Report: Mariners Ownership Killed A Nelson Cruz Deal Last Winter


Nelson Cruz led the majors with 40 home runs this past season. He was a four-win player, even accounting for his typical abysmal defense. He surged back from an ugly PED suspension to help the Baltimore Orioles cruise to an AL Central crown and a date with the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. And he did it all on a one year contract. which is one less year than he allegedly agreed to take from the Seattle Mariners.

After signing Robinson Cano, it appeared the Mariners were all in. They were pushing their chips towards the middle of the table, and it would be World Series or bust. Cruz was the most obvious target of all time – a big righty slugger who Cano went as far as to personally advocate for. The front office was rumored to be in love with him, and they’re known to covet his skillset.

Rumor had it Cruz didn’t want to play in Seattle. After all, the Mariners had surely offered him some kind of a ridiculous five-year deal, right? But still he took the Orioles one-year offer, so it must have been a hatred for the Emerald City. But here’s Bob Dutton, reporting that the Mariners had a deal in place with Cruz for one year and $7.5 million with a $9 million club option for 2015.

That’s… that’s not a mammoth contract by any means. The big concern last winter was that the Mariners would throw hundreds of millions of dollars at Cruz for no apparent reason. The hope was that they’d either a) sign someone better, or b) sign Cruz to a reasonable deal. That deal is very, very reasonable. And it was also probably the best offer Cruz had on the table, given the contract he signed.

So why didn’t the Mariners get their man? A meddlesome front office, of course! The team spent $240 million on a second baseman and then cried broke. Which they weren’t, of course, given that they signed Fernando Rodney to a two year, $14 million contract in February. That’s almost twice as big as the guarantee they made to Cruz. The front office didn’t like giving Cruz seven figures, to the point where they wouldn’t let it happen. But then a few weeks later they said sure, give eight figures to a reliever.

This appears on the surface to be a poor baseball decision as well as poor financial planning. The latter part we know all about, as the team simply didn’t handle their offseason spending in a way that gave them the kind of flexibility they needed to make critical improvements to a club that looked (and turned out to be) primed to win eighty-something games. A big bat on a short-term deal for under ten million? Why on earth would ownership get in the way of that?

Steroids. Of course, Cruz’s involvement with Biogenesis is well-documented, and the only reason he was talking about one-year pacts in the first place. Take away the suspension and Cruz probably signs for three or four years. But the suspension happened, and so all thirty clubs knew to view him through the lens of caution. The Mariners, it appears, had extra-big concerns. But not their baseball people. No, these concerns came from the wallets.

The front office simply should not be making baseball decisions, ever. But that’s exactly what they did, overriding the already-made decision of the people they hired for the specific purpose of making baseball decisions. Jack Zduriencik and company looked at Cruz and saw a risk worth taking. Ownership disagreed. Maybe you do that when nine figures and a lot of years are on the line. But for a $7.5 million, one-year deal? With the exact type of player the team has been coveting for years?

That they then approved the Fernando Rodney deal to “shorten the game” is almost unfathomable. This is the worst kind of meddlesome, where a less-informed party tells a more-informed party that “no, actually I’m better at your job than you are, even though I hired you to do your job.” Ownership’s job is to trust their front office. So is that not the case? Does “in Jack we trust” not apply to Jack’s bosses?

We want to feel good about the Mariners. A winning season made us feel good about the Mariners, but now we have this. There’s poor communication and lamentable decision-making at the top of the organization, and it appears to have cost the Mariners a free agent signing that could have easily propelled them towards the top of the wild card standings.

Let’s say you assume Cruz benefited in a huge way from playing at Camden Yards this year. Say you want to chop his imagined value in half with Seattle. That’s still a two-win player, and two extra wins means the Royals playing the wild card game in Seattle. Before the season, a pessimistic projection of Cruz would have put him around one win. That one extra win still puts the Mariners in playoff position. Never mind that in the real world he was worth four wins.

So the Mariners had their man, until they didn’t. Ownership said no, and at that point what was the team going to do? Fernando Rodney’s signing just makes it all the more frustrating. We want to feel good about the Mariners. Hopefully ownership lets management make the baseball decisions from now on. That’s one small thing that can help us feel good about the Mariners.