With Cruz, Mariners Banking On 2015 Being 'Their Year'
After just barely missing the playoffs this season, the Mariners are going all in to try to make it to the postseason next year.
They made some big moves this week to improve their odds, namely signing veteran free agent slugger Nelson Cruz.'Act Of Desperation'
Cruz played for the Orioles this past season and the Rangers before that. He's a very strong hitter, but not so strong at Safeco Field.
And he's 34. KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel isn't sure how many more years he's got in him.
"I think it's an act of desperation, as have been most of the acts the Mariners have committed over the years in trying to build a contender," Art said.
'I'm Here To Win'
In a news conference on Thursday, Cruz said he's here to win: "We have one of the best starting pitchers and one of the best bullpens in the game. I think with my bat and the guys we have we should go a long way.
"I think we have what it takes to go to the World Series and win it."
Can Cruz Be The Next Edgar?
Cruz will likely bat fourth between his friend, and fellow Dominican, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. He has some big shoes to fill in the designated hitter role — shoes that Art says have been empty for quite some time.
“They’ve had a remarkable string of failures at designated hitter since Edgar Martinez retired in 2004," Art said. "He was the best DH, I think, in baseball history. They named the annual award for the best DH after Edgar."
Art says the Mariners have the lowest cumulative batting average for the DH position over the years since Edgar retired.
"Last year was a great example, again," Art said. "Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales just failed abysmally. It was so aggravating because they missed the playoffs by one game! A couple of its here or there, by a guy who’s paid to do nothing but hit, would’ve been the difference."
Strong DH Could Be Missing Piece
The Mariners have invested $57 million in Nelson Cruz over four years. That means at the end of his contract he will be 39. Art says he’s probably got a good year or two left in him.
"So, it’s really going to be a difficult thing down the road. But they don’t care about down the road. They care about 2015.”
Could 2015 Be Their Year?
Art says it's possible for the Mariners to make the playoffs next year.
"If everybody stays healthy and produces to the back of their baseball cards, they probably will. They’ve certainly got the young pitching. We saw a lot of it (this year) and most of it returns.
“With Nelson Cruz to hit between Robison Cano and Kyle Seager in the lineup, there’s a chance to have an almost-average Major League-hitting team. Combined with the pitching, that would be a real recipe for success.
"They certainly put the money into a 2015 run. It was so aggravating last year to see both Kansas City and Oakland — two teams with far fewer resources than the Mariners — leap over them to get into the playoffs," Art said.
Shoring Up Seager
The Mariners also made Seager's contract extension official this week: $100 million over seven years.
“It was kind of exciting for Mariners fans because they actually invested in a young whose prime is coming up instead of on the decline." Art said.
"And he’s the first player, really, since Alex Rodriguez, that the Mariners have grown from a farm kid to reach Major League All-Star maturity on their watch," Art added. "They didn’t trade him away like Adam Jones. They kept him and he’s produced. It’s a rare thing with the Mariners.
“One of the reasons why they haven’t had much success if the failure of the farm system to produce All-Star-quality hitters.
"They have to go out and buy it on the veteran free agent market. It’s very expensive and often subject to failure."
Cruz Has Struggled At Safeco
Art says players who are in their declining years often fail abruptly. And that’s the big fear of Cruz.
“Cruz has hit only .234 in his career at Safeco. He’s also had poor averages at two other American League West ballparks — Oakland and Los Angeles," he said.
"So, they’re bringing in a guy who’s never hit well at this ballpark. It’s a big risk on the Mariners’ part but they don’t care about the future. They only care about now. And if he hits .234 that will be a 30-point uptick from what they had last year.”