Two weeks ago, Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik downplayed the possibility of the Mariners signing free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, telling MLB.com, “You have to be realistic about how you’re going to allocate your dollars.”
The Mariners still might exercise such restraint with Hamilton, but they’re at least exploring the possibility of signing him.
Hamilton, 31, is attending the winter meetings, and Mariners officials met with him on Sunday, according to major league sources.
Other unidentified clubs also are believed to have met with Hamilton, but his previous team, the Texas Rangers, currently is working the hardest to sign him, sources say.
The Milwaukee Brewers are on the periphery of the Hamilton sweepstakes, according to those same sources. Johnny Narron, the Brewers’ hitting coach, previously was Hamilton’s accountability partner and an assistant hitting coach with the Rangers.
Zduriencik declined comment Monday night when asked about the Mariners’ meeting with Hamilton.
Hamilton, a Christian, has said in the past that God will help him make his free-agent decision, an indication that he might not go to the highest bidder or best team.
The Mariners, who have finished last in the American League West in each of the past three seasons, certainly would not qualify as the best team.
Outside of right-hander Felix Hernandez, a former Cy Young winner, the M’s feature a number of promising young pitchers and hitters. But their offense in recent years has been among the game’s worst.
The Mariners — who lost in their bid for free-agent catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli to the Boston Red Sox — would need to add other hitters to offer Hamilton protection in their lineup.
The first question, though, is whether the Mariners are willing to give Hamilton the contract he desires. An early, unconfirmed report said he wants $175 million for seven years. Most teams would prefer a shorter deal; Hamilton is a recovering drug addict with a history of injuries.
His offensive performance, however, is elite. Hamilton batted .285 last season with a career-high 43 homers and 128 RBI. He is a lifetime .304 hitter with a .913 on-base/slugging percentage.
“Some of these things drag out and if you’re sitting there waiting on one chip, other chips in front of you might go away and you end up with nothing,” Zduriencik told MLB.com in mid-November.
“There are a lot of great things to like about several of these guys on the market, and we’re doing our homework. But when you hear what players expect and the years involved, that’s a lot to consider.
“At the end of the day, when you gauge the market, you have to be realistic about where it will end up. And there’s a strong possibility that one will exceed where we’re at.”
But there is also the possibility that Hamilton simply would decide that he wanted to be in Seattle, enabling the two sides to reach an agreement.
Hamilton’s wife, Katie, told Sports Illustrated in June that the family planned to donate a significant portion of Josh’s next contract to charities.
Pro Athletes Outreach, a Christian organization that ministers to athletes, coaches and their families, is based in Issaquah, Wash., a suburb of Seattle.
“No, we don’t really care about the money so much for us, but we have huge plans for this money and, no, it’s not strictly for our bank account,” Katie Hamilton told SI. “It is for a hurting world.
“The other thing (people) keep saying is, ‘Josh needs Texas; he needs the comfort of this team.’ Uh, we need Jesus. We need God. He goes with us wherever we are. Yes, we’re comfortable in Texas. But maybe God hasn’t called us to comfort. I mean, he didn’t call Jesus to comfort.”