Report: Mariners, Nelson Cruz agree to four-year pact

The Seattle Mariners have money, and they intend to spend it.

On Monday morning, multiple sources — including ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick — reported that the Mariners have agreed to a four-year, $57 million deal with DH/OF Nelson Cruz. After reportedly backing out of a deal last season with Cruz, the M’s went back to the well and have got the right-handed hitting power bat they feel they need to sit behind Robinson Cano in the lineup.

If this deal does indeed go down — reports say it is pending a physical, and the Baltimore Orioles do not intend to match — it will cost the Mariners their first round selection in the 2015 MLB draft, as Cruz was given a qualifying offer. While you don’t ever want to lose draft picks, we’re talking about a late-in-the-round selection, which contains many more uncertainties in a draft full of uncertainties. Scouting director Tom McNamara has proven he can find value in the second and third rounds — and beyond. This aspect of the deal absolutely should not make you hate it.

Let’s spend very little time on the analysis that you all are fully aware of. Yes, he can hit dingers a country mile. No, he not fun to watch in the outfield. Yes, he the back end of this deal could look like an albatross.

But here are the facts that cannot be ignored:

  • Nelson Cruz makes this team better, right now.
  • Felix Hernandez is not getting younger.
  • Neither is Robinson Cano.
  • Kyle Seager no longer has to be “the guy,” or “the other guy.”

In four years, well, who knows what this team will look like in four years. Teams that want to take the step to the next level sometimes need to bite the bullet and risk having something bad later to know they’ll have something good now.

This free agent market had very little to pick from. Unless you were cool with the M’s giving away all of their top prospects, this was the only route to getting right handed sock the team absolutely needed, while increasing their leverage in trade talks to seek more.

Now, when Jack Zduriencik calls John Hart, or Farhan Zaidi, the conversation is completely different. If the Atlanta Braves are hell bent on moving Justin Upton, or if the Dodgers feel they have to dish Matt Kemp, they no longer get to ask for the moon from the Mariners. Yes, they will still seek a good package — even one that stings a bit, lead by Taijuan Walker — but not one that will leave several question marks at the top of the club’s minor league system.

For me, the club now has much more leverage in acquiring a second bat via trade. They also now can focus on the free-agent pitching market, while teams that missed out on Cruz focus on hitters. The Mariners can — and should — hop on the likes of Brandon McCarthy to build their starting rotation depth as they move to talks that could cost them a Walker or James Paxton.

Francisco Liriano could be in play, too, but that would cost the club their second round selection as he was also offered a qualifying offer. I wouldn’t be horribly shocked to see the M’s go all in and do that, but I have to think a front office full of scout types would be a bit gun shy to do so.

I’d look for the club to still be in on Torii Hunter, seek a free-agent starting pitcher and make one big trade for another impact bat. If that happens, stop stressing the money. We know they have it to burn, and this team will be much better for it.

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Jason A. Churchill

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