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Analysis: Indy isn’t M’s final indicator

Larry Stone Seattle Times

INDIANAPOLIS – Jack Zduriencik earned the trust of Seattle Mariners fans last year. Now they’ll have to give him their patience, too.

The Mariners arrived at the winter meetings Sunday universally touted as the team most likely to cause a stir.

They left Thursday with lines dangling, negotiations pending, possibilities percolating – but no new players, other than Chone Figgins. And the announcement of his signing Tuesday was a mere formality, because the heavy lifting was done before the Mariners contingent had left Seattle.

The easy analysis would be to say the Mariners were thwarted in Indy, and there is some truth to that. They would have loved to have landed Curtis Granderson and Rich Harden, but they got neither. As he wrapped things up Tuesday, Zduriencik was reduced to revisiting the Jack Wilson and Ken Griffey Jr. signings.

Yet the story of the Mariners’ offseason will not be written based on a four-day span in December, no matter how much focus is expended on it. Keep in mind that the Los Angeles Angels’ key free-agent pickup last year, Bobby Abreu, didn’t happen until Feb. 12. Ken Griffey Jr. didn’t sign with Seattle until six days later.

What matters ultimately, of course, is how the roster is configured on Opening Day, not mid-December. If the Mariners still land a front-line pitcher or a big bat – and both possibilities are very much alive – no one will mark them down for not doing it on’s timeline.

“There was a lot of groundwork laid,” Zduriencik said before he left for the airport. “I think there are possibilities. If we wanted to do something, we may be able to. I still think we’re weighing options and alternatives.”

Indications are that Zduriencik is still aiming large. There are rumblings of ongoing talks to acquire a frontline pitcher in a trade that would likely cost them top minor league prospects. There were rumblings of trade talks with San Diego involving slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who has long intrigued the Mariners. And there is still the ongoing possibility of free agent Jason Bay landing in Seattle, his preferred destination all along.

Keep in mind that the Mariners still have money to spend, players to deal, and needs to fill – just as they did when they arrived. That remains a formula for eventual action.

The Mariners weren’t the only ones to leave here with unfinished business. By and large, the winter meetings were a big, fat dud, with only one trade of note – the three-way deal that sent Granderson to the New York Yankees – and none of the big-name free agents landing a deal.

Though interest in the winter meetings has probably never been higher, MLB is going to have to figure out a way to engineer more actual results, or eventually the event will lose its sizzle.

Zduriencik returns home with plenty of time to maintain his image as master rehabilitator of the flagging franchise he inherited. Yet the genius tag can be ephemeral – just ask Billy Beane.

Zduriencik can clinch his savior status with a few more prudent moves to go along with Figgins, itself a master stroke. But the more avenues that get blocked, the bigger the temptation to move away from the blueprint that has served him so well thus far. Zduriencik knows the pitfalls. We’ll see how resolute he is in avoiding them.

Perhaps the Mariners’ biggest accomplishment here was continued progress in working out a new contract for Felix Hernandez. While the sides haven’t started heavy-duty negotiations yet, they are tackling the guidelines amid a constructive atmosphere that appears conducive to a successful conclusion. The fact that the Mariners are not exploring Hernandez trades, as some feared if talks didn’t progress well, is a hugely positive sign.

Now the M’s need to get some new players to put behind Hernandez on the field and next to him in the rotation.

Despite the sound and fury in Indianapolis that signified nothing, there’s still lots of time for that.

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