Nelson Cruz reportedly has agreed to a four-year contract with the Seattle Mariners. The 34-year-old slugger — remember that term — led the big leagues in home runs with 40 and posted a .271/.333/.525 triple-slash for the year, greatly assisting the Baltimore Orioles to 96 wins and a division title.

The deal is worth $58 million in total, according to multiple reports. If Cruz were to come close to repeating his 2014 performance he’ll easily be worth every penny. The risk in the contract is that Cruz regresses back to his career norms — .256/.317/.471 — and declines from there as he ages over the life of the pact.

The financial portion of adding Cruz is just one factor, however, and it’s one of which the club has 100 percent control. The contract only gets in the way if they allow its presence to prevent them from adding talent to pick up any slack left by Cruz, likely on the back side of his tenure in Seattle.

Fit
While Cruz is far from a perfect fit for the Mariners’ cleanup spot, he does represent a greatly-significant upgrade to the middle of the batting order. As a right-handed hitter he does balance the lineup some and has batted No. 4 and succeeded in that role.

The key to his value is usage; Cruz is a well below-average defender in the outfield, strongly suggesting he should be the regular designated hitter. If he’s used only sparingly in the outfield, Cruz’s bat can carry his value into the 2.5-3.5 WAR range for years one and two with a reasonable floor of about 1.5 in worst-case scenarios.

Cruz’s residual value may be worth just as much as he is directly, though. With Robinson Cano certain yo man the No. 3 spot in the order, Kyle Seager no longer has to carry the torch behind the star second baseman, stretching the lineup into legitimacy.

Cruz Was Cheap
Cruz comes to Seattle on the cheap. Not in terms of dollars relative to other like hitters in their mid-30s, but because the cost to the Mariners is money and money only. The price on the trade market for equal or better options is sky high right now and may only get bigger as the market dries up over the next several weeks.

Whether it’s $58 million or $158 million, the Mariners have more money. They have more available to them now, and they’ll continue to generate ridiculous levels of revenues through various sources every single day.

What isn’t easily replaced is talent. If the club were forced to not only part with valuable young talent to acquire one of the major pieces they need this offseason but perhaps both, their window of opportunity for contention likely shortens. The fewer Taijuan Walkers, Chris Taylors and Ketel Martes remain in the organization, the fewer the resources to supplement the roster in the present and the future, either directly or as trade assets.

Yes, the club will forfeit its first-round pick, No. 19 overall, which isn’t nothing. But clubs with a plan to contend immediately can’t think too much about five years from now. The M’s have done that enough since 2009 and have done well enough to take a hit in that department for the first time since 2010. Besides, scouting director Tom McNamara and his scouting staff have done well enough after the first round or two for the class of ’15 to turn out just fine.

Flexibility, Leverage Created?
Having added Cruz, a right-handed bat who serves as a significant improvement at DH and cleanup hitter, not only failed to cost talent but perhaps his presence allows the club to expand their search criterion.

It’s been all about finding right-handed production for the better part of two calendar years. In a perfect scenario, the club can find a corner outfielder that bats right-handed, too. But the important thing simply is to find a corner outfielder, regardless of handedness. The stress on adding right-handed bats is lessened, even if just by a little bit.

Cruz Conclusion
It’s difficult to love a transaction that includes a four-year commitment to Cruz because he’s not all that good. Safeco Field will suppress his production some, but he should have no problem remaining productive at the plate for the first few years.

It’s worth noting that his career numbers at Safeco are useless. The ballpark has changed its dimensions and most of Cruz’s plate appearances in Seattle took place prior to such alterations so we don’t know with much certainty to what level the park impacts Cruz. Hitters generally become smarter and better at adapting to their enviornment as they age. Judging Cruz at all on his 204 plate appearances at Safeco Field is far from wise, despite the acknowledgement that the ballpark still does have a negative impact, particularly on right-handed fly ball hitters.

Cruz adds about 2-2.5 wins to the M’s roster in each of the first few years and probably 2.5-3 combined over the final two. That in and of itself isn’t worth the $58 million. But the lower range of 2.0 WAR represents a four-win improvement over what the team had at designated hitter a year ago. Yes, it’s reasonable to expect a team to find an average-ish, two-win option at DH with less financial commitment, but nothing the Mariners did in acquiring Cruz likely will get in the way of future necessities.

It’s ‘too much’ to give a one-dimensional player, but doesn’t have to be, and isn’t likely to be, any kind of future albatross. The team remains flush with cash and their revenues only will grow as the team succeeds on the field. In other words, fans shouldn’t concern themselves one bit about Cruz’s salary, nor the team’s payroll. They’ve added a player that makes them better than they are without him, however marginal the upgrade may be over a ‘replacement level’ option.

Buzz & Other Notes
While the M’s continue to be linked to veterans Torii Hunter, Alex Rios and Marlon Byrd, as well as Evan Gattis, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, none of the above may end up the best fit. If GM Jack Zduriencik cannot find a judicious trade to acquire more of an everyday player to man right field and provide more middle-of-the-order production, the club should call an audible and seek out a table setter, instead, a topic Alex Carson and I covered in the latest episode of The Hot Stove Report. As it stands, Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley project to bat ahead of the Cano-Cruz-Seager trio in the middle. The pair posted on-base percentages of .308 and .293 in 2014, not exactly inspiring confidence the $448 million that follow them will have enough opportunities to produce runs. One can argue it’s more important at this point to improve the top of the lineup than to spend significant resources to add another bat to the middle.

