Nelson Cruz and Jerry Dipoto's contracts are both up after this season. What's in the works to keep them around? Mariners beat writer Ryan Divish offers his insight in this week's edition of his Twitter mailbag.
A note to self in preparation for next week’s mailbag: Don’t ask for questions on Twitter when the Mariners are in the midst of their worst inning of the season, committing two errors and allowing six runs in the third inning of what still ended up being a win on Friday night.
Get your questions in by tweeting at @RyanDivish
September 23 | Searching for prospects and bright spots from 2018 season
September 2 | Why didn't M's go all-in before August waiver deadline?
Yep, more than a few Twitter responses weren’t so much questions but rhetorical rants against the world. And definitely not fit for print.
But a second call for questions provided an eclectic mix of useful queries for this week’s mailbag.
Let’s do this …
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Technically the Mariners can’t keep Cruz beyond this season without a contract extension or agreeing to a new contract. His four-year, $57 million contract, which he signed before the 2015 season, seems like a massive bargain now considering his production on the field and his presence in the clubhouse.
Going into the 2018 season, I expected the Mariners to come up with some sort of way to keep Cruz around for at least one more season. He’s simply been that good for the team. His work ethic and his diligence and commitment to preparation have rubbed off on players. He’s also grown into a leader on the team.
Obviously, injuries have played a factor in his numbers not being up to typical levels at this point in the season. But he still came into Saturday hitting .248 with an .852 on-base plus slugging percentage, eight doubles, 16 homers and 38 RBIs in just 57 games. It’s also instructive to point out that Cruz’s health issues aren’t typical to age or breakdown. He suffered a sprained ankle slipping on the dugout stairs and dealt with elbow pain after being repeatedly by pitches.
Yes, he will turn 38 next season and eventually Father Time will catch up with him. But his brutal offseason workouts and continued work during the season have slowed that regression.
Sources said that the Mariners approached Cruz with the possibility of a contract setup similar to David Ortiz’s final years in Boston, which was basically a one-year contract with vesting options for the next season. But nothing was finalized in that discussion.
Because he’s essentially become a full-time designated hitter, Cruz is limited in his options as a free agent. Obviously, it would have to be an American League team and one that is comfortable having a full-time designated hitter and not using it on a rotational basis to rest players.
If the Mariners decide to not find a way to bring back Cruz for 2019 or he decides to sign elsewhere, the team would certainly look at using the designated hitter spot as a position where multiple players could get at-bats and “rest” days. Obviously Daniel Vogelbach would be a consideration in that spot as well.
There isn’t really an inside scoop on general manager Jerry Dipoto’s current contract. He’s in the final year of his three-year deal that he signed at the end of the 2015 season when he replaced Jack Zduriencik, who was fired less than year from receiving a two-year contract extension in August of 2014 from Mariners team president and now CEO Kevin Mather.
So in 2016, the Mariners were actually paying Dipoto to be the GM and Zduriencik not to be the GM. It was like when they paid Chone Figgins $9 million not to be on their team anymore, which may not sound like a great investment. But after three years of petulance and whining from Figgins, it was money well spent to have him gone.
Mather talked about his decision to give Zduriencik that extension and his misgivings during spring training.
“Jack’s second to last year, we got close,” Mather said. “Were we good though or did baseball lead us into that situation? I think I had to do the extension with Jack. Obviously in hindsight, I gave him a two-year extension and four months into the season I had to let him go. Of course, I regret that.”
So will the baseball of 2018, specifically the Mariners’ winning and push for their postseason appearance since 2001, lead Mather to an extension for Dipoto and also manager Scott Servais like it did with Zduriencik?
Perhaps it should. The question that Mather must answer and determine is whether this success is real and whether the organization is in a better place now compared to when Dipoto took over. Sure there have been a few questionable trades and decisions in the myriad of moves made by Dipoto. The Mariners’ farm system is still a problem in terms of talent and depth. It was bad when Zduriencik left, and Dipoto has tried to replenish some of the talent he dealt away to improve his big-league roster. But it’s years away from being good again.
As of now, there have been no rumblings of an extension announcement. But with the success of the big league team and a roster that looks to have some sustainability going forward beyond next year, it certainly seems like something that could be announced around the All-Star break.
There are a few ways to answer this question. The snarky answer would be … “sure, whenever there’s a bobblehead night or the Blue Jays are in town.”
And to be fair, the last few seasons when the Blue Jays have come to Safeco, the place has been packed and the beer lines have been unending.
Last season vs. Toronto at Safeco Field:
- Friday, June 9 — 35,518
- Saturday, June 10 — 45,480
- Sunday, June 11 — 41,137
It was a pretty wild atmosphere. This year the Blue Jays come in for a four-game set from Thursday, Aug. 2 to Sunday, Aug. 5. So prepare yourself.
Given the success of the Red Sox this season, it wasn’t surprising to see many of their “diehard” fans show up to Safeco. Throw in the success of the Mariners, and Safeco has been a pretty exciting place.
But there certainly is a different vibe at Safeco Field because of the team’s success. You notice more Mariners caps around town that before. It will only continue to grow if the team keeps winning. Then the crowds will be more about the Mariners and not the team they’re playing.