12/13/2013 5:35 P.M. ET
Cruz wearing Mariners uniform is a perfect fit
Free-agent outfielder could be final piece to place club in postseason mix
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
If you're thinking Nelson Cruz is going to end up with the Seattle Mariners, you're not alone. Plenty of baseball people have the same idea. In fact, it's a marriage that makes so much sense it's surprising it hasn't happened already.
At this point, that's where lots of the smart money is going. The Mariners have already had themselves a tremendous offseason. In luring the best available player to the Pacific Northwest -- that would be second baseman Robinson Cano -- the Mariners have gotten everyone's attention.
Still, with a core of young, unproven players, Cano's presence alone didn't position them for a playoff run. And then this week, they acquired first baseman Logan Morrison and outfielder Corey Hart.
Suddenly, their entire club, one that finished 22nd in runs last season, has a different vibe about it. But it's unlikely the Mariners are going to move in front of the A's, Rangers and Angels in the American League West with the club they have now.
That's why they've discussed attempting to trade for David Price. And even though their lineup is better, Cruz would elevate it yet again.
The Mariners don't deny that they're still shopping, that they might have one more splashy move in their budget. Cruz probably isn't going to get the five-year, $75-million deal he reportedly has been seeking.
But he might just match the four-year, $60-million contract that Curtis Granderson got from the Mets. At a time when the two hardest ingredients to acquire are starting pitching and home runs, Cruz is a proven commodity.
Despite serving a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs last season, he hit 27 home runs in 413 at-bats for the Rangers. In the last five seasons, he has averaged 27 home runs and an .842 OPS.
That's more home runs than Joey Votto and Josh Hamilton have hit. The downside is that Cruz is 33 years old, but for a team looking to make a statement in 2014, Cruz makes perfect sense.
Another thing that makes him so attractive is that the Mariners could add him without touching their nucleus of starting pitching, especially top prospect Taijuan Walker.
And then again, if they signed Cruz and wanted to trade Walker in a package that included a young position player, the Mariners would appear to be good enough to make a serious playoff run.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has been interested in Cruz since the beginning of free agency, even before he probably thought he had any chance of getting Cano. Now, Cruz could be the final piece to the puzzle.
For Cruz, the Mariners would offer the opportunity to give him the financial security he desires while also putting him on a team that could get a great sports town fired up about its baseball team.
This is the point in the offseason when two things happen. First, some of the most aggressive spenders -- Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox -- aren't shopping for big-ticket position players. On the other hand, as players stay on the market longer than expected, a few teams no one expected to get involved suddenly could get interested.
That happened two years ago with the Detroit Tigers' late pursuit of Prince Fielder. And last year, it was the Milwaukee Brewers making a run at Kyle Lohse. For a player of Cruz's caliber, there's likely to be a long list of possibly interested parties.
The Orioles have been mentioned inside the industry as a possible destination. The Rangers might get interested if Cruz lowers his demands. Texas general manager Jon Daniels said he's not likely to make another "major" acquisition, but he's also allowed to change his mind.
Even the Royals, who don't seem to have a place for Cruz to play, could get interested if they're able to move Billy Butler. At one point, it was believed Butler could end up with the Mariners in a trade involving an infielder or pitching.
One thing free agency constantly reminds us of is that we shouldn't be surprised by anything. At least a dozen teams could make a run at Cruz. None of them makes as much sense as the Mariners.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.