Alternatives to Nelson Cruz

not a giant - USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners have a lot of free agent money to spend and not a lot of free agents to spend it on. That doesn't mean it doesn't matter how they use their cash.

I'm not going to explain again why Nelson Cruz - even at his newly lowered asking prices - would be a bad buy for the Mariners. Scott already did thatTwice. Also Dave Cameron, also twice. And Jeff Sullivan. And Tony Blengino. And Sports Nation, and Bleacher Report, and probably also the crazy cat lady who lives two houses down from your uncle. (You laugh, but she's still more credible than Bleacher Report.)

Personally, I think we Mariners bloggers have gotten into a bit of a rut with regards to Mr. Cruz. Sure, he looks like an overpay waiting to happen, and avoiding overpays is desirable for teams with limited budgets. But having good players is desirable, too. One of the more interesting pro-Cruz arguments I've seen is this: the free agent market is barren, and the Mariners need to improve so that they can capitalize on the short-term value window of the Cano signing. So why not splurge on a short-term deal? If they're not going to spend on Cruz, where else could they possibly put their money? Is it really worse to overpay than it is to not spend at all?

The answer is: that's a false dichotomy. In fact, one could even call it a false false dichotomy, since its central premise is that "spend inefficiently or spend efficiently" is a false dichotomy, and that central premise is, uh, false. (Give me a minute here; I just confused myself.) No matter how barren the free agent market may be, the Mariners definitely still have things that they can spend their money on. Things that aren't right-handed sluggers with high K rates and recent PED suspensions.

Let's say Cruz is going to cost something like 2/$20M. Here's a short list of things the Mariners could do with that cash - things that would be better for the organization than giving money to Nelson Cruz.

1. Sign Kendrys Morales

Kendrys Morales is still out on the free agent market, and it's looking more and more like he might have to wait until June to get a job. That's dumb. Morales is a better fit for this team than Cruz is, and he's younger, and while the big knock against him is that he can't play the field, signing him instead of Cruz wouldn't actually make the defense any worse. Here, have a look:

Morales M's vR Pos. Morales M's vL Pos. Cruz M's vR Pos. Cruz M's vL Pos.
Morales DH Morales DH Morrison DH Cruz DH
Morrison 1B Hart 1B Hart 1B Hart 1B
Hart RF Gutierrez RF Cruz RF Gutierrez RF

Either way, Justin Smoak would have to get the boot for the roster to make any sense. And either way, the right field defense would be mostly terrible. But let's be honest: is having Corey Hart in right field really any worse than having Nelson Cruz out there?

Now consider: Morales is a better hitter than Cruz. Morales is a younger hitter than Cruz. Morales is not coming off of a PED suspension like the one MLB just gave Cruz. Morales is a switch hitter, which means Safeco won't murder him as much as it'll murder Cruz. Morales would effectively cost the same draft pick as Cruz. Morales will almost certainly not be more expensive than Cruz.

So here's the question. Are all of those benefits actually outweighed by the fact that a Morales signing would force the Mariners into playing Corey Hart in the outfield? When the alternative gloveman is an absolute butcher himself? I certainly don't think so. Adding Kendrys Morales to the Mariners wouldn't exactly be a good move, from a roster-management standpoint, but if the team is interested in Nelson Cruz, why not pursue this superior alternative?

Now, I'll grant that the Mariners can't force Morales to re-sign with them - though I bet he'd prefer it to waiting until June to get a contract. (They'd prefer he not do that, too: if he has to wait to sign, they won't get their compensation pick.) There are reasons he might not want to come back. Maybe he hates the park, or maybe he hates Felix Hernandez, or maybe he thinks he looks dumb in teal. There are all sorts of reasons why this signing might not be possible. Luckily, the next option is somewhat easier to force players to assent to...

2. Trade with the Dodgers

Remember way back at the beginning of the offseason, when everyone suddenly realized that the Dodgers had Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson, and only three starting outfield jobs? Turns out they still have all of those guys! One of them's almost certainly going to get moved during spring training, and if the Mariners are willing to repurpose 2014's "Cruz money", they could get in on the action.

Sure, Ethier has platoon splits. Sure, Kemp has injuries. Sure, they're both stupidly expensive. But sending over a reasonable prospect could probably convince the Dodgers to part with a few tens of millions, and either Ethier or Kemp would immediately become Seattle's Best Outfielder. Much better than Cruz, is what I'm getting at.

