Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik told FOXSports.com that he plans to retain stars Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki beyond the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Zduriencik added that he expects Ichiro, who turns 39 in October, to return next year. Ichiro is having his worst statistical season in the major leagues (.634 OPS) and is eligible for free agency after this year.
“He’s a big part of this team,” Zduriencik said of Ichiro. “He’s a franchise player here, and we have phenomenal respect for him.”
Ichiro’s position — right field — is a spot where the power-starved Mariners would benefit from adding a slugging outfielder, such as Arizona’s Justin Upton. But it doesn’t appear that will happen. Ichiro’s close relationship with titular owner Hiroshi Yamauchi is viewed as a major factor in his future with the club.
Hernandez, meanwhile, is under contract through 2014. Rival executives have wondered for years if Zduriencik might trade the ace right-hander in order to obtain multiple hitters to aid the Mariners’ offense. Hernandez’s most recent outing — a three-hit shutout of the division-leading Texas Rangers Saturday night — stirred interest anew. Hernandez entered Sunday with a 2.92 ERA and the major-league lead in strikeouts (140).
But he’s not available, Zduriencik insisted.
“He’s going to be a Mariner,” the GM said. “We intend to keep him. I’m telling you, he’s going to be a Mariner.”
If the Mariners trade a starter, it’s more likely they would move left-hander Jason Vargas, whom Zduriencik described as “Mr. Consistency.”
Zduriencik is expected to look for offense in return for Vargas. Justin Smoak, the key player the Mariners obtained from Texas for Cliff Lee two years ago, has underperformed expectations since joining the team. Smoak has the lowest OPS — .593 — among all qualifying first basemen in the major leagues.
Asked if he still believes Smoak is the franchise’s first baseman of the future, Zduriencik said, “I hope so. But any player has to go out and perform. He’s had good months. He’s had months that haven’t been as good. This is an important time for him right now. We’ll see.”