OAK@SEA: Montero's single gives Mariners a 4-0 lead

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While the Mariners are searching for right-handed hitters to balance out their lefty-heavy lineup, young Jesus Montero doesn't figure prominently in the plans for the upcoming season.

General manager Jack Zduriencik said Tuesday that the former catcher remains an interesting prospect, but the Mariners can't expect him to be the answer to any of their needs after a difficult 2013 season during which he was transitioned to first base in the Minor Leagues and then was hit with a 50-game suspension in the Biogenesis case.

"If he [makes the team], great," Zduriencik said. "Great for Jesus Montero, great for this organization. But at this time, if you are bringing him in here and counting on him, I think that's a little too risky at this point."

Montero hit .293 with one home run and 13 RBIs in 21 games in the Venezuelan Winter League, but he hasn't played since Nov. 10 after cutting his hand in a car accident. He'll come to Spring Training with a chance to show what he can do at first base and whether he's regained his hitting stroke after batting just .208 with three homers and nine RBIs in 29 games for Seattle before being sent down in 2013.

Zduriencik feels Biogenesis situation and looming suspension might have played into Montero's struggles after he'd hit .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs as a rookie in 2012.

"We all think Jesus is a very talented hitter," Zduriencik said. "We saw a lot of that the first year he was with us. Last year was very disappointing. The effect of what he was going through not only physically, but also the things that that were happening to him off the field may have had a huge effect on his performance mentally, which affected his performance on the field and then the injuries he had.

"You know he's a talented player, but he does have [Minor League] options, he's switching positions and I think at this moment in time you can't necessarily count on him. I'm not saying he won't come in and be ready to roll and all of the sudden you are looking at the Jesus Montero you thought you acquired, but I think you'd be foolish to say you are counting on this guy. He's been through too much the last year and he has too much to prove to all of us."

Lloyd McClendon said he hadn't yet spoken to Montero, who is still in Venezuela, but the new skipper is interested to see if the former top-prospect of the Yankees can regain his mojo.

"He's certainly a part of this organization and part of the future," McClendon said. "He struggled a little bit, but he's a tremendous talent. He came highly publicized and as of yet has not lived up to what he's capable of doing. But I see good things in this young man in the near future."

Zduriencik said he had a long conversation with Montero's agent on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings and his message of what happens next for the 22-year-old was clear.

"It's up to Jesus," he said. "This is a golden opportunity for him and it's laid right in front of him. How he handles, well, it's in his lap."

Franklin could move to shortstop

OAK@SEA: Franklin stops a grounder, throws for an out

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The impending arrival of All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano creates an obvious question regarding the future of Nick Franklin, who played 102 games at that position last year as a rookie for the Mariners.

Franklin was drafted in 2009 as a shortstop and played that position in his first few seasons in the Minors before transitioning to second base full time just in the last year. And Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said Tuesday he'll likely be given a chance to compete with fellow rookie Brad Miller for that job next spring, barring any trades in the interim.

"We could let him and Miller fight it out at Spring Training to see who comes away," Zduriencik said. "These young players have [Minor League] options. They don't necessarily have to be on your club. Or it may be looking at an alternative position for him.

"I think he could play second, short or third. There was a point in Nick's past when he played in the outfield. Whether that's an option or not yet is too early to say. Right now we're viewing him as an infielder."

With veteran Willie Bloomquist signed as a utility man who can play all the infield positions, whoever doesn't win the starting shortstop job between Miller and Franklin would likely start the year in Triple-A Tacoma.

Presumably more assured of a job is former second baseman Dustin Ackley, who transitioned to the outfield last year and joins Michael Saunders and September callup Abraham Almonte as the only returning outfielders on the roster.

Zduriencik said Ackley can be viewed now as a full-time outfielder, though he "still has some things to prove" after a horrible start to his 2013 season led to a .253 batting average.

"He played a nice outfield for us," Zduriencik said. "The guy can run. He doesn't have a great throwing arm. But if this guy becomes the hitter we think he will be when we drafted him, then we'll all be happy with that."

Mariners ponder re-signing oft-injured Gutierrez

OAK@SEA: Gutierrez's solo shot puts Mariners on board

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Their search for right-handed-hitting outfielders could bring the Mariners back to a familiar figure, as general manager Jack Zduriencik acknowledged Tuesday that the club is talking to free agent Franklin Gutierrez.

The Mariners declined a $7 million club option last month on a contract that would have kept Gutierrez with the team this season, but are willing now to talk about a smaller one-year deal with the oft-injured center fielder.

Gutierrez, 31, played just 173 of the team's 486 games over the past three seasons due to a variety of injuries and illnesses, many of which he's since attributed to an inflammatory condition called ankylosing spondylitis.

The 2009 American League Gold Glove winner believes he finally began dealing with that condition with medication after being diagnosed in midseason last year, but an attempt to play winter ball in Venezuela recently was canceled when he became sick again.

The Mariners obviously couldn't count on Gutierrez, but could bring him back on a low-risk salary and see how he performed.

Zduriencik continues pushing for a right-handed impact bat and the club has met several times with the agents for Nelson Cruz, one of the premier remaining free-agent outfielders. But the Rangers are interested in having Cruz return, and he's believed to have other pursuers as well.

Zduriencik told 710 ESPN Seattle on Tuesday that reports of Cruz turning down a five-year, $75 million offer from the Mariners were inaccurate.

Another oft-mentioned target for Seattle in the Winter Meetings rumor mill is outfielder Matt Kemp, who has six years and $128 million remaining on his contract with the Dodgers. Kemp was one of baseball's top center fielders when healthy, but played just 73 games last year and is still in a walking boot as he continues recovering from a broken ankle, one of the three injuries that led to time on the disabled list.