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

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.

18 Comments

  1. It’s been more than a couple of bad months for Jackson. From a recent article on Bounce back candidates by David Schoenfield:

    2012: .856 OPS, 5.4 WAR
    2013: .754 OPS, 3.3 WAR
    2014: .655 OPS, 1.7 WAR

    “Jackson shouldn’t be getting worse that quickly at his age. He strikes out a lot for a player who doesn’t hit a lot of home runs and thus relies on a high BABIP, but his BABIP in 2014 wasn’t that far off his career norms. He hit .325 on balls in play versus .333 in 2013 and .353 career (boosted by a high-octane .396 mark as a rookie).

    The red flag is that Jackson appears to be losing his speed. In 2010-11, he had 49 infield hits; the past two seasons, he’s had just 21, including just eight in 2014 (numbers from FanGraphs). He had 11 bunt hits in 2011 but none the past three seasons. He attempted only one bunt hit in 2014. Why throw that skill into the waste bin when it was once a weapon?

    Also alarming is that Jackson’s numbers against fastballs have gone into a tailspin. He had a big 2012 — .300, 16 home runs — in large part because he hit fastballs to the tune of a .333/.441/.553 line. In 2014, he hit just .267/.344/.340 against fastballs, ranking 132nd out of 147 regulars in OPS against fastballs.

    And then there’s Safeco Field. Jackson has never homered there in 41 career games and has a 56-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Although 27 of those games were in 2014, Seattle has to be worried that Jackson just can’t hit there.

    Declining speed, struggling against fastballs, high K rate … it all adds up to a package of a player aging before his time. The projection systems foresee better numbers, but I’m not as optimistic.”

  2. I wouldn’t go near a guy like Santana or Liriano as they simply aren’t worth losing another draft pick. I agree completely that a play for a pitcher like McCarthy or even Hammel is one thing we should do. I also do not want to see either of Walker/Paxton moved for a player with one year of control such as Upton/Cespedes.

    For me, its pretty simple what they need to do. Add a everyday rightfielder, preferably RH, and a midlevel starter. Sign a few peripheral type players to fill any bench roles and run with it. I don’t personally care about “upgrading” Austin Jackson as he has been fine throughout his career. A couple of bad months, after a sudden change of scenery, does not convince me he is all of a sudden done. I would at least give him to June to determine anything…I think he bounces back right to his career norms myself.

  3. Well, I have mixed feelings about the signing but in the end I like it for the following reasons: #1: I like Cruz for 2015 and maybe 2016. He will be a huge improvement on what the DH has given us in years past. #2: Who knows what we will be getting the final 2 years, but a total package of 58 million is less than I thought it would take. If our TV revenues are in place in two years, we will be in a better position to handle the possibility of not getting much production for the 14-15 million a year he will make. #3: I will breath easier once we obtain another outfielder. Hunter and Rios are both possibilities. I just don’t want to see Cruz in the outfield, he has value as our DH only. #4: Now that we lost our draft pick, why not sign another guy tied to draft pick compensation? The market for Francisco Liriano should be hurt by his QO and we could probably get him on a 2-3 year deal for reasonable money. #5. Now Jack doesn’t have to make a trade, any deals he makes now are from a position of strength. Winter meetings are now a whole new ballgame, very exciting! #6: During 2015 and 2016 the presence of Cruz in the lineup between Cano and Seager should help their numbers too. Teams will not be able to pitch around them. You just invested 240 million in Cano and 100 million in Seager, and this move only helps that investment.

  4. Cruz wRC+ (119) is projected to be about the same as Seager’s (120) next year by Steamer. Cruz’s contract averages $14.5M and Seager’s $14.3M.

    I know that is a superficial comparison, but I am just sayin’, he is not expected to fall off a cliff. Could it happen? That is the concern. Hopefully there is only 1-2 years where this is a bad deal and not more.

    But I am concerned about evaluating players in a bubble. Is this the best deal? Probably not. But what were the other options that the Seattle Mariners had? According to rumors, they made runs at a number of other players. I can see this being a good deal for the Mariners. That said, I certainly hope the M’s aren’t done. Another SP, and maybe another OF/1B.

