SEATTLE (AP) — Had things come together last season, Nelson Cruz’s introduction with the Seattle Mariners would have taken place a year ago.
Seattle pursued Cruz last year but when it didn’t work out, he went on to lead the majors in home runs playing on a one-year deal in Baltimore. The Mariners were quick to try to find a deal that would work for both sides as soon as this offseason arrived.
“We were open and honest as we could possibly be and say, ‘This is the guy that we want,'” Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said Thursday. “He was the guy we wanted to bring into this organization and it just came together.”
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Seattle landed the right-handed power bat that was a priority this offseason with a $57 million, four-year contract that was finalized Thursday. He gets a $1 million signing bonus payable by Dec. 31 and yearly salaries of $14 million.
Cruz parlayed an $8 million, one-year contract with Baltimore into a long deal with the Mariners after hitting 40 homers and driving in 108 runs for the Orioles. Zduriencik said adding a fourth year to the contract — which will take Cruz to age 38 — was critical to getting the deal done.
“With Nelson, the fact that because he’s such a power guy, and in our game today it’s so difficult to find,” Zduriencik said. “In our league he can be a DH which will preserve him somewhat, he’s in great shape, he’s a really good worker. He may age very well. We had to do that to get him here and we did it.”
Cruz served a 50-game suspension in 2013 for violations of the major league drug agreement in relation to the sport’s investigation of the Biogenesis of America clinic. He again referred Thursday to making a mistake taking banned substances and said he’s moved on from the suspension.
He’ll likely hit behind fellow Dominican star Robinson Cano, who will be starting the second season of a $240 million, 10-year contract, and will also reunite with Dominican teammate Fernando Rodney, the Mariners’ closer.
“We’ve been pretty close,” Cruz said of Cano. “He’s also one of the reasons why I’m here. I think he was pulling for me the whole time. I was pulling for this right here, to be part of this.”
The Mariners have among the top pitching staffs in the AL but missed the postseason by one game last season due to offensive shortcomings.
Cruz fits the need, even if he’s never posted big numbers at Safeco Field. Cruz has hit at least 22 homers in every season since 2009 and has been an All-Star three times. Cruz’s .271 batting average and .525 slugging percentage last season with Baltimore was his highest since 2010 with Texas.
Cruz has hit .240 with nine homers and 19 RBIs in 52 games in Seattle — better than his .185 career average in Oakland and .218 in Anaheim.
“I just believe great players make players around them better and I think having Nelson in the middle of our lineup is not only going to give (Cano) a lot more pitches to hit, but whoever is hitting behind him will have an opportunity to drive in runs as well,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Obviously, he’s going to make guys better around him in that lineup.”
The middle of Seattle’s order is no longer filled with questions. With Cano, Cruz and All-Star Kyle Seager, the Mariners have a legitimate 3-4-5 to build around. McClendon said Cruz would be primarily a designated hitter but also would be used in the outfield. Cruz played 70 games in the outfield for Baltimore last season.
The Mariners would still like to add another offensive piece to further solidify that lineup and expect to be involved in a lot of conversations at the Winter Meetings. Zduriencik acknowledged that a few years ago Seattle may not have been a desirable place for free agents to consider.
“I think the perception of this organization is changing,” Zduriencik said.
NOTES: Cruz received a limited no-trade provision. Within 30 days of the deal’s approval by Major League Baseball, he can designate eight teams he cannot be traded to without his approval during 2015-16. He would get a $50,000 bonus if elected to start in the All-Star game, $25,000 if selected as a reserve and $50,000 each for winning a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger. He also would get $150,000 if he’s voted MVP, $50,000 for League Championship Series MVP and $100,000 for World Series MVP.
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