In his most recent appearance on 710 ESPN radio (audio link), Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto discussed his club’s disappointing fade in the postseason race. What had seemed an inevitable march to a Wild Card has turned into a lost cause as the division-rival A’s sprinted past.
It long seemed that the M’s were outperforming their true talent level, but the collapse has still been surprising (albeit less so than the corresponding Oakland surge). Seattle is still 14 games over .500, but it sat over twenty games over for much of late June and July.
Dipoto admitted that the club is at a “bit of a crossroads” at this point, having seen a hoped-for postseason return fall out of its grasp. “We should be embarrassed by it and I am,” says the veteran executive, who says it feels as if the club has “taken two steps forward and then three steps back” over the course of the season.
It’s interesting to hear Dipoto describe things in that manner, as the organization seems largely to be set up to continue pressing forward after the present season. After all, its 2019 payroll already includes over $125MM in guaranteed money before accounting for arbitration salaries or outside acquisitions. Of course, Dipoto could perhaps be referring more to the team’s approaches to roster building and commitments to specific players than its determination to pursue near-term contention.
Notably, that upcoming salary figure also doesn’t include a salary for veteran slugger Nelson Cruz, who is the team’s top pending free agent. Dipoto highlighted Cruz as one of the season’s highlights in the above-linked chat. And he has made clear in other recent comments that the Mariners have every intention of trying to keep him in the fold, as Corey Brock of The Athletic explores (subscription link).
As Dipoto put it in an interview with Seattle’s KIRO-AM:
“I don’t think you could increase the chances we’d want to, the chances we want to are already very high. Everybody wants Nelson here, there’s no question about that.”
Just how contract talks will proceed isn’t clear, but they won’t be impacted by the qualifying offer process since Cruz isn’t eligible to receive one. The 38-year-old would otherwise seem a reasonable recipient despite his advanced age. After all, he has done nothing but mash since coming to Seattle. Through nearly 2,500 plate appearances over the past four seasons, he carries a ridiculous .286/.365/.553 slash with 162 home runs.
Interestingly, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times noted back in June that the organization has already made a run at “a contract setup similar to David Ortiz’s final years in Boston” — i.e., a hefty single-year guarantee with a series of options, at least some of which had vesting elements. Evidently, that approach (or other details of the offer) didn’t strike Cruz’s fancy, at least not to the extent that he was willing to make a deal before the start of the season.
Now that Cruz will have another productive year in the books, he can certainly seek a multi-year deal if he prefers. As Brock explains, some recent injuries are perhaps more a reflection of misfortune than deterioration, and Cruz is a noted workout fiend. Though he’ll be limited to American League teams, and will face a market that hasn’t favored defensively-limited sluggers, Cruz will surely be a popular target if he makes it to free agency.