Nelson Cruz Might Happen While I Write This
He might take his physical while you read this. He might let a ball get over his head while you share this on Facebook. Bob Dutton says he keeps hearing it’s a matter of time before Cruz ends up with the Mariners, and I imagine we all have the same sense. Nelson Cruz isn’t a Mariner yet, to my knowledge, but we’re already a lot of the way along the path to dealing with it. By the time there’s word, actual, official word, it might make nary a ripple, at least within our spheres on the Internet. This is one of the consequences of Twitter, and a media landscape worshiping the deity of content generation. Another consequence is a burning, intensifying desire to disconnect yourself and live in the woods. Let’s all build a cabin in the woods.
Why is this almost certainly going to happen? I need to leave myself an out, because there is some chance Cruz goes elsewhere, but you can think it right through and you keep stumbling to Seattle in the end. Cruz’s market isn’t big enough for him to pick favorites and pick other places he doesn’t want to go to. If he were truly in demand, he could identify cities he’d like to live in, successful organizations he’d like to play in, hitter-friendly ballparks he’d like to hit in. As is, Cruz isn’t Masahiro Tanaka, and as much as he might like it in Texas, it seems like the Rangers are only willing to give a year and some millions. Cruz should be reduced to having to take the best offer that presents itself.
We know that the Mariners have more money to spend, and we know that they’re trying to demonstrate their intention of competing in 2014. We know they like Cruz because they’ve talked about Cruz by name. We know the Mariners could fit him into the lineup, and we know the Mariners value players of Cruz’s type even just based on the way they hyped up Michael Morse a season ago. The Mariners are likely to like Cruz’s upsides. Other front offices are more likely to dislike Cruz’s downsides.
The Orioles are also looking for help, and the Orioles also have a little money to spend, but they currently seem focused on starting pitching and they’ve had positive things to say about David Lough, and specifically his defense. If the Orioles were to sign Cruz, it would probably be to have him as a DH. The Mariners could offer more playing time in the outfield, and if Cruz is anything like most of his peers, he doesn’t want to be a DH yet, even if he doesn’t run like he used to. Players like playing, and in Seattle Cruz could do more playing.
It wouldn’t do Cruz a lot of good to settle for one year. I mean, if he really doesn’t want to play for Seattle, he could just go back to Texas, but it’s not like his market would be any better in December. He ought to end up accepting a short multi-year contract, and we’ve already heard the Mariners are pretty comfortable with two years and maybe a third-year option. By this point Cruz understands he’s not coming close to his initial demands. He’s just about out of leverage, and the Mariners, if I had to guess, are just waiting for him to come down to wherever their level is. Theirs is probably still going to be the highest level. It’ll be significant, but short of something massive. Maybe even something only a little more pricey than the Fernando Rodney contract.
A bunch of people have asked me on Twitter if signing Cruz would make the Mariners contenders. The answer depends on what you think of the Mariners now, because Cruz barely changes them. Maybe he’d make them, I don’t know, a win better. Maybe less than that! There’s nowhere that a win is the difference between a contender and a non-contender. It’s all just math, and Cruz would turn some of the numbers into slightly bigger numbers. The M’s would probably still be worse than the A’s, the Rangers, and the Angels, but the gaps aren’t enormous. The division is winnable, the playoffs are achievable.
The trickiest part might be sorting out the Mariners’ roster post-Cruz, assuming Cruz happens. You could put Cruz in a corner and split 1B/DH between Justin Smoak, Corey Hart, and Logan Morrison. You could put Cruz in a corner and still give the other corner to Morrison/Hart for some reason. There’s no way to make things great because no great plan involves Nelson Cruz at the core of it, but there would be decisions to make. Peter Gammons passed along the idea that the M’s could deal Smoak to the Pirates, because the Pirates could use a first-base upgrade, but Smoak might not even be an upgrade, and he certainly wouldn’t bring back great value. The Mariners gave up little to get Morrison. The Mets haven’t been able to turn Ike Davis into anything worthwhile. The Pirates might prefer a guy like Mike Carp, which is the kind of hilarious I don’t want to think about too much. And the Mariners keep hyping Smoak up, suggesting he’s got fans among the string-pullers. I don’t know the solution because I can’t put myself in the Mariners’ mindset and I’m more than a little proud of that.
Earlier in the offseason, I saw two inevitabilities: Bronson Arroyo would sign for too much with the Giants, and Nelson Cruz would sign for too much with the Mariners. Arroyo went to a different team, for a more reasonable amount of money. Cruz is going to end up with a more reasonable amount of money, too, but Seattle’s still looking inevitable. It didn’t happen while I was writing the first paragraph, here, but if you’ll excuse me, I need to check Twitter again. In a weird way, Nelson Cruz officially signing with the Mariners would bring me and all of us some closure.