Garko agrees to incentive-laden deal

SEATTLE -- Ryan Garko is excited to be back in the American League and ready to put his catcher's mitt to use.

Garko and the Mariners agreed to a $550,000, one-year contract Monday as Seattle tried to address its need for a right-handed hitter.

Terms of the contract obtained by The Associated Press show the 29-year-old first baseman and designated hitter could nearly double his salary, to $1,075,000, if he becomes a regular for Seattle with 600 plate appearances.

Garko was traded from Cleveland to San Francisco in July, and he had just 12 RBIs in 40 games with the Giants.

"I wanted to go back to the American League. I feel I'm a better fit over there," Garko said in a conference call from his home in Phoenix. "I have my book [on opposing AL pitchers]. I have my film. It's nice to go back, get back to being more comfortable."

Garko also could be returning to a position he once knew well. He is a former All-American at Stanford and 2003 Johnny Bench Award winner as the best college catcher, but has yet to play the position in the major leagues.

"We think he is a player that adds versatility as a right-handed hitter with experience playing first base, designated hitter and catcher," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said.

Before the deal, Seattle had just one catcher coming into spring training with more than two years of major league experience -- Josh Bard, a non-roster player invited to camp. Garko last caught at Triple-A Buffalo for one game in 2006, and never for more than 59 games in any one minor league season.

If Garko can get acclimated behind the plate, it would give manager Don Wakamatsu, a former major league catcher, more flexibility late in games.

"It's there," Garko said of the possibility of catching for the Mariners. "Jack and I talked about it, just in terms of giving Wak the opportunity to make moves in games. ... It gives us more versatility."

Seattle added another veteran right-handed bat for one year last Friday, getting Eric Byrnes for the major league minimum of $400,000.

Garko would earn up to an additional $25,000 each for 325, 350 and 375 plate appearances this season. He would get $50,000 apiece for 425, 450 and 475 plate appearances, and $100,000 each for 500, 550 and 600 plate appearances.

His career high in plate appearances is 563 with the Indians in 2008, when he hit .273 with 14 homers and a career-best 90 RBIs.

Seattle designated right-hander Gaby Hernandez for assignment to make room on the major league roster for Garko. Hernandez spent last season at Triple-A.