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There’s a pretty stark contrast between the Jack Zduriencik Mariners and the Jerry Dipoto Mariners. Things were so dire and deficient – one might even say decrepit! – that Jackie Z found himself scouring the ends of the Earth for some right-handed power bats. Guys were slow, they had a terrible eye for the strikezone, and while they were able to mash some dingers on occasion, WAY more often than not they struck out or otherwise failed to produce.
Pretty clear that Jackie Z’s eventual vision didn’t pan out. He may have come to Seattle like a Jerry Dipoto on steroids, but he quickly pivoted when Chone Figgins failed to pan out and the rest of our Speed & Defense All Stars failed to score any runs.
Nelson Cruz is a guy transcending these two eras. He obviously represents the best of what Jackie Z had to offer – a massively successful right-handed power bat, purchased in free agency, at what was once thought to be a reach, but has thus far been a bargain – but clearly he’s a relic of bygone days. Fortunately, the Mariners play in the American League, and the designated hitter is a big part of the offensive program. While Cruz is a lumbering outfielder who probably shouldn’t get too many starts in the field at his age, Dipoto has stocked this organization with fast, rangy outfielders who can run down everything (thereby making up for their lack of pop in the lineup with their speed on the basepaths). It’s a new day! A new, defensively sound day.
Nelson Cruz has been truly remarkable the last three years. He’s played at least 152 games per year, hit over 40 homers per year, and his batting average and on-base percentage dwarfs what he was able to do with the Rangers. A couple days ago, I talked about Felix’s Second Act, and how he’s going to need to step up if he wants to be a Hall of Famer; well, it’s truly unbelievable to see how great Nelson Cruz’s second act has been. He’ll be 37 on July 1st, but he’s really showing no signs of slowing down. He was always solid-but-unspectacular with the Rangers, but he’s been an elite power hitter the last three years, and there’s no reason to expect that to fall off now.
The Mariners just need him to hit. Stay healthy and hit. Resist the urge to put him in right field (outside of National League road games) and let him hit. OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WON’T YOU PLEASE LET THE MAN HIT!?!?
The biggest reason for the Mariners’ offensive turnaround towards the end of the Jackie Z era has been the free agent signings of Cano and Cruz. It’s one of the rare gifts he was able to leave this organization. Obviously, Cano has the 10-year deal (7 more years to go!), and we’re all anxiously awaiting his career downturn; but Cruz is only heading into Year 3 of 4. If he can produce this year like he has in his last three seasons, he could drop dead on Day 1 of Year 4 and his contract would be a steal! Nearly every great team has that one hitter who does it all. Hits for average, hits for power, takes lots of walks, and is otherwise a menace in the cleanup spot in the lineup. You can believe whatever you want about lineup construction, but I take a lot of solace having him smack dab in the middle of Cano and Seager. That’s a fantastic Pick Your Poison situation for the Mariners. Any one of those guys can burn you, and frequently they do!
We just need to squeeze one more year out of Cruz. Keep on truckin’. With the pitching as sketchy as it is, we’re going to need all the offense we can get.