Have a table:

Steamer Games wRC+ Def WAR
Nelson Cruz 130 113 -9.8 1.5
Matt Kemp 127 125 -6.4 2.9
Andre Ethier 104 119 -1.1 2.3

Steamer is pretty smart - one might say it knows players' weaknesses. Steamer knows about Kemp's fragility, which is why he's projected to miss 32 games. It knows about Ethier's platoon splits and his ankle, which is why he's projected for a below-career-average wRC+ and a limited number of plate appearances.

But Steamer also knows that Nelson Cruz has a weakness of his own: he's Nelson Cruz. And the two Dodgers, despite their warts, are thus preferable in the extreme.

...OK, so maybe trades aren't your thing. Maybe you think the Mariners should be looking more internally. Well...

3. Extend Kyle Seager

The time to give Kyle Seager a long-term contract is now. Actually, it was a week ago, before Freddie Freeman signed his precedent-setting extension, but "now" is close enough. Scott wrote about this in July, and though Seager fell off a cliff in the second half of the season, that could actually work as a point in the Mariners' favor to drive down his price. Something in the backloaded 6/70 range might get it done.

So it turns out there are actually a lot of ways to spend $20M

By paying a little extra cash next year, the Mariners could buy up one or two of Seager's free agent years, lock him up through his early thirties, and thus keep their best homegrown player close to home. Having Seager at reasonable prices in 2018 and 2019 would save the Mariners from having to spend huge dough on an equally talented third baseman to replace him. It wouldn't make the team playoff contenders in the present, but hey - neither would Nelson Cruz.

Actually... we don't have to limit our search for superior alternatives to just the major leagues. After all, the Mariners are much more than what happens in Safeco. Where else could they reallocate a little payroll cash?

4. Improve the Minors

The Mariners have recently had an excellent minor league system, but it would be even better if they poured more money into player development, fitness, equipment, and health. For a front office that's so invested in the draft, Jack Z's regime has been markedly unsuccessful in developing actual major league players, and improved minor league conditions might help. And we're not just talking weight rooms, clubhouse food and analysis tools. I imagine the Cardinals' minor league player development staff have some pretty strong organizational loyalty... but I bet they're not $10,000,000 per year loyal.

The team could also get crackin' on the international development front, building improved facilities abroad and bringing in new scouts to replace the ingloriously-departed Bob Engel. The next Felix Hernandez is out there somewhere, and Nelson Cruz's money would go a lot further towards finding him than actually signing Nelson Cruz would. And hey, isn't it really annoying how the Mariners' minor leaguers always get their statistics all furcocted in that ridiculous bandbox High Desert? I wonder how the team might go about setting up in a new park.

...well, $20M couldn't hurt, right?

No. No it couldn't. Unless you give it to Nelson Cruz, that is.

Somebody stop me!

5. Hire More Analysts

Sure, the Mariners have an analytics department, and sure, everyone in it is really smart. But how many dudes are there in that department? Like, six? (And by the way, how telling is it that they're all dudes? There's some serious gender imbalance up in this front office.) There's only so much that you can do with six dudes. Do you know how many baseball operations analysts you could hire for $10M per year over two years?

A lot, that's how many. Lately I've become convinced that investments in the front office almost always turn out better than investments on the field. It's cheaper to sign an analyst than a player, but the analyst has even bigger upside in terms of organizational impact. And since an analyst's contract is cheaper, there's also way, way less downside. Play it smart, Mariners. Pay for great analysis, not lousy baseball.

6. Pay Me to Stop Making Nelson Cruz Jokes (They'd Have To)

...OK, OK, that's enough of that.

Look. Frequently, criticism is accused of not being sufficiently constructive. That's often kind of bullshit - personally, I like to think I'm capable of figuring out how to fix my mistakes on my own - but it's also often kind of true. The tenth blog post begging the Mariners not to sign Nelson Cruz doesn't make the Mariners change their minds; it just makes everyone feel terrible about themselves.

Mariners blogosphere, let's not feel terrible about ourselves. Let's not be solely destructive in our posts on Nelson Cruz. Let's be constructive. Let's give the Mariners some ideas. Let's offer up some alternatives.

Here are my five.

Add your own in the comments below!

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