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Originally published Friday, January 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Mariners sign Mike Sweeney, show interest in Bobby Abreu

Sweeney is signed to a minor-league deal, and will have a chance to compete for playing time at first base and designated hitter. The Mariners would like to sign Abreu, but might not be able to afford him.

Seattle Times staff reporter

An enthusiastic Mike Sweeney hopes to contribute offense and leadership to the Mariners after signing a minor-league contract with the club on Thursday.

But Sweeney, a five-time All-Star with a recent history of injury problems, still has to prove in spring training that he can help the Mariners at designated hitter and first base after being released by Oakland last September.

"I have that mental passion and fire burning in my heart to come to camp and hopefully have an impact on the team, whether it's for six weeks of spring training or the whole '09 season," he said.

However, there's no guarantee, or even expectation, that the 35-year-old Sweeney, who once drove in 144 runs in a season for Kansas City, will be the impact bat that the Mariners still seek.

That makes recent speculation about the Mariners' interest in free-agent outfielder Bobby Abreu more pertinent.

Abreu's agent, Peter Greenberg, confirmed Thursday that he has had ongoing contact with Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and assistant GM Lee Pelekoudas.

Greenberg said the M's have imparted to him that they have considerable interest in Abreu but can't afford him — even as his price tag dwindles in a stagnant market — unless they shed salary.

The most recent contact came Thursday, when Zduriencik called about new acquisition Ronny Cedeno, also a Greenberg client, as are Mariners' Endy Chavez and Cesar Jimenez. During the conversation, Zduriencik asked about Abreu's status, Greenberg said.

"They've been telling us they don't have the money now, but they're trying to make room for a guy like Bobby," Greenberg said. "Both Jack and Lee have told me that Bobby is a perfect fit. He fits the Mariners like a glove."

Abreu, who will be 35 next March, is a career .300 hitter in 13 seasons, with a lifetime on-base percentage of .405 and slugging percentage of .498. He hits left-handed, has driven in 100 or more runs in six consecutive seasons (joining only Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez) and has hit at least 20 homers in eight of the past 10 seasons.

A story in The New York Daily News in early October speculated that Abreu would be seeking at least a three-year contract for what FOX's Ken Rosenthal speculated recently was $16 million per season.

But with nearly 100 free agents frozen out in an increasingly grim marketplace, Greenberg admits that Abreu has had to drastically alter his expectations.

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"No question about that," Greenberg said. "Whether it's the economy or other factors, like an abundance of outfielders, it's a difficult year. There's no question Bobby will end up signing for a very different contract than we envisioned last September and October when the season was winding down."

In fact, Greenberg said, Abreu is now open to signing a one-year deal. It could conceivably wind up being for half of what he was initially seeking annually.

Abreu is coming off a six-year, $76-million deal he signed with the Phillies in 2002 that included a $16 million option for 2008 that was picked up by the Yankees. He's a Type A free agent, but because the Yankees didn't offer him arbitration, any club signing him would not have to give up a top draft pick as compensation.

"He might take a one-year deal so that he can — in his words — win the MVP and go out on the market again," Greenberg said. "He's definitely motivated. Not that he's not usually, but he has extra motivation."

It would be tricky for the Mariners to clear salary space for Abreu, likely requiring them to trade one of their pricey veteran pitchers like Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista or Carlos Silva. Few, if any, teams are eager to take on those salaries, it appears.

The Mariners had a chance to rid themselves of Washburn's $10.35 million salary for 2009 last August when the Twins claimed him on waivers, but team president Chuck Armstrong nixed a trade because he didn't feel the club was getting back enough in talent.

Greenberg said Abreu is open to the idea of playing for the Mariners.

"Right from the start, he told me he had no limitations [on a prospective team]," he said. "He'll go wherever there's a fit and a fair deal. If the Mariners made the right offer, Bobby would have no problem at all going to Seattle."

But Greenberg said that time is slipping away as spring training nears. Another potential option for the Mariners remains Ken Griffey Jr., also a free agent.

"Bobby would like to get this resolved soon," he said. "He's been very patient, but his patience is wearing thin. There's a couple of clubs willing to move, and a couple others, like Seattle, that have to make a move first. We have to decide whether to continue to wait, or cash in our chips."

Sweeney, meanwhile, acknowledged that if he doesn't make the Mariners out of spring training, "I'll probably sail off into the sunset to San Diego with my wife and kids and look to the next chapter of my life."

The release by Oakland came after Sweeney had surgery on both knees last year and landed on the disabled list most of the season. In 42 games, he hit .286 with two homers and 12 runs batted in.

"I feel great," he said. "Even though there's some red flags on my résumé with some of the health concerns, I'm hoping when I get to camp some of those will be squashed."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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Latest comments
I wonder if some of you aren't missing the picture here. Mike Sweeney wasn't signed to be your power hitter, he wasn't signed to be...  Posted on January 29, 2009 at 1:48 PM by Johnny Q Public. Jump to comment
About Abeu... I think several people are overreacting. If we sign Abrey to a 1 year deal for like 10 mill and he performs very well which the...  Posted on January 30, 2009 at 10:51 AM by MrMalibog. Jump to comment
I hope Sweeney makes the club out of ST. Not only could he provide some power on a projected light hitting team, he's a very good clubhouse...  Posted on January 29, 2009 at 11:47 AM by ddraig. Jump to comment


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