Rounding Third: Mariners ready to take next step

Philadelphia, PA ( – You want to know how important the
Seattle Mariners’ signing of Nelson Cruz was? They don’t have to do another
thing this offseason and they will be my pick to win the American League West.

Now with that said, I don’t think they are done just yet.

Seattle went into this offseason intent on upgrading its lineup – as it did
last winter when it signed Robinson Cano. Yes they probably overpaid Cano, but
they had to land one superstar to get another.

Felix Hernandez or not, Seattle just wasn’t a popular landing spot for free
agents. It seemed to be the same story every offseason for the Mariners. They
were in on every big bat available, yet they’d land nobody.

Or anyone who would make a difference.

That’s why the Cano signing last winter was so important. The ground work was
being laid for something much bigger.

And they knew more had to be done.

Cano may have watched his power numbers decline in spacious Safeco Field, but
he remained one of the best left-handed hitters in the game, despite having
little or no protection in a lineup that ranked second to last in the AL last
season with a .244 average.

Seattle, and Cano for that matter, desperately needed some help from the
right-side of the plate, as the Mariners’ .604 OPS by right-handed hitters in
2014 was the lowest for any team since the 1988 Pittsburgh Pirates.

The right-handed hitting Cruz, meanwhile, had a .977 OPS against left-handed

As good as Cano was a year ago, he’ll be even better with Cruz, the only
player in the league last season to hit 40 home runs. Even at 34 years of age,
Cruz will drastically upgrade a designated hitter spot for the Mariners that
last season produced an awful .190/.266/.301 line with 15 home runs and 50

Of course Safeco Field will likely sap some of Cruz’ power, but the majority
of his power numbers last season came on the road rather than the hitter
friendly confines of Camden Yards. Cruz hit .289 with 25 homers and 68 RBI
away from home last year opposed to the 15 HRs and 40 RBI in Baltimore.

Regardless, he’s a nice piece to slot in between Cano and third baseman Kyle
Seager, who recently inked a $100 million extension.

And the Mariners aren’t done.

They are still in on outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes.

Of the three the Mariners would probably prefer Kemp since he is signed
through 2019, whereas Cespedes and Upton can become a free agents after this

It’s no secret that the Los Angels Dodgers – like many other teams – covet
Mariners’ right-handed pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, but Seattle doesn’t
seem inclined to include him in a deal for Kemp or anyone else for that

This much is certain. With King Felix, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and yes,
even Walker, along with what was the best bullpen in the AL a year ago, the
Mariners have enough pitching to win. Their lineup has to catch up.

Signing Cruz was a nice next step. Now we wait for what’s coming next.