For weeks, general manager Jack Zduriencik has been on the telephone and – at the GM meetings earlier this month – in one-on-one conversations about trading Jose Lopez.
For the second off-season in a row, there has been little interest.
If no one pursued the just-turned-27-year-old last winter, after he’d hit 25 home runs, the lack of offers after 2010 is hardly stunning. Below average at second base, adequate at third and passable at first base, Lopez has no position at which he excels. And last year he batted .239 with a .270 on-base percentage – among the lowest in baseball among regulars.
Lopez has no contact for 2011. He remains under team control until Thursday, when the Mariners must tender him a contract or release him to free agency.
It’s been widely assumed that Zduriencik would either trade Lopez or non-tender him, although he’s certainly never said that. The team declined the option for Lopez and his ’11 contract of $4.5 million, and offering him arbitration makes little sense – he might make as much or more in arbitration.
Can the team still move him? There have been rumors that Colorado had interest, that Toronto might, but neither has made an offer, according to reports from both teams. It’s possible Zduriencik might still get a minor leaguer for Lopez, but unlikely.
A shortstop when he first came up with Seattle in 2004, Lopez has now played everywhere in the infield without complaint. In his first full season (’06), he batted .282, spraying the ball to all fields. In the last three years, however, he became the kind of hitter Safeco Field hurts most – a right-handed pull hitter with good but not great power.
Throughout his career, Lopez hit .280 on the road and .251 at Safeco Field. It was easy to see why. Each of his 25 home runs in 2009, and all 10 last season, was hit to left field. Most were hit down the line. Long fly balls to left field – and ground balls to shortstop when he tried to pull outside pitches – became a Lopez trademark out.
The Mariners could bring Lopez back and hope new hitting coach Chris Chambliss might change his worst habits. Other hitting coaches have tried.
What do the Mariners do on Thursday? It seems likely they’ll let Lopez go. He was brought up during the Bill Bavasi era, and though Jose works hard and is a fine teammate by all accounts, all that really matters in the end is how you perform on the field.
Mariners fans who have seen those long fly balls caught and watched Lopez chase pitches out of the strike zone would welcome a change, and Lopez might flourish elsewhere. It seems clear his future is with another team, and if Zduriencik can’t make a deal by Thursday, Jose Lopez probably won’t be tendered a contract.