The Nelson Cruz Inevitability

Jeff Sullivan · December 1, 2013 at 3:55 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The previous time I went on a real, extended international vacation, I left the States feeling afraid that the Mariners would throw too much money at Barry Zito. They did try that very thing, but in true Mariners fashion, they lost, and Zito went to the Giants on an even bigger mistake. This time, I left the States feeling afraid again that the Mariners would screw up, even though these days I’m considerably less emotionally invested. A whole lot happened over two weeks, but none of it involved the Mariners, except for the Chuck Armstrong part. That was a surprising part, and probably an overall good part, although in truth it’s impossible to know. In my absence, the Mariners didn’t do anything with which I disagreed.

But it sure feels like they’re going to, because they just can’t stop getting linked to Nelson Cruz. In fairness, they also can’t stop getting linked to Carlos Beltran, but Beltran’s market is too big, with too many superior teams. Beltran is virtually certain to sign somewhere else for two or three years in pursuit of a championship. The Cruz sweepstakes, on the other hand, is just conveying that feeling. The feeling where it’s only a matter of time before Nelson Cruz signs a multi-year contract to fill a hole in a currently embarrassing outfield.

The most current rumor, from Buster Olney, assumes the Mariners will end up with one of Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, and Ervin Santana. But that was mostly speculation on Olney’s part, and those markets are difficult to read with the Tanaka situation still open. The Mariners are most definitely in search of a starter, but I don’t know where they’ll turn. Cruz is the guy who seems likely, so Cruz is the thing I’m writing about at the moment.

It’s funny the way some guys just seem like obvious mistakes from the beginning. Zito looked like a certain disaster. Cruz, likewise, isn’t very good now, and appears a good bet to break down in a hurry. These likelihoods are exaggerated, but as fans you wonder why your own team might not recognize the same truth. In this free-agent market, Cruz seems like one of the most probable busts. He also has the Mariners’ attention.

It supposedly isn’t just the Mariners. The Phillies have been linked, but they signed Marlon Byrd. The Mets have been linked, but they signed Chris Young. The Rangers have been linked, and their outfield is thin, but they got Prince Fielder and seem too smart to guarantee Cruz big money. The A’s have been linked, but that doesn’t make one bit of sense.

Most recently:

One major-league source told me that the A’s have “meaningful interest” in free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, although there is nothing imminent.

You’d like to be encouraged by seeing the Mariners and the A’s connected to the same free agent, since the A’s are run extremely well. But the A’s have a pretty full roster, and they don’t make a lot of free-agent splashes. Yoenis Cespedes was one, but he was a potentially underrated international free agent. They went hard after Adrian Beltre, but Beltre has long been underrated by the market. Cruz is basically the anti-Beltre, so when you consider the A’s reputation, you automatically want to dismiss the rumor as nonsense. This is the power of reputations. See the A’s linked to Cruz, and you figure it’s either crap, or an attempt to raise his price. See the Mariners linked to Cruz, and you figure, yeah, makes sense. And they’ve been linked for weeks.

It’s all lined up. In the interest of honesty, I came into the offseason assuming the Giants would end up with Bronson Arroyo, and now that probably won’t happen, and I thought that was a lock. Nelson Cruz isn’t actually inevitable, for the Mariners. But he has a small rumored pool of suitors, and the others seem too smart or cash-strapped or both. The Mariners have a need, they have the money to spend, they have the desperation, and they have a demonstrated affection for Cruz’s skillset. Dave already wrote about the similarities between Cruz and Michael Morse, with whom the Mariners fell in love before, you know, the breakup. You have teams who might – might – like Cruz as a potential bargain, following a suspension. And you have a team that can’t seem to give its money away, a team that loves its dingers and runs-batted-initude. A team with Michael Saunders as its best current outfielder.

Offers being equal, the Mariners wouldn’t be the pick of many players. But there’s reason to believe that, with Cruz, the offers won’t be equal, and if the Mariners blow away the competition, Cruz would have to take a significant hit to go somewhere else. Before Byrd, maybe the Phillies would’ve been the team most likely to save the Mariners from themselves, but now they’ve already acquired an alternative and the coast is clear for the Mariners to put their best foot forward where other teams will be justifiably hesitant. I can’t imagine it would actually take the $75 million over four years that Cruz reportedly wants, but maybe four years is a real thing to fear, or $16-17 million a year over three. The Mariners want to spend more, and there’s only so much to buy. The Cruz sweepstakes might have the least competition, given how the Mariners probably value him.

At this point I’m just waiting for it. I’m waiting for it and I’m ready to not like it. There’s something to be said for spending money instead of pocketing it, because it’s not like the Mariners have infinite potential alternatives, but there are other courses, and Cruz could be a mistake from the beginning. My hope lies in the fact that I’ve been wrong about inevitabilities before. Nothing’s ever a lock until there’s a contract with a funny-looking signature. Maybe, somehow, the Mariners will be rescued from this.

