With Cruz gone, Mariners may look to Morales

PEORIA, Ariz. — If the Seattle Mariners plan to supplement their lineup with another competent major-league bat, the best and only option is at least someone they are familiar with.

On Saturday morning, one of the two remaining free-agent sluggers on the market — Nelson Cruz — agreed to terms with the Baltimore Orioles on an $8 million, one-year contract with $750,000 reported in incentives.

With Cruz now unavailable, it leaves Kendrys Morales as the remaining slugger available.

The Mariners are certainly familiar with Morales. The 30-year-old designated hitter was the team’s best offensive producer last season. Morales led the team in batting average (.277), hits (167), doubles (34), runs batted in (80), multihit games (46) and extra-base hits (37). He also played in a career-high 156 games, making 152 starts — 121 at DH and 31 at first base.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik was impressed enough with the performance that he had discussions with Morales’ agent, Scott Boras, about a possible extension.

But as often is the case, Boras advised against any extension.

The Mariners did hold out some hope of bringing Morales back for the 2014 season by offering a qualifying offer of a one-year contract of $14.1 million. But Boras and Morales declined the offer and opted for free agency in the hopes of signing a multiyear contract.

And while Boras rarely fails when it comes to getting his clients top dollar, Morales appears to have made a mistake.

While they have remained quiet on any negotiations, the Mariners are unlikely to offer more than a three-year contract for Morales. Cruz settling for a one-year “show me” contract in Baltimore doesn’t help him.

The Mariners had some interest in Cruz and were thought to be a likely landing spot. Seattle needed outfield help and a right-handed bat with some power. Cruz sort of offered both. But there were more than a few reasons why Cruz wasn’t signed until now. And the Mariners weren’t the only team to have them. Cruz’s defensive deficiencies in the outfield were an issue. Most scouts believe at his age and history of leg injuries that he’s more of a DH. Cruz also greatly benefited from playing half of his games in Texas, where every fly ball has a chance of being a home run.

Cruz’s career splits are striking. He’s .294 with .912 on base plus slugging percentage in Arlington compared to .242 batting average with a .734 OPS in opposing parks.

There were also the concerns of his link to performance-enhancing drugs. Cruz was suspended for 50 games at the end of last season for his role in the Biogenesis scandal.

Add it all up and the Mariners had every right to be skeptical. It was also reported that Cruz had reservations about playing in Seattle. Even with the fence being moved in, Safeco Field still has the reputation as a graveyard for right-handed hitters.

So does that mean signing Morales has become a priority? The Mariners have remained patient thus far, watching the possible price tag drop.


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