Nelson Cruz makes the Mariners better but will soon be awful

I doubt that there is anything left to be said about the Nelson Cruz signing that hasn’t been said yet. Last offseason I wrote about how Rajai Davis was something close to as good as Cruz in the role I expected Cruz to play on last year’s Mariners, and while Cruz did everything he could to make me and many other smarter people look stupid, the framework of that post still stands.

Nonetheless, the Mariners have agreed to a four year, $58 million contract with Cruz, ill-advisedly.

Nelson Cruz is a bad fielding outfielder, and the Mariners are bringing Cruz in for his age 34-37 seasons to be primarily a DH, it seems. The Mariners have needed outfielders for the better part of a half decade, and the Mariners just signed a nominal outfielder, and they’re not going to play him in the outfield. This isn’t entirely bad news, as it means that the Mariners have acquired some sort of intelligence since they trotted Michael Morse out for way too many innings. The problem is that this knowledge – the knowledge that outfield defense is valuable – hasn’t impacted the way they value the DH position, it appears.

For some perspective, if the Mariners intended on simply acquiring the best hitter they could, they’d have been arguably better off trading for Adam Lind, or signing Morse. Chase Headley is available, younger, and has experience in an outfield corner. Melky Cabrera is still on the market, and while he’s a bit enigmatic, so is Colby Rasmus.

Nelson Cruz is coming off of a big season, but only a fool would expect Cruz to be able to recreate his 2014—spent largely in Camden Yards—in the unfriendly confines of Safeco Field. That said, the following image from HitTrackerOnline shows Cruz’s 2014 homeruns with their true distance overlaying the dimensions of Safeco Field.

cruz safeco

Based on this overlay only very few of the home runs Cruz hit would have been contained by Safeco Field. Of course, marine layer, hitter’s eye, and all of the other excuses, but still. Cruz has power that could transcend Safeco Field in 2015, and that’s something. He’s also very good against lefties, something the Mariners have lacked for quite some time. Depending on how much merit you assign to the need to split up righties and lefties, Cruz makes for pretty tantalizing meat in the middle of a Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano sandwich.

But he’s old. Remember he’s old. Nelson Cruz will be 38 years old when this contract is over, and the prospect of a 38 year old Nelson Cruz is something about as appealing as seeing Billy Butler in a two-piece. The back half of this deal is going to be awful, almost certainly, and while the fan base – largely overlapping with the fan base of the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks – is both restless and tempted by alternatives. The Sounders made it to the Western Conference finals. The Seahawks remain good. The Washington Huskies are in a bowl game. And the Mariners have been shut out of the postseason for more than a decade.

To put icing on the cake, 24 year old Cuban prospect Yasmany Tomas signed for six years, $68 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks. There have been questions regarding Tomas’ ability to field, but those same questions are also true of Cruz, who will primarily DH.

Nelson Cruz is a good hitter, and because he’s a good hitter he’s a huge improvement over the aggregation of what the Mariners fielded at DH in 2014. But his contract represents poor value, there were arguably better alternatives at equal or lesser prices, and Cruz is going to be a wreck in a couple years while the team is still paying Seager, Cano, and Felix Hernandez.