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December 4, 2014 at 12:28 PM

Nelson Cruz officially signs 4-year, $58 million contract with the Mariners

Cruz

Just days after the 2014 season ended in bittersweet disappointment, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik made it clear that the organization’s No. 1 priority in the offseason was to acquire a power right-handed bat to fill the obvious gaping need at the cleanup spot in between all-stars Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.

Of course, Mariners’ fans have heard that optimistic plan for years only to be rewarded with disappointment or the likes of Corey Hart.

But not this offseason.

On Thursday, the Mariners officially the signing of 34-year-old slugger Nelson Cruz to a 4-year, $58 million contract at Safeco Field.

“I don’t think it’s a secret that for the last few years we’ve been looking at offense,” Zduriencik said. “When you look at a young man that’s done the things he’s done in his career as well as what he’s done this past season, we’re ecstatic that he’s a member of our organization. Our main goal this offseason was to try and add a middle of the lineup hitter and we’ve accomplished that with Nelson Cruz.”

Cruz led Major League Baseball with 40 home runs this past season for the Baltimore Orioles. He finished third in MLB with 108 RBI. He also accumulated 32 doubles and two triples and an .857 OPS, earning him a spot on the American League All-Star team.

After failing to coax all-star designated hitter Victor Martinez into leaving the Detroit Tigers, Cruz was the next best power bat available on the free agent market. and the Mariners made sure they got him, offering a four-year contract.

“That extra year put it over the top,” Zduriencik said.

The Mariners certainly don’t view him as a consolation prize.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Zduriencik said. “Trying to find a right-handed power hitter, it’s very difficult. Clubs that have them don’t want to give them up. Sometimes they’re very expensive.”

Besides the fourth year, Cruz offered the major reason why was Seattle the best fit for him?

“I want to win, you know,” he said. “That’s the main goal. I’ve been in the playoffs a few times. I’ve been in the World Series a few times. I think we have what it takes to go to the World Series and win it. That’s the main reason.”

Cruz appeared in the postseason in three straight seasons with the Texas Rangers from 2010 to 2012, including back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. This past season he helped lead the Orioles to AL East title.

He is expected to provide plenty of production from the clean-up spot.

“I think having him in the lineup will give Robbie (Cano) a lot more pitches to hit and whoever is hitting behind him will have a lot more opportunities to drive in runs,” McClendon said. “Obviously, he’s going to make guys better around him in our lineup.”

Expect Cruz to be at designated hitter most days in that Mariners’ lineup. McClendon envisions Cruz at DH about 75 percent of the time and in the outfield the rest of the time. Cruz would like that DH percentage to decrease.

“DHing is boring,” Cruz said with a laugh. “I don’t like to be the DH. But I understand role. I understand that I’m here to play and contribute in whatever that role might be. I’m here to help. Lloyd makes the call.”

McClendon tried to be diplomatic.

“This will be something that Nelson and I will sit down and talk about,” McClendon said. “Believe me, we’ll come to a conclusion where he will be comfortable with the game plan and what we will try to do to make sure he’s stays healthy and be a productive player throughout the year. We’ll figure it out.”

He is no stranger to Seattle. He’s played in 53 games in Safeco Field over his career. He knows all about the pratfalls of being a right-handed power hitter in the cold marine air of the Puget Sound.

“I’ve been here a few times and I’ve heard it many times,” he said. “The ball doesn’t carry like people say, but I still love to hit here. This is one of my favorite ballparks. I’m not too concerned about it.”

Cruz has been in the big leagues for 10 seasons, playing a season with Milwaukee (2005) before spending the next eight with Texas (2006-2013) and Baltimore this past season. He’s appeared in 963 games big league games, and is  a career .268 with 203 doubles, 10 triples, 197 home runs and 597 RBI with career slugging percentage of .501 and a career OPS of .829. Cruz has hit for at least 20 home runs and 75 RBI in each of his MLB seasons.

The Mariners had flirted with the idea of signing Cruz last season. Both sides had mutual interest, but Zduriencik said it didn’t work out.  Did it have to do with the rumor of ownership nixing a possible deal because of Cruz’s suspension for being linked to the Biogenesis PED scandal,?

“No,” Zduriencik said. “No, we just never got to that point. We just never got there. We had a lot of discussions at the time and it just didn’t happen. It was just one of those things.”

Zduriencik did discuss the suspension with Cruz during negotiations.

“He was very upfront,” Zduriencik said. “We spoke to people at the heart of it and they said Nelson was as classy, as honest and as remorseful as anybody that they talked to that was involved in the whole process. It was a mistake and he owned up to the mistake. He served his suspension and was upfront and honest and how that thing went down. Everyone in life gets a second chance, and he’s trying to make the most of it.”

Cruz explained his decision to go to BioGenesis.

“It was something about my health that made me do it,” he said.  “I lost 40 pounds during the offseason. I went to different doctors and they didn’t find what was going on with me and why I kept losing weight. Finally they found out I have parasites. And then spring training was close. That’s why I made that decision.”

 

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