Some low-key, platoon-type possibilities for the top of the order include Chris Coghlan and even Scott Van Slyke. More everyday types could include Dexter Fowler. Carl Crawford could become a possibility for Seattle if the Los Angeles Dodgers are unable to satisfy their preference to clear a logjam in the outfield by moving Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp. Crawford is due $62.25 million over the next three years, so Crawford would need to come with cash. It’s a super long shot, but not implausible.

Fowler and Ben Zobrist may be the best players possible available that could provide some on-base production. The prices are going to be rather high, but since the M’s have acquired piece No. 1 without sacrificing trade bait, they’re still flush with options.

While many expect the M’s to be active in the starting pitching market at some stage of the offseason, don’t sleep on them as possible suitors for catchers. They were in on Russell Martin to some extent and could show interest in free agent Nick Hundley or trade possibilities in Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera. If the Rays are willing to discuss Ryan Hannigan, he, too, could be on the Mariners’ radar. Dioner Navarro isn’t likely near the top of anyone’s list, but with Martin having signed in Toronto the veteran switch-hitter may be available. Hannigan is due $7.2 million over the next two seasons with a club option for another $3.75 million. Navarro is owed $5 million in 2015.

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016. Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.

66 Comments

  1. Now that there has been a hole created by trading Saunders, we probably need to find two more outfielders and one who can truly hit. No more settling for stationary, conditioning averse, one dimensional sluggers like Jonny Gomes or…….wait, what?

  2. On Happ’s upside: For as piss-poor as Jack and his staff have been at identifying break-out hitters via trade––Casper Wells, Eric Thames, Chris Denorfia, Milton Bradley––they have a fairly good track record with the likes of finding pitchers. JackZ stated that his scouts really liked what they saw late last season with Happ. I do hope they’re right…

    …and that we bring in one more key bat. (Funny how I’m more worried about how that might pan out, than Happ struggling!)

  3. Interesting tidbit…on MLB Trade Rumors they are saying that the Mariners have been contacted by 2 teams about trading for JA Happ. Apparently he gained 2mph on his pitches last year and some teams view him as a breakout candidate this year.

  4. Jerry,
    As much as you loathe this trade, it’s over-the-top to think that the M’s did not have thorough internal discussions about dealing Michael Saunders and this deal for Happ in particular. None of us on the outside are privy to the variables at play other than that Michael Saunders is the latest of Zduriencik’s auditioning youngbloods to be shown the door. With only Seager and Ackley left as position players from that first round of Mariner developed offensive prospects, it’s safe to say that the team has made its assessments and is moving forward via trade and Free Agency and a stronger farm. In the end, Saunders failed the M’s audition, just as Smoak, Balientien, Clement, Moore, RobJob, Liddi, Tui, etc. likewise failed from that batch.

    What I find most amusing is how bonkers the SABR crowd at USSM and LL goes when a favored player is traded: Jaso for Morse and now, Saunders for Happ. Yep, Morse developed a case of Condor-itis when with the M’s, but his injuries last year are as irrelevant as stating that the Giants would not have won the WS without that one key homer from Morse this October.

    The overriding point is not to fixate on individual statistical analysis outside the context of roster construction. Both Jaso and Saunders are fine pieces for the M’s, but both, for whatever reason, were slated to be bench players. Happ eating innings in the four or five slot was deemed to be more valuable than Saunders as a fourth outfielder. The fact that fans think the Condor should have started is irrelevant compared to how the M’s planned to use him. Likewise, Morse as the everyday DH was deemed more valuable to the roster as a whole than Jaso was projected to be as a back-up catcher and pinch hitter.

    Bottom line is that roster construction is more than comparing W.A.R. and salary from one player to another. A synergy that starts with a balanced line-up of starters is exemplified in how the SF Giants of 2010, 2012, and 2014 won those rings. It’s how the M’s of 2007 had such a potent offense where the loathed RBI shows us how balanced that team was (all nine hitters with 50+ RBIs that season).

    Now, if JackZ sits on his hands and does little or nothing to address the outfield before Spring Training, then this deal will look really stupid. At present, though, it’s far too early and overheated to suggest that there was “no reason” for this transaction.

  5. “Both players have extremely similar W.A.R.. Ackley has been MUCH healthier, projects to have better contact at the plate, and runs a bit better (which is ideal for the cavernous LF in Safeco Field); Michael has more power and a better arm. But, it’s total B.S. to skewer the M’s for only getting one year from JA Happ when Saunders is not a free agent for two more seasons. The M’s control Ackley for three more seasons. So, why would the M’s keep Ackley over Saunders? I think you can figure that one out, Jerry, based on your own rant. (Hint: three is more than two).”

    There is this thing, in the dugout, called a bench. It is used by players that don’t play every game. Good teams have good player sitting on and around it.

    Its not a choice between Ackley and Saunders. We had three solid OFers – Saunders, Ackley, and Jackson – but you need more than that over the course of the season. Adding a guy like Kyle Blanks or Jonny Gomes gives the M’s options, while making it possible to rest people. Adding a bigger name guy still doesn’t mean you have to ditch one of them, especially for a shitty return. Saunders can play all three OF positions pretty well. Ackley can play CF, LF, 2B, and 1B. Those guys are useful, even if they aren’t playing everyday.

    Having Ackley and Saunders isn’t a bad thing: both players have been inconsistent. Both players have talent. Having two guys with upside is GOOD! Let them play, and partition playing time according to who is performing better.

    “One year of JA Happ at just under $7M (a reasonable back-of-the-rotation journeyman price) is very close to the dollar outlay that the M’s would have spent on Saunders for the next two years. Like it or not, this is how the team is justifying this trade.”

    Two years of a starting OFer is worth more than one year of a #4-5 starter. Again, you can use this as a reason. But its not a GOOD reason.

    “History would say Austin Jackson is the best outfielder we have, the issue is he was not good the last two months so Mariner fans are like this guy is terrible.”

