The Nelson Cruz Inevitability
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.
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.