in the $90-$100 million range.

One major league executive said that the Sox would be mistaken if they believe David Ross could split catching duties evenly in tandem with another catcher. He showed signs of wearing down in his last couple of years in Atlanta, the executive said, and he'll turn 37 next March. He should be considered strictly a backup at this stage.

Neither the Sox nor the player's agent would respond to queries regarding a FoxSports report that Boston may have made a two-year, $20 million offer to Carlos Ruiz, the free agent most recently with the Phillies. Sox GM Ben Cherington said that he didn't expect anything to get done this week, so it would seem the report is premature.

• Cherington said the club will be in the market for relief depth, specifically another arm capable of handling high-leverage situations. He said he expects most of the team's young arms -- Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Drake Britton et al -- to come to camp as starters in the early going, though some in that group could wind up competing for a relief role.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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