MLB: New Seattle GM gets to work

DANA POINT, Calif. – The first hours of Jack Zduriencik’s initial foray into the meetings of major league general managers today will be spent accepting congratulations on joining the small fraternity.

After that, the new Seattle Mariners GM and his staff will begin laying the groundwork for what figures to be one of the busier offseasons in recent years.

“I’m the new guy on the block, and teams probably want to find out which direction we’re going in,” Zduriencik said. “There will be inquiries, and I’m curious to hear that. It’s all preliminary.”

Aside from hours of business meetings on the schedule, Zduriencik will be meeting with other teams and listening – whether he asks for them or not – to suggestions on who should be the next Mariners manager.

“There will be friends who’ll want to help me with recommendations – I suspect that will happen,” he said.

While Zduriencik doesn’t intend to begin managerial interviews until next week, he has begun coming up with an initial list of candidates and will listen to suggestions at the GM meetings. That list won’t be a long one once he starts.

“I’ll interview five or six people, and hopefully make a decision,” Zduriencik said. “If I’m not happy with those first five or six interviews, I’ll talk to more people.”

For the past two days, Zduriencik and three members of his staff – Lee Pelekoudas, Jim Na and Tony Blegino – have huddled in a hotel suite, discussing the direction of the Mariners this winter and getting down to specifics.

So, what’s the plan?

“We’re building a team,” Zduriencik said. “The GM meetings give you the chance to lay the groundwork. Any time you get baseball organizations in the same building, you get conversations. It’s a stepping stone to whatever happens after that.

“A few guys have made direct inquiries for us, already. We’ll be doing a lot of talking to other teams.”

What often happens at GM meetings is teams ask about positions, not specific players.

One team, for instance, may ask another if it has left-handed starting pitching it’s willing to move, and talk in general terms about what it’s willing to give up in return. Occasionally, teams ask about specific players.

And usually, when the meetings end – in this case, Friday – all the GMs head home with a list of teams that seem to have matches. Serious trade talks begin later.

In Zduriencik’s case, that’s almost certain to be the case.

“I’ll be more comfortable a week from now – and a month from now. I’ll have to rely upon others on our staff,” Zduriencik said. “I’m not going to do anything without the opinion of those in this organization who know these players.”

With business meetings scheduled every morning and some afternoons, sitting down with other teams for in-depth conversations rarely happens. Instead, GMs talk to one another between meetings, or step over to the table where another GM may be dining and ask a few questions.

Informal, yes. A bit disorganized, certainly.

But the GM meetings were never intended by baseball to be swap meets – that comes next month at the baseball winter meeting in Las Vegas.

The only free agents a team can sign this week, for instance, are its own. That rarely happens, because free agents usually want to test the market by listening to more than one offer. Except for the originating team, no one else can talk contract specifics yet.

What figures to happen for the Mariners at the GM meetings will likely disappoint fans hungry for change.

Zduriencik doesn’t plan on interviewing managerial candidates this week, almost certainly won’t bring home one of his own free agents and likely won’t make a trade.

Instead, he’ll attend too-long meetings about proposed rule changes and business topics, then scramble to talk to 20 teams or so the Mariners have targeted as potential trade partners.

The good stuff – the moves that will shape the team for 2009 and beyond – will come later.