After a pair of signings by the Baltimore Orioles thinned the free-agent market last week, Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik still has options.
Saturday outfielder Nelson Cruz and Baltimore agreed to terms on a one-year, $8 million deal, which included an additional $750,000 in incentives. The contract was a massive financial letdown for Cruz, who in November spurned a $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Rangers.
The Orioles also gambled last week when they signed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, 30, to a four-year, $50 million deal. In 2013 with the Indians, Jimenez started 32 games, went 13-9 and posted a 3.30 ERA in 182.2 innings. His resurgence was a mild surprise after he spent the previous two years dealing with injuries and control problems exacerbated by his jerky, unorthodox delivery.
The red flags on both players didn’t deter Zduriencik, who is working under a one-year contract and facing mounting pressure from a hostile fan base, from having discussions with Jimenez and Cruz, the latter a confirmed PED user and right fielder with below-average range.
In early February, multiple reports indicated the Mariners were close to signing Cruz. Negotiations stalled when both sides couldn’t agree on terms for a contract. It didn’t help that Cruz was wary of playing home games at Safeco Field, a stadium where he struggled while with AL West-rival Texas.
With Opening Day five weeks away, free agent designated hitter Kendrys Morales is the market’s last power bat available. Morales, 30, turned down Seattle’s one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer in November after hitting .277/.336/.449 last season with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs. He posted a .785 OPS and was durable, appearing in 156 games.
Re-signing him could prove challenging.
Morales might wait until after June’s MLB draft before agreeing to a deal, according to FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal. The move would allow his new team to avoid surrendering compensation (a first-round pick) to Seattle, his former team. A loophole in the MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, the provision gives clubs incentive to wait until June before making a deal.
Cruz chose a different route. He didn’t want to miss the first part of the season, so he settled by signing for less. Morales, who is represented by agent Scott Boras, might not.
In Rosenthal’s story, Ervin Santana’s agent said his pitcher will hold out, if necessary. The 31-year-old remains unsigned after refusing the Royals’ qualifying offer.
The Mariners were in discussions to add Santana as a No. 3 starter. It made sense because it would bridge the gap between aces Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and projected starters Taijaun Walker and James Paxton. The latter pair has never pitched through an entire major league season.
Per ESPN New York, Zduriencik is also interested in trading shortstop Nick Franklin to the Mets for top pitching prospect Rafael Montero.
As of Monday, the Mariners’ projected Opening Day payroll was near $75.5 million, about $4 million more than last season. The small discrepancy means Zdruriencik still has the financial flexibility to improve a club that finished 71-91 in 2013.
Zduriencik claimed he spoke to every available free agent this offseason. Most assume he isn’t done making a final push to save his job.