The Seattle Mariners are betting big that Nelson Cruz, whose 40 home runs led all of Major League Baseball in 2014, can help get them to the playoffs for the first time in a long time. Like, 13 years long.

The Mariners went 87-75 last year—their first winning season since 2009—and missed out on the postseason by a single, solitary game. On the final day, they actually had a chance at a Game 163 if the Oakland Athletics had lost.

Instead, the A’s won to advance to the Wild Card Game, while the M’s still haven’t played October baseball since 2001.

That’s a long, long time to wait, which is why Seattle reportedly has spent a lot of money over a lot of years—$57 million over four, to be exact, according to Yancen Pujols of Dominican newspaper El Caribe—to bring aboard Cruz, thus filling the club’s primary need for a power hitter from the right side.’s Jerry Crasnick confirmed later Monday that Cruz and Seattle have an agreement in place, pending a physical.

That’s the big-money, multi-year contract Cruz was seeking this time a year ago, when his market was undercut by being attached to draft-pick compensation and having been suspended 50 games at the end of the 2013 season as part of the Biogenesis investigation.

Cruz wound up having to wait until late February—after pitchers and catchers had reported—to sign with the Baltimore Orioles, settling for a mere $8 million over one season.

It might seem odd that Cruz would see his value shoot up so much in the span of nine months, but two factors are at play.

One, the 34-year-old put together his most productive season, hitting .271/.333/.525 with 40 homers and 108 RBI, both career highs.

And two, Seattle had a major need for a big right-handed bat to team with perennial MVP candidate Robinson Cano and underrated new $100 million man Kyle Seager, both of whom hit in the middle of the Mariners’ lineup and swing from the left side.

After all, in their desperation to fill that void and push toward the playoffs, the Mariners had been mentioned as suitors for everyone from no-longer free agent Hanley Ramirez, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, to trade targets Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Matt Kemp, according to’s Jon Heyman.

The fact that Seattle didn’t have to trade any of its pitchers, including veteran Hisashi Iwakuma or top young arms righty Taijuan Walker or lefty James Paxton, allows the team to keep its dominant staff intact, with Cy Young runner-up Felix Hernandez leading the way.

That’s only going to help the M’s in their quest to end this 13-year postseason drought.

Seattle’s team ERA last season was 3.17, ranking second-best in baseball, behind only the Washington Nationals (3.03).

Offense, on the other hand, has long been a problem. The Mariners scored 634 runs in 2014, the 12th-lowest total in the sport. That was the club’s highest finish since it placed 12th back in 2007.

In the six years in between, Seattle ranked no higher than 22nd in runs and had a bottom-five total in five seasons.

One of Seattle’s biggest problem spots in 2014, in particular, was designated hitter, a position that Cruz fills, as Mike Axisa of CBS Sports points out:

Of course, that doesn’t mean Cruz comes without warts.

As Axisa alluded to, he is no longer a reasonable option to play defense, especially at his advancing age and with his injury history.

Then there’s the concern over Cruz’s drop-off in the second half last year. Following a first half in which he hit .287/.353/.570 with 28 homers in 93 games, Cruz batted just .249/.306/.463 with 12 home runs in 66 contests after the break.

The slugger also hasn’t fared all that well at Seattle’s pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, which is notoriously tough on right-handed hitters, per Stat Corner. In 204 career plate appearances at his new home field, Cruz owns a .234/.309/.440 line with nine home runs.

The Mariners also forfeit their first-round selection in June by virtue of inking Cruz, who rejected the $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Orioles last month.

Even still, this is a move Seattle almost had to make given all that’s at stake for this franchise in the wake of Cano’s $240 million contract, Seager’s extension and Hernandez being in the prime of his career.

The Mariners and Cruz were the right fit all along, as Paul Casella writes for Sports on Earth: “Cruz is coming off hitting a career-best and major league-leading 40 home runs this past season. The Mariners, meanwhile, hit fewer home runs against left-handed pitchers than any team in the [AL].”

And as competitive as the AL West was in 2014, it also appears to be a division in flux this winter, which is a good thing for Seattle.

The Los Angeles Angels finished with the best record in baseball (98-64), and their offense remains dangerous, but the pitching staff is much less so. Young righty Garrett Richards is still recovering from knee surgery, and southpaw Tyler Skaggs will miss all of 2015 after Tommy John surgery.

The Athletics have had an odd offseason so far, signing Billy Butler but then trading away Josh Donaldson, their best player, on Friday. There’s also speculation that right-hander Jeff Samardzija could be on his way out too, according to Heyman.

The Texas Rangers, meanwhile, seem to be stuck in neutral this winter after making major moves, like trading for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Soo Choo, last offseason. Thanks to injuries to those two and many others, they finished with the third-worst record in baseball at 67-95.

The Houston Astros, coming off a fourth consecutive 90-plus-loss campaign, aren’t sniffing the playoffs any time soon.

A four-year pact worth nearly $60 million for a player like Cruz, who will turn 35 on July 1, has a performance-enhancing-drug suspension in his recent past and also has significant limitations—both defensively and health-wise—is certainly a risk.

Players with profiles similar to Cruz do tend to go south quickly, so the M’s are hoping that they’ll get one or two healthy, productive years out of this contract before it takes a turn for the worse.

The good news is if Cruz can hit anywhere near the level he did in 2014, there’s a good chance this deal will be worth it for Seattle, no matter what happens in the later years.

That’s the power of simply making it back to October for the first time since 2001.


Statistics are accurate through the 2014 season and courtesy of, Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.

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