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The M's and dodging free agent bullets in 2014

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The Mariners got their guy last off-season when they signed Nelson Cruz. We should all be thankful they didn't end up signing one of the other big names they were tied to.

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It's the last week of the Mariners season in a year that did not go as well as many people had hoped. Although they're actually significantly closer to the AL West lead at this moment than they were after 158 games a year ago (10.5 games vs. 14.5 games last year), the M's were officially/mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yesterday. In a year where the AL was filled to the brim with mediocre teams, they Mariners were extraordinarily lackluster. What a disappointment.

That being said, this season could've been SO MUCH WORSE if the Mariners hadn't signed Nelson Cruz but had instead made a different free agent splash. This team was tied to a lot of players during last year's off-season, and most of those fellas did not fair particularly well in 2015. Below is a list of several of those free agents, noting their struggles this season.

Victor Martinez

4-year, $68M contract with the Detroit Tigers

2015 stats: 485 PA, .245/.301/.366, 78 wRC+, -1.8 fWAR

Remember how GOOD Victor Martinez was in 2014? This year he was very much the opposite of that. In 2015 he suffered injury, missed time, and was terribly ineffective. This isn't necessarily surprising for a 36-year-old who spent the majority of his career destroying his lower body while player catcher, but it's still a bummer for Tigers fans everywhere. The Mariners were actually pretty close to signing V-Mart until Detroit swooped in with their massive offer. Let's all be glad that they did.

Brandon McCarthy

4-year, $48M contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers

2015 stats: 3-0 record, 23 IP, 5.87/6.24/2.69, -0.3 fWAR

After an effective 2014 campaign that saw him pitch 200 innings for the first time in his career, many folks wanted the M's to sign McCarthy. Although he's ~regularly battled injuries, when he's been able to get out onto the diamond with any consistency he is a good and fun pitcher. He was designated as a high risk/high reward player who would likely provide a lot of value to the team that signed him... assuming he stayed relatively healthy. Unfortunately for Brandon, he tore his UCL after making just four starts this season. He is currently recovering/rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. That injury bug can be so damned unfair about who it chooses to bite.

Melky Cabrera

3-year, $42M contract with the Chicago White Sox

2015 stats: 662 PA, .275/.317/.398, 93 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR

For a little while this past off-season, it seemed like the M's signing Melky Cabrera was a thing that might just happen. A lot of folks were very excited about this (two-thirds of LL readers wanted the M's to offer Melky a fourth year on his deal in order to lock him up) because the M's outfield depth was not great. Cabrera is a pretty lousy fielder, but the wRC+ of 127 that he'd put up in 2014 looked pretty nice. But then he signed with the White Sox and it came out that he never really wanted to sign with a west coast team. In 2015, Melky's defense appears to have degraded even further. His wRC+ this season after 250 PA was a sub-Zunino 45. He has been able to come back offensively in the second half of the season a bit, but his performance in '15 has been that of a replacement-level player. Thank you for preferring to live/play in a less beautiful part of the country, Melky.

Yasmany Tomas

6-year, $68.5M contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks

2015 stats: 422 PA, .276/.308/.405, 90 wRC+, -0.9 fWAR

As the next hot bat to come out of Cuba, Tomas attracted a lot of attention last off-season. People had initially speculated that he could sign a nine-figure contract (so much money!), before his market ended up cooling a bit. Many smart people were on board with the M's going after Yasmany, assuming that the price of the deal wasn't too steep, but he eventually ended up signing with the D'backs (at a deal that wasn't perceived as being ridiculous at the time). Unfortunately for Arizona, he has proven to be a disappointment thus far, putting up a below-average batting line and looking pretty uncomfortable in the field. He's only 24, so he still has time to develop, but right now this contract appears to be somewhat of a headache for the Diamondbacks.

Ervin Santana

4-year, $58M contract (w/ 1-year, $14M team option) with the Minnesota Twins

2015 stats: 7-4 record, 101 IP, 4.10/4.22/4.36, 1.2 fWAR

This past off-season, Santana was viewed as a mid-tier starting pitcher who represented a fairly low-risk signing, but one that wouldn't provide a ton of upside. It would make sense for the Mariners to be interested in bringing him on board to stabilize their starting rotation, but he eventually signed with the Twins. And then, just THREE DAYS before Opening Day, he was hit with an 80-game suspension for being a dirty cheater who tested positive for the performance enhancing drug stanozolol. What a way to start the season! Since returning from suspension, Santana has been a serviceable starter for the Twins, but if they just miss the playoffs they're probably going to look back at those months he missed and want to break things. For the rest of his contract, there's a good chance that Santana won't be a bust, but man oh man would it have been frustrating to deal with his nonsense in 2015.

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At this juncture, it is not hard to make the argument that Nelson Cruz was the best free agent signing of the 2014 off-season. He has been very good and has exceeded just about everyone' s expectations. He almost certainly won't continue to perform at this level for the remainder of his contract, but he only has to put up ~3 WAR total over the next three seasons for this deal to have been "worth it". Conversely, the poor seasons of the gentlemen listed above make their fairly hefty contracts look like pretty bad. (Of course any of these players could bounce back with great years in 2016 - we'll have to wait and see.) While not EVERY name that the M's were linked to last off-season ended up crashing and burning in 2015, the majority of those players did end up having lousy years. Thank you for being better than that, Nellie. The 2015 Mariners would've been AWFUL without you.