Earlier today, news broke that the Mariners and Nelson Cruz had agreed to a four-year deal. While some assumed that he would serve in an outfield capacity, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that the M’s prefer to use Cruz in a DH role and will still seek a right fielder from outside the organization. According to Dutton, two possibilities are free agents Torii Hunter and Alex Rios.
Dutton also reports that the Mariners still have interest in acquiring Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, but those talks have stalled due to Los Angeles’ insistence that one of Taijuan Walker or James Paxton be included in the deal. Additionally, he adds, the Orioles have shown increased interest in Kemp, presenting Seattle with competition to acquire his services.
One player whose name has surfaced in trade speculation is right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, as many feel he could be a fit for the Red Sox in a potential swap for Yoenis Cespedes. However, ESPN’s Jayson Stark hears that Iwakuma is firmly unavailable, as the Mariners are looking to add to the club rather than subtract (Twitter link).
The Mariners feel they have the payroll flexibility to add Kemp (and thereby Hunter or Rios as well, of course) even after signing Cruz and working out a seven-year, $100MM extension for Kyle Seager. Kemp is owed $107MM over the next five seasons — a hefty investment for a power bat whose defensive skills appear to be diminishing as well.
Dutton’s report makes no mention of Justin Upton, although it would stand to reason that if Kemp is still in play, there would be continued interest in Upton as well, to whom the Mariners have been linked on multiple occasions. However, as Andy Martino of the New York Daily News tweeted after Cruz’s agreement, the Braves “almost certainly” would ask for Walker in exchange for Upton, so Seattle’s interest there figures to be limited until the asking price changes.
Both Hunter and Rios would provide a veteran right-handed bat to bring further balance to a lineup that was extremely left-handed in 2014. Hunter has recently been said to be considering the Mariners as well as the Rangers, Orioles, Royals and, to a lesser extent, the Twins. Rios, meanwhile, has yet to see his name surface in too many rumors, perhaps due to a down season at the plate (.280/.311/.398). The Mariners were said to consider him a fallback option earlier this month. Should the Mariners think on a larger scale, Melky Cabrera remains a free agent, and the price for parting with him is now slightly diminished, as Seattle would only need part with its second pick after forfeiting the No. 19 pick to sign Cruz.
In addition to the names listed, the Mariners do have a fairly strong in-house candidate in the form of Michael Saunders. However, Saunders is a left-handed bat and his relationship with the organization was strained after some postseason comments from GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon. The Mariners were said to be shopping Saunders as recently as last month’s GM Meetings, and those talks could of course be revisited at next week’s Winter Meetings.