  5. Jerry, the future hasnt been mortgaged. We gave up a 1st rounder, which I disagree with, but at the end of the day I can live with. What I like about the team is that it has vets (Felix, Kuma, Rodney, Cruz, Cano, Jackson) sprinkled with the young inexpensive kids (Miller, Taylor, Ackley, Zunino, Walker, Paxton, Elias, bullpen) – a mix that I think is what will make this work.

    Going “all in” sounds awful (I get your reasoning/excitement, trust me), especially for a health risk like Tulo. I think we’e better off going for a McCarthy for the rotation (with no draft pick attached to him), a Kyle Blanks (1B/OF/DH) type to platoon with LoMo if need be and maybe an Alex Rios type tho he looks so uninterested out there that Im not so sure about adding him.

    My point is keep spending the $$$, keep the (top) prospects, and make minor trades like Casey Stern mentioned today on radio.

  6. The M’s have some decent bats in their farm system that will arrive as Cruz becomes less productive, he’s the bridge to them that they required. They will also increase their revenue from all sources with him as opposed to what they would receive without him. He’s not cheap or perfect but he is adequate for their needs at this point in their revival.

  7. Snave,

    I agree with you about the M’s needing one more piece.

    The M’s just shifted full time into win-now mode. They could make the jump from good to awesome with one huge move and a few filler moves.

    I wonder what it would take to get Troy Tulowitzki? Walker, Peterson, Taylor, plus? Then sign a pitcher (Kenta Maeda!!! or McCarthy) and Torii Hunter.

    How about a lineup of Saunders, Hunter, Tulowitzki, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Zunino, Morrison, Jackson (McClendon probably swaps Saunders/Jackson, though).

    Just a thought. If we are going to mortgage the future to win now, why the hell not go all-in???

  8. If the club has plenty of money to spend, I think they should make one more big splash and go for one of the top three SPs available (Shields, Scherzer or Lester). Or as a fallback, go for a next-level pitcher like Santana, McCarthy or maybe Liriano. Get one of those six guys if they can, and then as Alex says, they have more leverage in making trades for hitting.

    Is Lloyd McClendon so set on having Austin Jackon in CF that the M’s wouldn’t consider an upgrade there instead of RF, where Saunders could probably do just fine? (I know, they’re down on Saunders for whatever reason… ) But how about making a couple of trades that shouldn’t cost them Paxton or Walker? Would a guy who is a switch-hitter and has decent career OPS from both sides of the plate, i.e. Dexter Fowler, cost one of those young pitchers, and would he be a serviceable center fielder? (Hey, I’m a Daddy Long Legs fan!!) Would Scott Van Slyke cost Walker or Paxton? He can play some LF, CF and 1B. Neither guy would cost a lot salary-wise, either or both could be quite helpful, and the M’s might thus have more bucks to spend on a good SP.

    Whatever they do, it’s starting to look like a pretty fun winter, and like the team will be lots of fun to watch again in 2015! They’re better now with Cruz, let’s see them add some more good players.

  9. I don’t understand the thought process that Cruz is going to all of a sudden drop off to nothing. Frankly, outside of the HR total, the numbers were pretty much inline with his career numbers. They guys is going to run something in the neighborhood of a .260/.320/.500 line with 20-25 HR’s. They have already said they plan on using him mostly at DH which is similar to what the Orioles did. Yes, the fourth year is uncomfortable to say the least, but I don’t think its going to be the “albatross” some are making it out to be.

    Just a few facts I’d like to point out. They guys has never had an OPS+ below 130 versus LH pitching and has only had one (2011) OPS+ that was below 106 versus RH pitching. With all the hoopla about Safeco ruining his power numbers, maybe look at the fact that Camden Yards rated WORSE for RH power hitters than Safeco last year.

    With our TV money, there is no reason this team couldn’t run a $150M payroll each year and still turn a significant profit. I am not saying they should go to $150M this season but just saying that money isn’t the issue it was in the past. Further, I don’t know the specifics, but I would imagine that they would have frontloaded, not backloaded, the contract if they were going to stagger it. The reason is that I would imagine that the extension for Seager increases as the years go by and that would provide more flexibility not to mention that the production is more apt to line up.

