The Seattle Mariners fell just short of a wild-card playoff spot last season, contending until the final day despite anemic production from their right-handed hitters. They took a major step Monday toward fixing that problem by reaching a four-year, $57 million contract agreement with Nelson Cruz.
The deal was confirmed by a baseball official who was granted anonymity because Cruz must pass a physical before the contract can be announced.
Cruz, 34, led the American League in homers, with 40, after signing a below-market deal with the Baltimore Orioles for $8 million in February. His market had been depressed because he had turned down a qualifying offer and was attached to draft-pick compensation.
The same factors were in play this time, but Cruz’s production was too enticing for the Mariners to pass up. He also proved he could still be an All-Star even after serving a suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal in 2013.
Cruz hit .271 with 40 homers and 108 RBIs during the regular season for the Orioles, who won the American League East for the first time since 1997.
Cruz had four hits and two RBIs in 16 at-bats against the Royals in the American League Championship Series.
But he was not consistent — his combined average for June, July and August was .214 — and he will now play his home games at Safeco Field, a notorious spot for power hitters.
The Mariners, though, were comfortable with the risk as they chase their first playoff appearance since 2001. It is the second-longest drought in the majors, behind the Toronto Blue Jays, who have not made it since 1993 and have been similarly aggressive this offseason.
Cruz becomes the latest player to cash in from the Mariners, who signed second baseman Robinson Cano from the New York Yankees last December for 10 years and $240 million. They also gave their ace, Felix Hernandez, a seven-year, $175 million contract extension in 2013 and will soon formalize a seven-year, $100 million deal extension with Kyle Seager, their All-Star third baseman.