Mariners GM is upbeat but on the hunt

TACOMA, Wash. -- Trader Jack Zduriencik is on the hunt for a deal to improve the Mariners' offense.

"But it's not hunting season right now," Seattle's general manager said Monday, an off day for his slumping team that has lost seven of its last nine games.

The Mariners scored just three earned runs in 32 innings during a three-game sweep last weekend at home by Texas.

Zduriencik became an instant Seattle hero for bold moves such as last winter's big trade to acquire 2008 Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee from Philadelphia. He said during a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors of the Northwest that he's been on the phone a lot lately with fellow GMs. The calls have been in hopes of acquiring an additional bat for his 11-14 team that entered the season with expectations of its first postseason since 2001 -- but entered Monday next-to-last in the American League with 86 runs scored and last in the AL with just nine home runs.

The last homer came more than a week ago.

"I've made a tremendous amount of phone calls. I continue to make phone calls. I've made several phone calls in the last three or four days," Zduriencik said. "But it's like hunting season. It's not hunting season right now. Nobody's selling."

Before Seattle's latest meek output Sunday, manager Don Wakamatsu was asked if he was hoping for an addition from outside the organization.

"That's Jack's job," Wakamatsu said.

But he acknowledged changes are coming. His team lost 2-0 in 12 innings Friday to spoil Lee's scoreless Seattle debut that had been delayed by injury, then lost 3-1 in 11 innings Sunday to waste eight innings of three-hit ball from Doug Fister, the out-of-nowhere AL ERA leader at 1.29.

"The offense -- or lack of it -- leads to a lot of pressure late in the game. All of a sudden you are trying to cling and not let anybody score," Wakamatsu said.

Or as Zduriencik put it Monday: "Any mistake, any miscue here or there is going to be magnified. There's not a lot of margin for error on our ballclub."

Seattle's second-year GM says he has faith that slow starters such as offseason acquisitions Chone Figgins (.209) and Milton Bradley (.224), plus cleanup hitter Jose Lopez (.233, one home run), will soon begin returning to their much-higher career norms for production.

"To keep me sane, anyhow, that's what I have to keep telling myself," Zduriencik joked. "I'm still upbeat about the club."

His faith extends to Ken Griffey Jr. -- for now.

The 40-year-old Seattle icon is batting just .224 with one extra base hit and four RBIs in 18 games while in a platoon at designated hitter with 36-year-old Mike Sweeney, who is struggling even more. Griffey stands to lose some playing time when the Mariners welcome outfielder Ryan Langerhans from Triple-A Tacoma before Tuesday's home game against Tampa Bay. He's the replacement for veteran Eric Byrnes, the .094 hitter Seattle released Sunday night. Langerhans could play left field and move Bradley into more DH time.

When asked how long he will stick with Griffey, Zduriencik said: "You wait and see. You hope he gets on track. ... It's early. ... If he continues [to struggle] we will have to have some discussions with that."

The struggles on offense are no surprise to many Mariners fans -- or even to the GM.

"The one thing I did think we lacked was a big bat ... it's no secret," Zduriencik said.

He also reminded that this franchise lost 101 games just two seasons ago. The Mariners are still in the early stages of Zduriencik's complete overhaul of the organization. It started with the new way Seattle scouts and evaluates players using more statistical analysis and includes an increased emphasis on developing the minor league system to sustain success plus remodeling the big league team to one heavily based on pitching and defense instead of high-priced, free-agent power hitters.

"Maybe we are a little bit ahead of schedule," Zduriencik said in light of the heightened expectations. "And maybe we are paying a price for being a little bit ahead of schedule. You still have to keep in mind [the] long range."