Seattle Does It Again (To Themselves), Sign Nelson Cruz For Too Long And Too Much

The Mariners are like that one girl you used to know in high school: she was pretty, but not that pretty, and her personality was just okay, not vibrant enough to compensate for her blandness. She tried too hard, further diminishing her overall attractiveness, yet always came across like she was one of the popular kids, talking and acting like she was top-shelf material. In the end, she was never going to be as great as she thought she was. She was more sad and annoying than anything else.

Seattle’s front office is the same way. They pay players, like Robinson Cano last offseason, as if they belong with the big boys, but by season’s end they find themselves where they were expected to be, anyway: out of the playoff field.

Today the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz to a 4-year, $57 million commitment, an average annual value of a little over $14 million per season. A couple weeks ago Cruz rejected the $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Orioles, and actually did pretty well in getting close to that per annum over four years with Seattle. I’m happy for Nellie.

In addition to the money owed to the veteran outfielder/DH, Seattle also loses a premium draft pick to Baltimore (21st overall) and the subsequent pool money attached to that slot.

After a mediocre three-year run in Texas between 2011-’13, where he hit .263/.319/.489 (114 wRC+) — worth +3.9 fWAR over that span — Nelson Cruz rejected the Rangers $14.1 million qualifying offer heading into 2014 and wound up signing with Baltimore for a mere one-year, $8 million contract. Their faith in buying low on Nellie paid off, as he generated a .271/.333/.525 (137 wRC+) triple slash line with 40 HRs on his way to a +3.9 fWAR campaign, identical to what he produced in the three years prior.

Cruz is now signed through his age-38 season with the Mariners, and a ballpark notorious for being a graveyard for right-handed power hitters. Since Nelson offers no real value in the field or on the bases, Seattle is paying him to be the hitter he was in Baltimore — a very friendly home park to righties — and doing so through his steep decline years.

Keith Law (Insider required) rated Cruz as his 21st-best free agent this winter, noting I think he’s about to get paid like an impact, middle-of-the-order bat, although his performance going forward will be much more in that one-year, $8 million range.

Nailed it.

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Nellie because of how awesome he was over certain intervals, notably his brilliant 2011 ALCS heroics, with Texas. I’m both happy that he’s getting paid and sad that I’m going to root for him to fail with the Mariners.

For Seattle, this is a desperate signing for a team starved for a right-handed bat to hit behind Robinson Cano. With Cano, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager, the Mariners have a decent nucleus, but I’m skeptical that Cruz’s presence in the lineup is going to be that much of a difference-maker considering the holes they have in the middle infield and first base, and a sketchy outfield mix aside Austin Jackson in center.

The Mariners are that sad girl from high school, making moves like they’re actual competitors. Really, they’re still the Mariners. It looks pretty good on the surface, it sounds good in theory, but it isn’t going to work.

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