There’s a time and a place for sweeping introductions and beautifully crafted prose, but when there are important things to discuss there’s nothing quite as frustrating as a meandering opening. So let me be clear: the Mariners should extend Nelson Cruz. I feel this strongly enough to state it as fact, not opinion, and shall treat the rationale as such.
Reason 1: There’s no better option.
Any free agents the team might sign this offseason pale in comparison to Cruz, and the prospect of trading for a DH is wildly unpalatable. And there isn’t much help coming from the farm (sorry, Vogey). The only real challenge to the Mariners’ DH slot is Robinson Canó, whose future role with the team has been much-discussed. The Canó Problem (ah, what a lovely problem, to try and decide how a future Hall of Famer best factors into your lineup) is deserving of its own piece altogether, but for the purposes of this, allow me to stand on record as saying it would be an overwhelming waste to relegate Canó to DH at this point in his career.
Reason 2: He’s very, very, very good
In the three years since he signed with the Mariners, he has been the best qualified DH (by fWAR) in all of baseball...by a sizable margin.
And since 2005, when he made his (perfunctory, 7 PAs) major league debut, he has been the third-best DH in all of baseball, after two surefire Hall of Famers (David Ortiz and Albert Pujols). Curious about how he stacks up when it comes to the Mariners franchise specifically?
He’s also 13th overall in total Mariners fWAR, despite recording hundreds fewer plate appearances than the player with the next fewest (Mike Cameron, who was worth 19.8 fWAR in 2,528 PAs).
Reason 2a: It appears unlikely that his production will dramatically fall off in the next year or two.
His strikeout rates have been falling (this season is nearly a career low), while his exit velocity has consistently climbed (this season is a “career” high - statcast only has numbers since 2015). His contact rates have remained remarkably consistent in recent years; in fact, his contact on pitches outside of the zone is the only plate discipline statistic that has dropped precipitously recently, which is both unsurprising and manageable.
As a DH his value is derived solely from his ability to hit - sprint speed, defense, and general athleticism can all decline (within reason), and he can continue to be a valuable player for the Mariners. As John Trupin has pointed out, though his injury risk is higher due to age, it’s lower due to situation.
I’m not a contracts expert, but the structure of a Cruz extension could also help mitigate some concerns. In an ideal situation, the Mariners offer him a one-year extension, flush with incentives and an option for the following year, similar to how the Red Sox handled David Ortiz’s final years. LL financial guru Grant Bronsdon noted that he’d consider 2/$30 million fair, though Cruz’s market is likely smaller, given his age, lingering injuries, and PED history (and, hopefully, because he wants to stay in Seattle).
Reason 3: He’s Nelson Cruz.
From mammoth home runs to incredulous reactions, Nelson Cruz has been one of the best in baseball, and one of the most fun players to watch and cheer for. He’s beloved by his teammates, devoted to training and keeping himself in shape, and continues to make a difference in the Seattle community. He wanted to be in Seattle even before the front office wanted him here, and he’s since gone above and beyond to prove that he deserves to stay. Cruz is a treasure, and the Mariners should extend him immediately.