    Saunders was worth more than Jackson last year, despite his limited playing time. However, I’d tend to agree with you to an extent: Jackson is a good candidate for a bounce back year.

  6. Jerry, you stated that there is no way to justify this trade. I gave you a way that the M’s justify this trade. I wasn’t being an apologist for Jack Zduriencik’s seemingly inappropriate comments about how the organization felt that he could have come to play in better shape (probably a reference to TWO oblique strains, just from Saunder’s swinging his bat). I agree that the GM’s comments didn’t help Saunders’s trade value. But a P.R. mistake by JackZ is a tertiary aspect of the trade.

    “Saunders is a better player than Ackley.”

    Both players have extremely similar W.A.R.. Ackley has been MUCH healthier, projects to have better contact at the plate, and runs a bit better (which is ideal for the cavernous LF in Safeco Field); Michael has more power and a better arm. But, it’s total B.S. to skewer the M’s for only getting one year from JA Happ when Saunders is not a free agent for two more seasons. The M’s control Ackley for three more seasons. So, why would the M’s keep Ackley over Saunders? I think you can figure that one out, Jerry, based on your own rant. (Hint: three is more than two).

    Again, all the conditioning, injury tendencies, or behind the scenes assessments on behavior aside, the M’s believed that they need a journeyman pitcher more than they need Saunders as a fourth outfielder. One year of JA Happ at just under $7M (a reasonable back-of-the-rotation journeyman price) is very close to the dollar outlay that the M’s would have spent on Saunders for the next two years. Like it or not, this is how the team is justifying this trade.

  7. Jerry, the trade was poor but lets not oversell Saunders based on him being our “best” outfielder which is not historically true. History would say Austin Jackson is the best outfielder we have, the issue is he was not good the last two months so Mariner fans are like this guy is terrible. I am not huge on Ackley either but the point is that Saunders hasn’t shown to be able to play an entire season yet. He had the potential to be our best outfielder but he has never delivered on that potential an entire season or even close frankly.

    By the way, we are not replacing Jackson in centerfield so can we stop with the how about this guy stuff?? LOL.

  8. “If the M’s bring in a solid RF power bat with fair defense, then Saunders would have been underutilized in 2015. This new Right Fielder, Austin Jackson, Dustin Ackley, James Jones, and Nelson Cruz (in RF six times a month) would leave little room for Michael Saunders. ”

    Why? If that was the case, he’d still be our second best outfielder. Saunders is a better player than Ackley.

    But even if the M’s were hellbent on ditching Saunders, the way it was done was stupid. First, they publically bashed his work ethic in the press, then made it abundantly clear that they were trying to move him. If they were trying to ruin his value and undermine their own leverage in the deal, great job. I actually thought they might keep him simply because it wouldn’t make any sense to bash a player publicly before trying to trade him. It was very very poorly handled.

    And that’s why they just traded him for a far less valuable player.

    I’m sure Happ will benefit from Safeco, sorta like Jason Vargas. The point is: guys like Happ and Vargas are easy to get. Guys like Saunders aren’t. He’ll probably put up good numbers next year, but they didn’t get nearly equal value in the deal. That’s why it was dumb.

    Again, no matter how you spin it, the M’s just traded Saunders for a player who is older, more expensive, has less upside, is under team control for only one year, and plays a position that is easier to fill in free agency.

    A simple analogy: the M’s just traded a $20 bill for a $10 bill, and you guys are saying “we already have two other $20 bills, and could always use more $10 bills. And we will earn another $20 bill soon to replace it! So it makes sense!”

    Baseball trades are transactions, and the commodity is talent. We just lost a significant amount of talent for no good reason.

  9. If the Astros were interested in FA reliever Andrew Miller and have interest in moving Fowler, would they make a decent trade partner? Say we offer Austin Jackson and one of Farquhar/Smith/Wilhemsen/Maurer/Leone/Rodney and maybe a prospect?

  10. I understand Saunders is from Canada, but I feel bad for the guy. Outfielders hate playing on that old and crappy turf. If he couldn’t stay healthy in Seattle, how many games will he miss in Toronto? I think the over/under for 2015 is 100 games…

  11. Completely agree Gonzo…I think we get the RH power right fielder…the cost in talent is my concern. I’m pretty much hoping for Kemp as trading Walker would be easier to get value in that deal. I think it happens sooner than later too.

  12. …there is no way to justify this.

    If the M’s bring in a solid RF power bat with fair defense, then Saunders would have been underutilized in 2015. The M’s clearly want more power out of this corner position (especially with a contact hitter in LF). This new Right Fielder, Austin Jackson, Dustin Ackley, James Jones, and Nelson Cruz (in RF six times a month) would leave little room for Michael Saunders.

    Lefty fly ball hitters tend to pitch quite well in Safeco Park. JA Happ could very well excel in Seattle.

    I think we’ll see a power hitting Right Fielder with fair everyday defense landed in the next ten days.

    I’m more worried that the M’s will give up too much in this deal, than I am about Saunders for Happ.

  13. I guess I shouldn’t say won’t be Walker for Upton but if it is I will be blown away. That would be worse than the Bedard trade. If Walker is going to Atlanta there better be more coming back than Upton…now I’m getting nervous!

  14. It won’t be Walker or Paxton for Upton. Maybe if it was expanded perhaps one woul be included. I would imagine it’s Elias and parts if it’s Upton from the Braves. I still think a trade with the Dodgers for Kemp, which would likely involve Walker is more likely or perhaps a smaller trade for VanSlyke. The Braves positioned themselves by signing Markakis but the Dodgers traded for another OF yesterday as well.

