Mariners GM Zduriencik dodges Fielder questions

Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik carefully danced around the question of how fervently the team will pursue free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder, whom he drafted while with the Milwaukee Brewers organization

Free-agent fits profile of lefty slugger team has lacked in the past

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik says personal relationships with players, including free agents, are important but probably become secondary. (Kevin P. Casey/Associated Press)

Jack Zduriencik knew the questions would be coming about his long relationship with slugger Prince Fielder and the synergy of Fielder being a free agent and the Seattle Mariners needing an influx of power.

But Zduriencik wouldn't bite on Tuesday, carefully dancing around the question of how fervently the Mariners will pursue the first baseman who Zduriencik drafted while with the Brewers organization.

"I don't think it's in our best interest to do that," Zduriencik said on a conference call Tuesday. "I apologize. I wish I could tell you a little more, but I don't think it's fair for us."

Zduriencik spoke ahead of baseball's winter meetings, which start Monday in Dallas. Zduriencik said his priorities remain adding a bat to the lineup, getting a left-hander for the bullpen and trying to find a veteran starter for a young rotation that includes ace Felix Hernandez and promising right-hander Michael Pineda.

But when the topic turned to Fielder, Zduriencik picked his words carefully, saying he did not want to talk specifics. He added that in a situation like Fielder's, where he is one of the top free agents available and a player Zduriencik has known since he was a teenager, relationships are important but probably become secondary.

"A lot of times these come down to what the player and agent views as the best opportunity for them and they have to gauge that on many fronts," Zduriencik said. "I've known Prince since he was a young kid in high school, but in the end, Prince or any other player has to do what's best for their best interest."

Among the many issues for Zduriencik's young team, Seattle's offence had a serious lack of power in 2011. The Mariners hit just .233 as a team and finished last in the American League in batting average, runs, hits, total bases, RBIs, slugging and on-base percentage.

Only three Seattle hitters reached double figures in home runs — none had more than Miguel Olivo's 19 — and the Mariners hit 109 for the season. Fielder wouldn't solve all of Seattle's offensive woes, but he fits the profile of the left-handed slugger the team has lacked in the past.

"There are a few options out there that would fill some needs that we have. But on any of these things you're going to have to figure out where it ends up at. Often times the years of the contract are factors, the dollars tied in are factors and where you currently stand is a factor as well," Zduriencik said. "

There is a point with any player that you can go down a road a certain distance and find out it's not exactly as far as you want to go. I think a lot of that ends up in the air. I think we will explore several options, even via trade if possible."

Zduriencik said the team doesn't have an offer out to any free agents right now. Seattle did complete a trade last weekend, sending right-handed reliever Josh Lueke to Tampa Bay for backup catcher John Jaso. He added that getting an experienced starting pitcher to complement Hernandez, Pineda and a handful of other options may need to come via trade.

"We have a couple of very nice pieces," Zduriencik said. "It would be good to add a veteran guy to this. How we get there, I don't know."