Cruz signs with O’s, raising Kendrys question with M’s
With outfielder Nelson Cruz agreeing to a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles on Saturday, the Mariners appear either down to trying to bring Kendrys Morales back or going with what they have offensively as the final free agents come off the board.
Seattle had been linked to Cruz in media speculation throughout the offseason and general manager Jack Zduriencik said at Mariners FanFest last month that he’d love to have Cruz in his lineup. But it appears neither side felt strongly enough about Cruz being a good fit with the Mariners to get into the sort of long-term contract that would have been necessary.
Cruz, 33, has far better numbers at home in Texas than on the road during his career with the Rangers and there were questions how his bat would play in Safeco Field, which can be tough on right-handed hitters. The Mariners did move the fences in last season, but no one will confuse Safeco Field with Camden Yards in terms of a place for a right-handed hitter to put up numbers.
Morales, on the other hand, is a switch hitter who proved last year he can produce at Safeco Field. The question with him is that he and agent Scott Boras already turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer from Seattle after the two sides didn’t get far on a longer-term extension last year.
Additionally, Morales is limited to designated hitter and first base. But if Corey Hart can play the outfield, as he’s done in the opening days of camp while coming back from a year off with two knee surgeries, that opens up the DH spot considerably. Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison are splitting first-base duties early in camp.
As a switch-hitter, Morales could help balance Seattle’s lefty-heavy lineup. As it stands now, the Mariners have right-handed hitters in Hart and catcher Mike Zunino. Smoak is a switch hitter, though he hit just .192 with two home runs right-handed last year despite that being his natural side.
Shortstop Nick Franklin is another switch-hitter, but he’s fighting for a starting job with Brad Miller and there’s no guarantee he’ll make the 25-man roster out of camp and he also hit much better from the left side last year. Outfielder Abraham Almonte is another switch hitter, but he’d need to earn a starting job to help out.
Morales hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs last year, producing equally productive from both sides of the plate.
McClendon has previously noted the team’s shortness of right-handed hitters, but on Saturday said “we certainly have options. There’s opportunity. We’ll see how things play out.”
Switch hitters can help balance any lineup, but McClendon said that comes with a big qualifier.
“I think when you talk about having switch hitters in your lineup, they need to be productive,” he said. “I don’t need switch hitters just to be switch hitters, I need guys to e be productive. But it certainly helps if you can have a couple of those guys in your lineup. That’s a nice asset to have.”