  15. As a side note, instead of Cabrera, I’d go for Colby Rasmus. He’s not righthanded, he’s coming off a down year, and a lot of his value is in defense. But he’s got shitloads of untapped talent, is only 28, and will cost a fraction of what Cabrera will cost. And we don’t lose a draft pick.

    Both Cabrera and Rasmus are inconsistent. The main difference is that you’d be signing Cabrera coming off a great year, while Rasmus is coming off a down year. He could be one of the bigger bargains this offseason.

    But Jack seems set of RH power hitters. Ugh.

  16. Michael Haworth,

    I definitely understand that Upton isn’t as valuable now. But that trade also included Franklin and other pieces. It wouldn’t be smart. But Jack just did something that wasn’t very smart, and that move clearly opened up an even bigger need for an OFer.

    The Upton deal just makes too much sense right now. The Braves signed Markakis. We had clearly already been talking to them, and now moved a player who plays the same position.

    Honestly, I hope you’re right. But I’m just not all that confident in the decision makers right now.

  17. Jerry…you do realize that was when a Walker was in AA ball and Upton had three years of control left. It’s a lot different now and he has rejected deals involving those two in the past year.

  18. When the M’s tried to make the Upton Trade before last season that was for 2 years of Upton. Now it is a one year player. I do not see the M’s trading a top end SP talent for one year of Upton. For Kemp or Bruce Maybe, but not for Upton.

    I say it is a depth deal if not I will be surprised. Markakis would have been the ideal add in the OF. He bats best in the 2 hole and would have made the top half of our batting order one of the best in baseball. I would be more inclined to see the M’s made a mid level OF move.

    Some names to look for.

    S. Souza Jr. Was
    G. Parra Mill
    M. Byrd Phi
    M. Kemp LAD
    D. Fowler Hou
    K. Kiermaier T.B.
    J. Bruce Cin

    Gattis and Trumbo could also be on the list. But I think with their suspect defense they should not be traded for. More so that the M’s have Cruz.

  19. So Toronto picks up Saunders, which means they are no longer interested in resigning Melky Cabrera. Who else out there (that has money to spend) is left for Melky besides Seattle? Melky wants a 5 year deal, with little demand left for his services, maybe Seattle signs him for 3 years? Like that idea better than giving up Walker or Paxton for a rental bat like Upton. Interested to see Jack’s next move…

  20. “I truly am not worried about Z moving Walker or Paxton for Upton as he’s been steadfast in the past on deals like this.”

    You do realize that Jack has already agreed on a trade involving two of those exact same people in the past, right?

  21. The difference is that I don’t hate the Cruz signing anywhere near the level you do. If it was 3yrs at the same value I would have been ecstatic. Yes, it’s a year too long but it fixes a major need on this team but that’s the cost of business these days. Notgoing to disagree on this trade but I’m not going to judge everything until the offseason is over. I truly am not worried about Z moving Walker or Paxton for Upton as he’s been steadfast in the past on deals like this.

  22. I agree that this isn’t a franchise crippling move.

    But its clearly a bad trade. No matter how you look at it, this was stupid: money, present production, talent, upside, years, team needs, available alternatives……there is no way to justify this. Its just dumb. The M’s just made a bad decision. GMs that make bad decisions shouldn’t be GMs.

    This obviously isn’t the end of our offseason. The team just removed a starter from a position that was already weak. Another move is clearly coming. It might have already been agreed upon. That is why this is so disheartening.

    My question: how does this stupid decision make you feel about the next move which is now imminent? Jack overpaid for a limited player, then followed it with an unjustifiable, one-sided trade that leaves the team less talented than it was a few hours ago. Whats next? I hate to see the M’s get fleeced by a better run organization, but I’m more worried about what this portends. I hope this isn’t simply a building block towards something even more idiotic. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but this just further undermines my confidence in the clubs leadership.

  23. I hate this Saunders trade. Free agent market is flooded with pitchers and Seattle is AN EASY SELL to free agent pitchers (ideal pitchers ballpark and good defensive team behind you). I am sure Happ will put up good numbers here and go into free agency more desirable than he is now. This trade was inevitable though because for whatever reason, both GM and manager did not value Saunders. With Atlanta signing an outfielder today, it sure feels like an Upton trade is coming. If it is, we better not give them Walker or Paxton.

  24. Not a chance Hammel signs for Happ dollars. I agree I’m not thrilled with the trade though I think this love affair with Saunders is a little much. He was okay. At 28, he will probably never be a star in the making. But it will be interesting to see his numbers in Toronto. For that matter, same with Smoak.

  25. I wouldn’t give Chris Young 1yr/$6M much less 2yrs/$12M. His season was a fluke and expecting another season even equal to that would be foolish. I truly hope to hell they don’t bring him back, I don’t think they will. I also don’t see the love for Cabrera on anything over 3yrs…he is a good player but not elite. I would see the same issues of going 4/5 years on him that I had on Cruz. I’d rather have Matt Kemp at 5yrs/$15M average (assuming Dodgers paid it down to that) than Cabrera at similar numbers and it isn’t close in my book.

  26. ….McClendon didn’t seem to like to play Condor. The interaction at the end of the season didn’t help. This was a player dump. In that context, I am happy to get something back. I am surprised it isn’t more, but I am sure they tried. In terms of value I can see from my cheap seats, I am with the rest of you, I don’t get it, but it isn’t the end of the world.

    Honestly, McClendon preferring other options carries some weight with me. Could be that Condor just wasn’t his kind of player. Could be they saw something we didn’t.

