I’ve talked about the Mariners potentially selling the farm and going all in this year, but for some reason I haven’t gone in depth about whether or not the Mariners should do the opposite.
Make no mistake, watching the organization give up on yet another season would be a HUGE demoralizing blow, psychologically. Starting with the team’s promising 2014, expectations in Seattle have grown as a core group of veterans have been established. Felix, Cano, Seager, Cruz starting in 2015. Seth Smith, Iwakuma, Guti to a lesser extent. With vets like Lind, Aoki, Miley, and Iannetta, alongside potential reclamation projects like Leonys Martin, Steve Cishek, and various other bullpen pieces, 2016 had the feel of something special – particularly when the team got out to that fantastic start over the first two months of the season.
But, as things have fallen apart, the hard questions must be asked. Should the Mariners sell? And, if so, WHO should they sell?
I had every intention of either blowing this post off, or at least pushing it back into next week (closer to the trade deadline), because it’s not something – as a fan – I enjoy thinking about. Giving up. Going back to the fucking drawing board. AGAIN. Building up the farm system to, what? To try to find that special sort of magic the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s found? The kind of magic teams like the Royals and Astros of today enjoy? Those are forged in many multiple last place seasons, combined with a tremendous amount of luck! At what point have the Mariners been able to generate that type of luck? Even when we lose – even when we’re THE WORST – we still fuck up somehow!
So, no, this isn’t a particularly enjoyable post for me. But, then I got to thinking. Specifically, I got to thinking about Nelson Cruz.
He’s an interesting case, isn’t he? I’d go so far as to say Nelson Cruz is at his peak, today, right now. Truth be told, his actual peak might have been 2015, but let’s say he’s still close enough to his 2015 production to have as much value as he’s ever going to have. He’s hitting the tar off the ball, hitting for a solid average, and he’s doing it in Seattle of all places. If he can do it here, surely he can exceed expectations for a winning ballclub that needs that one piece to be World Series contenders!
Cruz has two more years on his contract after this year. Obviously, you can make the argument he’s not in the long-term plans of the organization. He’s 36 years old as of July 1st, so there’s that. He’s making $14 million a year, which isn’t chump change, but it’s also not outrageous for a guy producing at his level. While it’s reasonable – and probably smart – to expect a decline starting as early as next year, you could easily make the argument that 2017 Nelson Cruz will still have SOME value. He’ll still hit dingers. He’ll still make your lineup better. But, maybe his average dips. Maybe he hits into some more double plays. Maybe his defense gets even more laughably bad. And maybe in 2018, when he’s hitting 38 years of age, things start to REALLY bottom out, and you’re stuck with a guy who’s now overpaid, and an active liability to your team in every capacity (see: Richie Sexson’s 2008 season).
Do you want to trade Cruz at his peak value? Or, do you want to hold onto him, try to squeeze every last drop out of him, and risk not only being stuck with him, but having the fans resent you for not opting out of this thing when you had a chance to sell high?
Now, if you REALLY believe that 2017 is THE year to make it all happen – if you have some sort of plan set in place that will get us another Ace starting pitcher, and really shape this team into a valid contender for 162 games, plus post-season – then by all means, roll the dice on Cruz one more time and see what happens. But, if we’re stuck trying to fill holes with veterans, trying to find value in obscure places, hoping for more bounce-back years from guys in key roles, and otherwise just trying to see if some spark will ignite a magical run, then maybe we go ahead and do that with Cruz in another uniform.
I should point out that in any scenario where the Mariners trade Nelson Cruz, we better be getting back a MAJOR piece or set of pieces. Like, a young, cost-controlled, stud corner outfielder or something.
Moving beyond Cruz, you’ve gotta take a look at the roster going forward.
Obviously, Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee are possibilities, since they’re not under contract after this season. Aoki, Cishek, and Miley have all, for the most part, underperformed this year, so you’re talking about selling low on those guys (maybe if you take off your glasses and squint, you can find an interesting package with one or more of those guys that another team will swallow, but I doubt it). If we’re going full sell-off mode, you have to look at the guys other teams actually covet!
Aside from Cruz, the core going forward is still Felix, Cano, and Seager. Leonys Martin is arbitration eligible for the next two seasons, has played outstanding defense, and his bat is coming around, so he’s probably not going anywhere. Ketel Marte and Edwin Diaz are young potential stars in this league, so you figure they’re off the table. Seth Smith and Iwakuma are both signed at least through next year, and they’re useful enough to either keep around for one more year or to trade for probably some pretty solid pieces. Then, there’s always Paxton and Walker, who you’d think the organization has earmarked for the future, but injury issues have slowed their development considerably the last few years.
The prime candidates are the Big 4, though. Cruz, Felix, Cano, and Seager. Cruz, I’ve talked about. Felix, I don’t even want to consider. I’m not saying he’s untouchable, I’m just saying I don’t want to think about it. Cano has 7 more seasons left, making $24 million per year. He’s probably still got at least 3 more prime years left in him, and should still be good-enough for another couple years beyond that (those final couple years though, YEESH). Getting rid of Cano would signal a total and complete rebuild, so I highly doubt we’re looking into that at this time. Maybe in a year or two, if the team totally falls apart. And, as for Seager, I think he’s probably the biggest lock of anyone to remain in Seattle for the foreseeable future. His contract is reasonable, he’s playing at a high level, he’s still got LOTS of years left on his career; he’s not going anywhere.
In all likelihood, I don’t know if the Mariners can be sellers even if they want to! Aside from a couple of smaller deals, or a potential blockbuster Cruz deal, I think the core of this team is going to be around at least through the first half of next year.