And there’s also the Giants winning a pair of World Series toward the back end of the Barry Zito Era. From recent baseball history, that’s one of the very most important facts to remember. There are a lot of players on a baseball team, and a lot of things that happen because of them. The ultimate hope lies in the fact that either we don’t know what we’re doing, or baseball doesn’t.


22 Responses to “The Nelson Cruz Inevitability”

  1. Bodhizefa on December 1st, 2013 4:27 pm

    The most shocking thing is that the M’s managed to leave Zduriencik in charge during an off-season where we (likely) have more budget room to spend than anyone in baseball. The corporate brass could’ve chosen from just about anyone in baseball to take over that sort of situation. As Buster Olney’s article a week ago alluded to — we have an enviable GM position at the moment. It’s too bad they opted to stick to the status quo. There’s a chance that Z cripples this franchise for another 3-5 years if he whiffs big this off-season on his choices, and that risk is squarely on the FO’s shoulders now.

    Here’s hoping Cruz ends up with the Mets, White Sox or the Phillies (heck, even looking for teams that are potentially dumber than us at this point is getting depressing. Why in the world didn’t they fire Zduriencik?!)

  2. Cody on December 1st, 2013 5:31 pm

    To be fair the chance that Jack cripples the franchise is equally there with any GM.

    New is not automatically better.

  3. BobbleHeadJunkie on December 1st, 2013 5:45 pm

    It is a scary notion, especially after Peralta got such a big contract even with his PED scandal and age. Seattle needs to invest in pitching and defense and we will see if they make a play on Choo or Elsbury, along with a good trade or two. I really hope Jack stays with his plan, which hasn’t been working well, but keep investing in building a farm system instead of trading it off for short term success. Here’s to hoping Cruz re-signs with Texas or with someone else like NYM, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, CHC, Houston or Boston.

  4. stevemotivateir on December 1st, 2013 5:49 pm

    Can’t say I haven’t been worried about the exact same thing.

    I wonder if anyone in the Mariners camp has noticed how terrible he’s been at Safeco Field, Angels Stadium, Oakland Stadium, and on the road in general over his career?

    My guess is yes, but somehow his 2013 numbers will cloud their judgment–or at least Jack’s.

  5. mebpenguin on December 1st, 2013 6:01 pm

    Every time I see a Cruz rumor I pray that the Mariners trade for Ethier instead. At least he has some value, even if it’s not the smartest move in the world.

  6. Bodhizefa on December 1st, 2013 6:24 pm

    “To be fair the chance that Jack cripples the franchise is equally there with any GM.”

    That is incorrect. Zduriencik has shown repeatedly that he is incapable of putting together good, competitive rosters. There are tons of candidates out there who would have a much better shot at doing the right thing than Z. Would we necessarily have selected one of those candidates? Maybe, maybe not — but it’s worth the chance considering the alternative we already know to be inept (i.e. Zduriencik in charge).

  7. ppl on December 1st, 2013 6:38 pm

    Bavasi days revisited.

  8. Westside guy on December 1st, 2013 7:42 pm

    During his inaugural live chat as the Seattle Times beat reporter covering the Mariners, Ryan Divish gave an interesting (and depressing and scary) response to a question…

    Q: Do you think Jack Zduriencik is in over his head with full GM responsibilities?

    Divish: Many, many many many people in baseball have told me that.

  9. Typical Idiot Fan on December 1st, 2013 8:06 pm

    I can’t wait for Nelson Cruz to sign with the Royals so we stop taking rumors for anything but the uninformative and meaningless bits of flotsam they have always been.

  10. don52656 on December 1st, 2013 10:01 pm

    Frankly, anyone comparing JackZ with Bavasi either has a short memory or wasn’t paying attention.

  11. PackBob on December 1st, 2013 10:21 pm

    Hope the volcano tromping was a blast!

    It seems like 100 years ago that the Mariners got Cliff Lee and it felt so good, like Jack had pulled off a coup. Maybe 200 years ago. The regular season was bad enough, but the off-season feels like piling on when the M’s get linked to Cruz.

    If the M’s make a splash with Cruz and promote him like they did Morse, it’s going to be hard to believe that Jack has any inkling of what he is doing.

  12. Bodhizefa on December 1st, 2013 10:44 pm

    He may not be Bavasi bad, don, but he doesn’t have to be to be just as inept in modern MLB. The league’s GM positions continue to be filled by smarter and smarter people, so, relative to the rest of those in office, it’s possible to make an argument that Zduriencik’s performance is just as woeful. I’ll wait to pass final judgment until we see what happens this offseason, but I’m not very hopeful given his recent track record.