    Do not trade Walker or Paxton for a one year rental. Elias….it would depend on who. But I do not think this signals that they are about to move a pitcher. We needed depth at pitching. Still do. Resign Chris Young (2 yr/12M??) deal and not trade any of our starting pitching and I will be pleased with our rotation. I am not sure how to fill the hole in the outfield at this point, which worries me. Would we go 5 yrs on Melky Cabrera? I could have seen Cruz or Cabrera, but not both.

  27. Jerry,

    To be honest, I’d rather have a lefthanded JA Happ than Anderson (always hurt), Masterson (RH/mediocre), or Young (fluke season and RH). I think the issue for you is that Saunders has more control and value than Happ, which I completely understand. I still think that the Mariners sign or acquire another pitcher, especially if they trade one for an everyday rightfielder as I expect they will.

  28. Marinermutt,

    McCarthy, Peavey, etc. are better than Happ. He’s not garbage, but he’s not more than a solid #5 starter. Hammel probably will cost about the same. For similar cash, you could sign Brett Anderson or Justin Masterson. Or you could bring back Chris Young.

    The money is only part of it. Saunders is a more valuable player than Happ. Simple as that. He’s better. He’s cheaper. He under team control for longer. He’s younger. And he has more upside to improve.

    This trade isn’t Bedard/Jones/Tillman bad, but its just stupid. The M’s made a lopsided deal. Irregardless of the situation, trading $1 for $0.75 is ALWAYS DUMB! The M’s just made a transaction that made the team worse now and next year.

    Nice going, Jack!

  29. I still think they will need to add another mid tier starter like McCarthy or Hammell, especially if they move a pitcher for an outfielder.

  30. If they move Walker or Paxton for a year of Justin Upton that would be an idiotic move…unless they were able to extend him. That is almost a nil chance though…

  31. One thing I do like is it shows ownership and management is willing to spend money. May not be the most productive way to spend but they are willing to spend.

  32. Mid-tier free agent starting pitching will cost between $10M and $12M per year. Happ isn’t close to that. Not big on the deal as I liked Saunders but we’ll see. Hammel, McCarthy, Liriano, Peavy will all cost much more than Happ. These are the type pitchers I assume you are speaking about when you say mid-tier.

  33. Jerry..in the famous words of Aaron Rodgers…. R-E-L-A-X LOL!!!

  34. This offseason is NOT off to a horrible start..good lord! The Cruz signing is fine and improves the team alot..the number of years is not optimum but not bad really. The Seager extension is excellent and is backloaded so it only counts $4M this year. I don’t really like this trade but at least we get a player we can use in return for Saunders whom they were clearly going to move.

    Also, I think this is setting up a future trade, potentially with the Dodgers, for an outfielder. Just yesterday the Dodgers acquired an outfielder themselves which makes little sense with their glut of guys they already have unless they have a deal in the works. Of course Atlanta just agreed with Markakis on a 4yr deal so maybe we are looking at adding Justin Upton. I would be fine with this as long as it doesn’t include Walker or Paxton. I would think that perhaps picking up a LH Starter like Happ may lead to the thoughts of a trade that includes a guy like Roenis Elias.

  35. I think this shows that the M’s front office is stupid.

    Saunders is a more valuable player than Happ, and is under team control for longer. We just agreed to pay ~3 million more for a lesser player who will only be with the team one year.

    Oh, we also have a need to add talent in our OF, but just traded our best OFer for a #5 starter. There are TONS of mid-tier to low-cost starters available in free agency right now. There are hardly any OFers. We just traded a rare commodity for an abundant commodity of lesser value.

    This move is IDIOTIC.

  36. Happ is in the house!! Well, Hhhmmm. I think this says the M’s need depth do o injury concerns rather than an impending trade of Walker. Elias got hurt near the end of the year and Walker is still not proven 100%. So It is a depth move for a #5 starter.

  37. Nevermind….

    Apparently the M’s have traded Saunders to TOR for J.A. Happ.

    Terrible trade by the M’s.

    This offseason is off to a bad start. Expect a move for another OFer very soon.

  38. RE Melky Cabrera,

    Cabrera will probably cost as much as Cruz: 4-5 years at ~$15 mil AAV.

    The question is: is he a substantial improvement over what we currently have?

    2015 Steamer projections:

    A. .291/.340/.430, 1.7 WAR
    B. .273/.341/.450, 2.4 WAR
    C. .252/.318/.387, 1.8 WAR
    D. .251/.322/.426, 1.8 WAR

    A is Melky Cabrera. B is Michael Saunders. C. is Dustin Ackley. D. is Kyle Blanks (at 600ABs)

    Now, you have to take Steamer projections with a grain of salt. But even if Cabrera, Saunders, and Ackley are all closer to their 2014 levels, the difference is marginal. Thats without even considering price.

    Cabrera is 30, so whatever team signs him is going to be getting a good chunk of his decline (especially if the deal pushes up towards 5 years). He has the reputation as being more of a ‘proven player’, but if you look at his track record he’s been incredibly inconsistent, as well as having prior involvement in a PED scandal. He’s now a bad defensive OFer. In a nutshell, you’d be paying a substantial price for a modest at best upgrade, and taking playing time away from two players in Ackley and Saunders who have a lot more upside.

    Honestly, I think the M’s would get similar or better performance out of a time share between Blanks, Ackley, and Saunders than they would by adding Cabrera. The modest improvement they’d get just doesn’t warrant the cost. And he’d cost us another draft pick.

    I think everyone agrees that we just overpaid for Nelson Cruz. The main (only?) justification for that signing is that the M’s were desperate for power, and Cruz is a VAST improvement over our DH production last year. I think we’d also have to overpay for Cabrera, but the same justification of improvement isn’t there relative to what we already have.

