Ryan started at shortstop for St. Louis last year, but has played second base in the past.

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A clouded Mariners infield situation came a little more into focus Sunday when the team traded for a player who could be their opening-day second baseman.

The Mariners acquired infielder Brendan Ryan from the St. Louis Cardinals for minor-league pitching prospect Maikel Cleto in a move that brings in a player who was a starting shortstop last season at times and also has extensive experience at second. Seattle is not expected to bring up top second base prospect Dustin Ackley until midseason to give him more time to develop and service time issues, so Ryan could indeed be the placeholder in that scenario.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Ryan, 28, would compete for a starting infield job, but wasn’t prepared to go further.

“What I’ve said to Brendan and what I’ve said to (manager) Eric (Wedge) is, what I’d like to do is create opportunities,” Zduriencik said. “Create competition. And at the end of the day, let the pieces fall where they may.”

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Cleto, 21, compiled a 6.16 earned-run average as mostly a starter for Class A High Desert last season. He was one of the prospects acquired in the J.J. Putz trade two years ago and has the flame-throwing stuff to be a potential big-leaguer, but Zduriencik said acquiring a “premium” infielder like Ryan was worth the cost.

The Mariners already have starting shortstop Jack Wilson under contract for one more season at $5 million. Ryan is first-year arbitration eligible after earning $425,000 last season and could slide into the everyday shortstop role if Wilson gets hurt or leaves after 2011, as expected.

Seattle also has Josh Wilson under contract for 2011. But while he’ll compete for a starting job, the team likely sees him as more of a full-time backup at multiple positions.

Ryan was bothered by a wrist issue early last season and his numbers took a tumble. When healthy, he posted a .292 batting average and .340 on-base percentage in 2009 while playing solid defense.

Zduriencik said he’ll let the situation play itself out as spring training progresses. He wasn’t prepared to say yet what will happen with incumbent second baseman Chone Figgins, who is expected to move back to his more familiar spot at third base.

“We have not talked to Chone yet,” Zduriencik said. “I just spoke this morning with Eric (Wedge). So, as we move forward, we’ve got a lot of time before spring training, but we would like to have discussions with our players sometime … I’d say in the next week to 10 days. Just to sort of give them the lay of the land and where things stand. Give them our opinions, hear their opinions and then some decisions could be made.”

Ryan played college ball at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, and has some familiarity with the Pacific Northwest. He’d been bothered since high school by the wrist problem and underwent surgery two weeks before spring training when the pain got unbearable.

He made it back to camp by late March, but had trouble adjusting after that and saw his batting average fall from .292 in 2009 to .223 in 2010.

“I don’t want to make excuses or anything, but it definitely didn’t help,” Ryan said.

Doctors found “something bulging in there that was creating all the discomfort” and shaved it down during surgery.

“They shaved it down and the wrist feels wonderful now,” he said. “But it definitely didn’t help having surgery two weeks before spring training and trying to make up for lost time.”

The Mariners hope that, with healing time now behind him, Ryan can prove the type of undervalued asset that helps their infield for years to come.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

Brendan Ryan’s MLB career
Team G AB Runs Hits 2B 3B HR RBI SB Avg.
2007 St. Louis 67 180 30 52 9 0 4 12 7 .289
2008 St. Louis 80 197 30 48 9 0 0 10 7 .244
2009 St. Louis 129 390 55 114 19 7 3 37 14 .292
2010 St. Louis 139 439 50 98 19 3 2 36 11 .223
Total 415 1206 165 312 56 10 9 95 39 .259
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