  13. ppl on December 1st, 2013 11:21 pm

    “Frankly, anyone comparing JackZ with Bavasi either has a short memory or wasn’t paying attention”

    Not really comparing the two, just saying signing in Cruz in my book is a Bavasi type addition. Except Bavasi might have traded quality prospects for B.J. Upton instead.

  14. Steve Nelson on December 2nd, 2013 12:03 am

    Frankly, anyone comparing JackZ with Bavasi either has a short memory or wasn’t paying attention.

    But the situation that worries me is that the “brain trust” on Royal Brougham – the one that that traded Putz for valuable stuff and the landed Cliff Lee – has been largely disbanded. And as that disassembly has progressed, the Mariners have become increasingly “Bavasiesque” with an increasing trend of thinking in terms of slots. With Bavasi it was “we need a #2 hitter” which brought us Jose Vidro, or “we need a #2 starter”, which then meant do whatever it takes to sign Carlos Silva because that is clearly the going rate to obtain pitching. Oh, and we need veteran presence and experience. so Vidro and Silva are actually bargains because they fill two needs at once.

    When Jack Z came aboard it seemed to be about where the team can obtain upgrade, where they could find players who would be a net positive contributor over what they currently had. In the last couple of years though it has switched to “we need XXX”, where xxx is something like “right-handed power” or just “more home runs”. And so they get right-handed power because that is what “is needed”, and the assessment as to whether a specific player is actually a net improvement seems to be a lesser consideration. And then they wind up with a staff of fly ball pitchers in front of an outfield defense featuring at any given time two players whose signatures are among the least likely that you will ever see on the thumb of a Rawlings glove.

    From my perch I consider that Jack Z must be extremely concerned about seeing things seemingly unraveling in front of his eyes. And like most people in that situation, he retreats toward what seems most comfortable. And In Jack’s case that would seem to more “classical” in his outlook, which is pretty much the Bavasi/Hargrove route.

  15. built2crash on December 2nd, 2013 7:17 am

    No, no, no, no…. Not Cruz. Please not Cruz. He’s a loser, literally. All he had to do was field a fly ball and the Rangers win the world series but he screws that up and I can’t ever get over that. I can’t get over it because that epitomizes Cruz’ defense skills to me, and he is a type of player we do not want.

  16. Longgeorge1 on December 2nd, 2013 7:42 am

    Sign Choo or Elsbury if you can. We have nothing to trade with. Are you going to trade Felix? Give up on Walker or Paxton? Ok someone might overpay for Kuma, so I’ll give you that one. If we sign a DH/1B type I will become an A’s fan. This “organization” needs to figure out how to build and run a farm system. I think everyone can agree that the product being produced has been horrible. I know this takes time but I have no reason to believe they could buy a team with any kind of budget. Signing Iwakuma is the only plus move they have made in the last 5 years.

  17. qwerty on December 2nd, 2013 8:22 am

    It’s the Mariner way. To use a shopping analogy. While everyone is browsing at either Neiman Marcus, Nordstroms or Target, The M’s are gleaning in the dumpster.

  18. eponymous coward on December 2nd, 2013 9:19 am

    Frankly, anyone comparing JackZ with Bavasi either has a short memory or wasn’t paying attention.

    Well, to be perfectly fair, Bavasi had a better record than Jack Zduriencik did through the same number of games as a Mariner GM…

    I know, I know, results, not process. Except if the process isn’t giving you the results you expect, maybe you need to re-evaluate your process. So far, the only re-evaluating the M’s have done so far is fall into a “DINGERS11!!1!!!1!” and veteran grit trap in evaluating player value, and discarding the more modern parts of their front office.

  19. djtizzo on December 2nd, 2013 9:30 am

    Why the F aren’t the M’s linked to D. Price in some sort of trade scenario? If they value defense and pitching this is a huge improvement with instant results!

  20. ivan on December 2nd, 2013 9:40 am

    How about the Willie Bloomquist inevitablity? No, I’m not making it up.

  21. Slats on December 2nd, 2013 2:45 pm

    Where did you go on vacation Jeff?

  22. dantheman on December 2nd, 2013 4:34 pm

    “Well, to be perfectly fair, Bavasi had a better record than Jack Zduriencik did through the same number of games as a Mariner GM…”

    I’ve made this point many times but you always have people who place greater value on something other than “wins”. Call me a traditionalist but I always think the ultimate goal is “wins”, not how many players you can develop and/or acquire who have great on base percentages or WARs (of which there is some difference of opinion regarding definition) or [insert new stat of the day]. Billy Beane didn’t acquire players for the sake of their (overlooked) non-traditional stats. He did it because in the end he thought it would lead to more “wins”. I’m not sure Jack Z (who does indeed have a worse record than Bavasi) gets it.

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