  39. Paul,

    I’ve read some scouting reports that questioned whether or not he can stick as SS long term. But that often a comment you hear about young SSs. People said that about Brad Miller when he was drafted. If a team signed him, they would almost definitely leave him at SS until he played himself off the position, while perhaps giving him some reps at other spots.

    Moncada is pretty universally regarded as a 70 runner, though. That’s CF speed, which is probably his next best option if SS doesn’t work out.

    Regardless of where he ends up, this isn’t the type of guy that gets blocked. You find a place for him. He’s got plus plus speed, and plus power, and a plus hit tool. His bat plays anywhere. He’s a rare talent. You get those guys, then sort out where they play later.

  40. I think Kaehlaone makes a lot of sense, and is a good, relatively low cost route. I also think Melky would be a reasonable buy, based upon proven record. As good as these lineups sound on paper, Ackley, Saunders, Blanks, Morrison, Miller and to some extent Jackson and Zunino are not proven above average players for any extended period of time and caution should be taken. Although I do believe all these players have above average to outstanding offensive potential. I also believe that JZ must look to win big these next couple years and hopefully doesn’t get strangled with quickly aging high cost free agents and underperforming home grown players.

  41. Amen to using people who can get on base in the 1-2 spots in the batting order. I’d be on board with the Mariners going after Dexter Fowler to play CF and bat leadoff.

  42. Good list, but it foregoes the baserunning impact of James Jones (who could be groomed as AuJackson’s heir apparent when he likely signs elsewhere as a FA after 2015).

    I still like the idea of Melky Cabrera for three or four years. His salary could be offset by how this would allow the M’s to then trade either Ackley or Saunders plus a reliever for a veteran mid-rotation arm. Trading Ackley or Saunders and the reliever would also free up $4M or more in salary over each of the next two or three years. It’s not inconceivable that the M’s would upgrade its offense with Cabrera and the depth of the rotation for one more payroll hit (that most assume will go directly to a pitcher if no such move is made). Best of all, this move would not cost the M’s a core prospect like Tijuan Walker.

    Keep the pitching depth intact!

  43. I thought there were some very interesting names out there on the non tender list as well. After seeing that list, maybe the more prudent way to go would be for the Mariners to focus on lesser pieces that help the club and provide flexibility. I think I’d much rather trade for Scott Van Slyke, retain Michael Saunders, and sign Kyle Blanks than to trade for Kemp at the cost of Walker/payroll flexibility. I would prefer they were to get the mid rotation guy like McCarthy for 3yr/$35M or so. Ideally I’d like to see a veteran backup catcher that could catch 40 games or so and is lefthanded to give Zunino more rest. If we were to do this I think you’d be looking solid across the board and much improved while not giving up defense as well. The 13 position players would look like this to me:

    C – Zunino and Sucre or Veteran Signing
    1B – Morrison (L) and Blanks (R)
    2B – Cano
    3B – Seager
    SS – Miller
    LF – Ackley
    CF – Jackson
    RF – Saunders (L) and Van Slyke (R)
    DH – Cruz
    UT – Bloomquist

  44. Nice list, Jerry, but there has to be a better proven 1B or Corner OF trade candidate out there who would be available more reasonably than giving up a key young pitcher like Walker or Elias.

    It’s a completely different argument than finding what is best to win now in 2015, but a good rationale for signing the newest Cuban exile, Yoan Moncada. He fits a longer term, get-the-best-available-athlete strategy.

    Makes me more convinced than ever that, in early January, trader Jack will be signing the Cuban, Kendrys Morales. Maybe Kendrys will even come to camp in better physical condition than Jesus Montero did, unlike how he looked after being traded from the Twins. Speaking of which, is there any chance whatsoever that the once uber-hyped Jesus Montero plays 1B as Morrison’s back-up against lefties? If so, then the M’s 2015 position-player lineup is ready to go. (I can’t stop seeing a repeat of the Cliff-Lee-Syndrome with Jack Z getting prematurely complacent and unable to get off his hands to find that new fangled trade device called the cellphone).

  45. Jose Campos was non-tendered by the Yankees. I wouldn’t mind seeing him again. His numbers look pretty good.

  46. Hey Jerry, Moncada is an exciting player with tons of upside, but doesn’t he project at 2B or 3B? If he could play SS (scouting reports say he can’t) I would be all in. His signing would be a nice depth move, as he is just 19 years old and a couple years away from the big leagues. Jack has passed on all these high priced Cuban players (wrongly in my opinion) and because Moncada would be blocked by Seager and Cano, I don’t see Moncada as the player that would get him to start now.

    I would love to see them pick him up, especially if he could transition to the outfield, but history tells us Jack will be sitting on the sidelines on this one!

  47. Lots of interesting non-tenders today. Two in particular would be great fits for the M’s:

    Kyle Blanks: perfect fit for the M’s. We’ve talked about him quite a bit, but he’s a huge dude with some untapped upside, and a RH hitter who can play OF and 1B. With Ackley, Saunders, and Morrison all having various question marks, he’s a PERFECT addition to the club.

    Kris Medlen: coming of TJ surgery, but has a good track record and decent stuff when healthy, including one of the best changeups in baseball. He might be ready by May, and could be a diamond in the rough. Some team is going to get a fantastic deal on this guy. The Braves were dumb to let him go.

    Evereth Cabrera: coming off injuries and PED problems, but he’s a good defensive SS, steals bases, and is coming from the Padres, who always seem to produce a stream of hitters who go batshit after leaving Petco. He’s be nice to add as depth to compete with Miller and Taylor, and would make a ton of sense if one of those guys (hopefully not Miller) gets dealt.

    Alexi Ogando: great swingman. He has a good arm, and has had success pitching in a tough environment in Arlington.