  10. This signing has no apparent effect for protection in the lineup I guess for Robinson Cano, whose numbers SHOULD RISE!! That’s simply one side of the spectrum. If you look at the production that our DH hitters combined contributed last year to HALF of what Cruz put up this season, that is STILL a major improvement. The offseason isn’t over. In my opinion, the Mariners just got better. They had to overpay to get a right handed hitter who will mostly DH his entire contract to come here. This isn’t Boston. It’s “Southeast Alaska!” The Mariners just became a more attractive place to come to. They also PAID for that!

  11. Alex,

    I think your examination of the rationale for this deal is pretty apt. The M’s are close, and Cruz does fill a role on the team. However, that rationale is based on the assumption that Cruz will be a good hitter for a few years, then taper off. I don’t think that Cruz is likely to earn his paycheck in 2015, and is highly likely to be a Richie Sexson level albatross. He’s 34, and although he’s coming of a big year for hitting HRs, he doesn’t do much else. He has no defensive value, and the M’s would be wise to keep him away from mitts as much as possible. Most problematic, he’s moving from Camden Yards (a pretty extreme hitters park) and the AL East (which is full of parks great for RH power hitters) to a park that stifles the one thing he does well: hit fly balls a long way. He is a terrible fit for this club.

    Further, the money is absolutely important. The M’s are paying Cruz 14.25 mi./year for the next four years. Its probable that the deal is somewhat backloaded, so its likely the M’s will be paying Nelson Cruz more than $15mil during his age 36 and 37 seasons.

    Finally, this deal only makes sense if you look at the M’s needs in the narrowest and most superficial terms. Sure, the M’s could use a RH bat to balance the lineup a bit. Everyone keeps talking about how we need more power, as well. But power and balance aren’t the M’s biggest issues. Last year, we were in the middle of the pack in HRs (15th in MLB). The real reason why the M’s had trouble scoring runs was because we were near the worst in MLB (27th) in OBP. The best way to score runs is to not make outs and get on base. Nelson Cruz doesn’t help us do that. He’ll be lucky to put up a .325 OBP next year, and there is a very real possibility he’ll fall off the cliff. His skill set is limited right now, and doesn’t tend to age well.

    Adding this bad contract also costs them the 19th pick in the draft, which undermines the one area where they have had notable success. This is particularly damaging given how draft bonus pools are currently allotted, as this takes away a huge chunk of the M’s money to sign picks. Draft picks matter, and punting one for Cruz is a mistake.

    This deal fills a role on the team that they clearly identified as a priority, but in this case I think they got their priorities mixed up.

  12. RE Walker for Soler. I can understand part of the logic. If it were to happen, I wouldn’t hate it. But I might dislike it. One of the reasons I am ok with the Cruz overpay is the fact that the M’s do not have excess anywhere to trade from, with the possible exception of the bullpen. In most cases, we would truly be subtracting from one area in order to add in another area.

    It is common to say that a team needs 6-7 legitimate SPs so that you constantly have 5 for your rotation. Well, the M’s have 2 proven veterans and 3 very young but very talented SPs making up our 5 starting pitchers. I can’t say I am too pleased with our current internal options beyond those 5 either. So, subtract Walker and add Soler. From a talent perspective, ok. But from constructing a roster, I don’t see it, especially now that we have Cruz.

  13. The Cubs need young pitching and Ms need OF…Taijuan Walker for Jorge Soler?

  14. Excellent signing! Another quality bat to insert in the heart of the lineup! Ms fans should be excited! Dont think JZ is done wheeling and dealing. Gotta ask savvy readers a question. If Upton asking price is too steep for a one year rental! Which i think everyone agrees. A different approach to acquiring OF. A striaght up trade for Walker for Soler. Who hangsup first?

  15. Well, the Mariners apparently want Cruz to be primary DH, but I doubt they keep Saunders whether Cruz plays RF or not. More worried what kind of trades they might make than overpaying Cruz.

  16. This sucks.

  17. What I don’t like is that Seattle HAS a right fielder who is, arguably, a much more well-rounded player than the one for which they just shelled out $57 million. And, they seem to want to give him away. I also don’t like that the huge focus on a specific need (RH power) leads them to proffer a questionable contract. Desperation leads to less than intelligent moves sometimes.

  18. Well the one thing I’m hearing that I love is the M’s are planning on using Cruz as their DH. That makes all the difference in the world IMO, as a DH I like the signing. They have stated that they are now looking for a RF. Cruz as a DH/emergency OF isn’t as bad as Cruz as a RF.

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