A free-agent target of the Mariners, pitcher Rich Harden agreed to a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers instead.

Share story

INDIANAPOLIS — For much of the past week, the idea of free-agent pitcher Rich Harden signing with the Mariners seemed more of a probability than possibility.

The Mariners had targeted the injury-prone, high-upside starter with zeal and appeared to be getting closer to their goal as the winter meetings wound through their third day. But Wednesday afternoon, the Mariners received the equivalent of a gut punch when Harden agreed to terms on a one-year deal that guarantees him a reported $7.5 million with the division rival Texas Rangers.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik still has ample time to move on to the next target as he seeks to shore up his rotation and batting order ahead of the 2010 season.

But with Harden now out of the picture, there is a good chance the Mariners, touted before these meetings as the team to watch, could very well leave here empty-handed.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

“Players and clubs are going to market and feel about players differently,” Zduriencik said. “And some clubs will pay a player certain dollars and other clubs won’t. It’s the world you live in.”

Zduriencik was speaking in general terms and did not even officially confirm he’d offered Harden a deal. But sources had indicated the Mariners were hesitant about accelerator clauses Harden’s camp had asked for, leading to his selection of the Rangers.

A report Wednesday night indicated Harden would be guaranteed $6.5 million in 2010, with clauses that could pay him an additional $3.5 million based on innings pitched. The deal also has a mutual option for 2011, with Harden receiving $1 million if the Rangers decline to exercise it.

Zduriencik will now have to look elsewhere for mound help, with free agent John Lackey headlining the top end of the market. Former Brewers starter Ben Sheets, slowed by injuries in recent years, is another pitcher the Mariners are thought to have interest in.

“I think as signings happen, and whatever they are, whether they’re position players or pitchers, it takes players off the market,” Zduriencik said. “In a lot of ways, not only for me but for other clubs, it narrows your focus.”

The lack of a Harden signing was somewhat disappointing for many fans of a Mariners team that had already seen outfielder Curtis Granderson and starting pitcher Edwin Jackson traded as part of a swap between the Tigers, Yankees and Diamondbacks that was completed Wednesday. The Mariners had made a push for both players and were believed to still be in on them once the meetings here began.

Seattle also appears on the verge of losing out to the Boston Red Sox in a bid to re-sign third baseman Adrian Beltre. Reports indicated that the Red Sox had traded third baseman Mike Lowell to Texas — agreeing to pick up most of his $12 million salary for 2010 — in exchange for catcher Max Ramirez.

That frees up third base for the Red Sox to sign Beltre, a move that appears imminent since Boston has moved the popular veteran, Lowell.

Beltre’s agent, Scott Boras, had said at the meetings Wednesday that up to a half-dozen teams were vying for his client’s services.

“I think in infield play that there are certain third basemen that certain clubs want to move or transfer from another position and that creates opportunities for Adrian,” Boras said.

The Mariners technically did get a signing done here, announcing their four-year, $36 million deal with infielder Chone Figgins. But that pact was more or less completed days before the meetings opened.

Seattle also announced on Wednesday night that it had signed outfielder Corey Patterson, a former No. 3 overall draft pick by the Cubs in 1999, to a minor-league deal. And the market for free-agent outfielder Jason Bay appears to have narrowed in Seattle’s favor with Angels manager Mike Scioscia saying the B.C. native was a low priority for his club and possibly not a fit.

It’s worth remembering that, as hyped as these meetings have become, Zduriencik faced no real deadlines to complete deals here. Zduriencik said he has things in the works and that something could get done before he leaves here after today’s Rule 5 draft.

Boras had said earlier that he didn’t believe the Mariners were acting any more eagerly to land Beltre so that the newly acquired Figgins will know whether he is playing third base or second base next year. The agent suggested that Figgins’ ability to play third, second or the outfield meant Zduriencik had the luxury of time on his side.

“I think the best thing for Jack is that he knows he’s got three places he can play him,” Boras said.

But time may have run out on the Mariners to keep Beltre. And it appears Zduriencik will need plenty more time if he’s to build off a winter meetings on the verge of ending for Seattle with far less fanfare than they began.


Sen. Patty Murray says Metro bus service to Mariners baseball games will be restored in a transportation bill making its way toward President Obama’s desk.

Public bus service to games at Safeco Field was stopped last spring after a federal ruling that prohibited taxpayer money from being spent for public transit to private events.

The rule established during the Bush Administration said public transit can’t provide bus service to games if private charter operations are able to do so.

AP contributed to this report. Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.