    John Mayberry: essentially an older, lesser version of Blanks, but a better OFer who kills lefties. Platoon bat.

    Slade Heathcott: he’s a more tooly version of Chris Snelling. His playing style practically insures frequent injuries, as he likes to run through walls and needs some Ridilin. But he’s got talent, and is a perfect candidate for a minor league contract with an invite. Stash him in AAA and see what happens!

    Guys like Melky Cabrera don’t make much sense to me. Too costly for what they bring, and adding a guy like that means we sell low on Saunders or Ackley. Instead, I think the M’s should fill out the roster with solid value signings. Spread around the money.

    Good finish to the offseason: sign another starter (Jake Peavey or Brandon McCarthy), a lottery ticket starter (Medlen or Brett Anderson would be perfect), Evereth Cabrera, and Blanks. Then sit back and see if a really good trade opportunity presents itself, but from a position of strength knowing the roster isn’t in bad shape. Then throw a truckload of cash at Yoan Moncada.

  48. “Blanks and Moncada are largely unproven players…….The M’s, whether at 1B or in the outfield will only go for proven players, I think.”

    You might be right. But that would be a huge mistake. If so, the decision makers need to be replaced. That is a stupid way to run a baseball team. Look at where the Yankees are right now. Even with their nearly unlimited finances, they have an old team full of bloated contracts. That’s what happens when you “only go for proven players.” The Yankees get this, and spent lavishly on int’l guys. They realize the error of their ways. We should learn from their mistakes, or the mistakes made by Gillick and Bavasi that left this team without a sustainable well of talent.

    Good teams don’t just deal with what is happening right now. You have to continually bring talent into an organization, or it stagnates. You are right that Moncada hasn’t yet been cleared, but he will soon. He might even sign after July 2nd, which would actually be better for the M’s. They probably already have agreements with int’l guys for next year, so adding Moncada to that batch wouldn’t require them to back out of deals.

    Will he likely help us in 2015? No. But he’s a better talent than Jorge Soler or Yasiel Puig were when they signed at appx the same age. Both are currently good players in the big leagues. Puig is one of the top 20 players in baseball. Moncada is more polished than either was at the point of signing. He could be in the big leagues in a year. But no rush. He’s also a 5-tool player, switch hitter, and can play any position besides C and SS. His upside is elite, first division player.

    Players with his upside simply aren’t available to most teams. You normally need the #1 overall pick in the draft, or extreme luck with the development of an int’l signing, to get a guy like this. Moncada is advanced for a 19-year-old, and is better than anyone in our system right now. An international draft is coming, so the current system won’t apply anymore soon. Now is the last chance to get a guy like this simply by throwing money at him. The M’s need to stop acting like a mid-market team and invest in their club for the long term.

    Again, I don’t really see the M’s doing this, as they don’t usually chase the best talents like more progressive, well-run teams like the Red Sox and Cubs. That is why the M’s were essentially forced into a position to have to overpay for Cano and Cruz.

    Moncada will cost a lot for an ‘unproven’ guy, but guys like him cost WAAAAAAY more once they become proven. Most often, they simply aren’t available at all until they are past their prime. If the M’s want to build a consistent contender, they need to add talent at all levels of the organization. Taking a shot on a guy like Moncada is what smart teams do. Its better to pay $40 million now than $250 million later for a guy who is 30. Its short-sighted to focus only on right now.

    The M’s hopefully won’t have any more top-10 draft picks for a while. This is a shot to get a #1 overall talent. If the M’s are going to start spending the same type of cash as the best teams in baseball, they would be stupid to only focus that spending on guys past their primes.

  49. Yeah, I’m not gungho on Kendrys Morales, it’s just fun to try to gauge the possible moves of an M’s front office that is more secretive than the CIA. For too many years we’ve had expectations of more big moves (after acquiring Cliff Lee, for example), then nothing significant goes down. Compared to an all-in move like Melky Cabrera plus a #2 or #3 pitcher, the odds are every bit as great that the M’s will bring in a journeyman pitcher like Chris Young again, and call it an off-season. This is why Morales even makes any sense as a filler move (with legitimate upside)

  50. Kemp is intriguing, but his defensive metrics are not impressive for the next four years at $20M per year. I’d rather that the M’s eat more of his salary and give up less (Hultzen plus a reliever rather than Walker or Paxton). That said LADodgers are filthy rich and are much more interested in the players coming back. Melky Cabrera, again, would only cost money (and our second pick). The Dominican core of Cano, Cruz, Cabrera and Fernando might take the M’s deep into the playoffs.

  51. Apparently you missed that I was just hacking on you Gonzo..hence why I put haha on it. Relax man…

  52. I agree that trading a guy like Walker for one year rentals would be a terrible move. However, Kemp would be under contract for four years so my biggest concern with him would be the remaining money owed. If the Dodgers eat enough $$$ I would be ok trading Walker as long as we signed a 2nd tier starter or acquired one via trade.

  53. I like Miller at SS better than Taylor, simply because of his power. If one is to be dealt, I’d rather it be Taylor, even though I think Chris has the slightly more reliable glove. I’d rather see us keep both to create more competition and to groom Miller for a super utility role.

    (And for the record, I only posted the Morales suggestion a second time, because a direct question was asked about other options, none of which I viewed as preferable in 2015 over Kendrys who might be had quite cheaply. Melky Cabrera would be a far superior signing, albeit at a much higher price. In other words, kindly lose the snark).

  54. Actually, Kendrys is by no means my first choice; I’m just loathe to see us trade our pitching depth for one year rentals such as J Upton or M Kemp. I think Melky Cabrera would be the very best of the available options with decent (but not great) defense and a solid bat. He’s been a better all around player than the oft-injured, defensively limited Kemp, for example. Then if the M’s add a legitimate mid-rotation arm, we will know that the organization is going all out to win in 2015. My expectation is that the next deals by the M’s this off-season will be less than inspiring.

    But, what if?

    Felix RHP, Paxton LHP, Iwakuma RHP, Elias LHP or Walker RHP, and the new veteran (?).

    Lineup:

    AuJackson R
    Ackley L
    Cano L
    Cruz R
    Seager L
    Cabrera S
    Morrison L
    Zunino R
    Miller L or Taylor R

    Bench (Miller or Taylor, Sucre, Saunders, JamesJones)

    This would be a team with scary upside!

  55. Just out of curiosity, am I in the minority in thinking that Brad Miller is clearly the better option at SS? I personally think Taylor is a guy they should move now before he collapses at the plate based on his K rate and inflated BABIP.

  56. NO to Kendrys Morales no matter how Many times you post Gonzo..haha. Moncada isn’t even a free agent yet so wouldn’t even consider him part of an offseason plan. Not to mention he is a minor league player initially.

  57. Blanks and Moncada are largely unproven players. Alan Craig pulled a Kendrys Morales in 2014 and stunk. The M’s, whether at 1B or in the outfield will only go for proven players, I think. Trumbo is proven, but would cost too much in trade fodder. I actually think Kendrys could be had pretty inexpensively in 2015 for money only. Throw the “pillow” contract concept back in the face of Boras who desperately needs to restore value in one of the few players he has royally screwed by misreading the market (read shifting sands of the Q.O.).

    Thirteen position players:
    C: Zunino RH, Sucre RH
    DH: Cruz LH
    1B: Morrison LH, K Morales SH
    2B: Cano LH
    SS: Taylor RH
    3B: Seager LH
    LF: Ackley LH
    CF: Austin Jackson RH
    RF: Michael Saunders LH
    UT: Miller LH (SS, 2B, 3B, LF, RF), JamesJones LH (CF,RF)

    I think the M’s should start to groom Brad Miller for a Ben Zobrist super utility role. Willie Bloomquist should be cut (or preferably traded) with the M’s eating all (or most of) his $3M remaining.. James Jones should be auditioned for a chance to replace Austin Jackson after next year, and serve as pinch runner extraordinaire in 2015.

    The thing I like most about this lineup is that each position allows for depth and options should the starters falter at the plate. Morales isn’t a great option, but on a one years deal, maybe he’ll be motivated to get in better shape and extend his faltering career. I think he’s a sleeper bargain for the M’s as back-up 1B and DH playing 3 to 4 times a week.

  58. Another RH bat available via trade: Mark Trumbo. Essentially the same hitter as Cruz but 6 years younger. And his best years were put up in Anaheim along with many games in AL West ballparks.

  59. OK. I’m over being pissed off about this move. I’ve accepted it.

    One thing that would make me feel better about losing the #19 pick in the draft: sign Yoan Moncada. It will only cost $40 million (plus about $38 mil in overage fees). He’s a #1 pick level talent, though. That would help ease the sting a bit. Since we are already overpaying for old players, why not overpay for a kid who is 19, and more talented than anyone currently available?

  60. Gonzo,

    What about Kyle Blanks? He’s a RH hitter with some power and upside, and can hold his own at 1B and corner OF. Blanks would be a good option to push those other guys, and work against tough lefties.

    Another option that makes sense: Allen Craig. He probably shoudln’t play OF much, but he can in a pinch, and can also fill in at 1B.

  61. There is so much floating that the M’s are itching to dump Michael Saunders. This is all based on JackZ’s comments intended to exhort his players to come into Spring Training in tip-top shape. The extrapolation of the M’s kicking El Condor to the curb is that the M’s still need to beef up its outfield.

    But what if we go with Ackley/Jackson/Saunders as the outfield mainstays? What if the M’s look instead to bring in another slugger who can play 1B? This would allow Logan Morrison to also man RF on occasion where I thought he was actually serviceable.

    Currently, the M’s have no player to push Logan Morrison at 1B should he falter, whereas Morrison, James Jones, and Nelson Cruz can play OF along with the three mentioned starters. It would seem that a 1B/DH type might allow for better competition (ala the Seahawk model) throughout the team. May the productive players play.

    In this scenario, even Kendrys Morales could make sense two days a week at 1B, two days a week at DH with Cruz and Morrison taking turns in RF. Give Kendrys his one year “pillow” contract to boost his stock in 2015, then next offseason the M’s can make a run at a much better list of Free Agent outfielders when Austin Jackson’s contract runs out. (There are other 1B/DH options than Kendrys, of course)

    Bottom line is that Nelson Cruz gives the M’s more latitude moving forward in the next two months than the we-gotta-get-another-outfielder crowd seems to realize.

  62. Shields isn’t worth remotely what he is going to get. Why give Shields 5yrs/$80M+ if you can give McCarthy or Hammel 3yrs/$35M? There is no logical reason to trade Iwakuma, who has more value and lower cost for Cespedes. The issue with Jay Bruce is that they would prefer to have a RH hitting rightfielder and Bruce is LH while coming off a poor year (likely injury driven).

  63. Because one, trading Iwakuma for Cespedes is not a very good idea, and two, what happens if Shields — like almost everyone else — wants nothing to do with Seattle?

  64. Since the M’s have all this money available, why not sign James Shields and then trade Kuma for Cespedes?

  65. #NOSHIT!

  66. Jason with Cruz set to DH according to reports. The M’s still have an OF need. And JackZ usually goes outside the box. I have mentioned Jay Bruce as a target via trade. What are your thoughts on that and what about Markakis on a 4 year deal?

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