Can the Mariners find their next Nelson Cruz this offseason?

Nov 2, 2023, 1:12 PM | Updated: 1:20 pm

Seattle Mariners offseason Justin Turner...

Boston's Justin Turner slides into home plate safe against the Seattle Mariners on May 17, 2023. (Nick Grace/Getty Images)

(Nick Grace/Getty Images)

Longtime slugger Nelson Cruz, who shined in his four years with the Seattle Mariners, announced his intention to retire from MLB on Thursday.

Former Seattle Mariners All-Star slugger Nelson Cruz retiring from MLB

Cruz became a force in the middle of the Mariners’ lineup during his four years in Seattle, more than living up to his “Boomstick” nickname. There’s a very strong case to be made that Cruz is the best free-agent signing in Mariners history if you don’t include international free agency for players like Ichiro and, more recently, Julio Rodríguez.

Cruz really is the last big free-agent bat that the Mariners signed and hit on. He was arguably the Mariners’ top bat during his four years in the Pacific Northwest, changed Seattle’s lineup in a big way and hit a ton of home runs.

Are there hitters out there this offseason who could be the Mariners’ next Nelson Cruz?

Here are a few options that could do some, all or more than Cruz did for the Mariners.

Become the lineup’s best hitter

Robinson Canó was very productive during his time with the Mariners, but Cruz was easily the team’s best hitter while the two were teammates in Seattle.

Rodríguez is entering his third MLB season and is already a two-time All-Star and very likely will be the team’s best hitter in 2024.

But are there bats available that could make Rodríguez Option 1-B in Seattle’s lineup?

Yes. In fact, two players like that are available in different ways this year.

• DH/SP Shohei Ohtani

The greatest player to ever play in MLB is hitting free agency this offseason.

Ohtani, baseball’s electric two-way sensation, is set to cash in in a major way this winter after starring for the Los Angeles Angels the last six years.

Ohtani is not expected to pitch next year due to an arm injury, but even if he never pitches another inning in his career, he’s still the best player in free agency.

Ohtani hits for average, slugs as well as anyone in baseball, and goes under the radar for just how fast of a runner he is.

The Mariners were tied to Ohtani when he came to MLB in 2018, and he’s certainly No. 1 on Mariners’ fans offseason wish lists. But that’s also the case for every fanbase of a contending team.

The M’s lineup was a big part of why they missed the postseason, and Ohtani would provide the single biggest boost to Seattle’s lineup of any player in baseball.

OF Juan Soto

Will Soto, 25, still be a Padre come opening day?

The superstar outfielder is entering the last year of his contract after not signing extensions with either Washington or San Diego, and after the Padres missed the playoffs, there’s potential for the sweet-swinging lefty to get moved for the second time in as many years.

If Soto is available, he’s easily the No. 2 player on the market behind Ohtani, and for good reason.

Salk: Best thing for Seattle Mariners? Trade for Soto

Soto does everything well at the plate. He slugs, he hits for average, he uses all fields, he has a great batter’s eye and gets on base at a high clip with a great walk rate. Soto and Julio hitting 2-3 in some order next year would be an awfully pretty sight for Mariners fans and something no opposing team would want to deal with.

The Padres went all-in with MLB’s No. 2 payroll last season before missing the playoffs, so it stands to reason that they could try and run it back in 2024. But as reported this week by The Athletic, the Padres took out a $50 million loan last season in order to meet their payroll demands. Soto made $23 million last year and is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make $33 million in arbitration next year.

If the Padres are looking to cut salary, they have two clear options in trading Soto and letting Seattle native Blake Snell, likely the 2023 National League Cy Young winner, walk in free agency.

Snell is interesting to note here because if he leaves and the Padres want to address their rotation without spending on big names, the Mariners have as much good young pitching as any team in baseball. That could make Seattle and San Diego a natural trade partner if the Padres feel inclined to shed salary and trade Soto this winter.

Change the complexion of the Seattle Mariners’ lineup

Ohtani and Soto absolutely would change the complexion of the Mariners’ lineup, but they fall more into the first category than this.

The three players below would be very good players but wouldn’t slot in as the best in Seattle’s lineup. They would, however, check key boxes for improving some of the Mariners’ weaknesses.

• 1B/DH Justin Turner and DH J.D. Martinez

These two are very similar players that could help the Mariners most likely as an everyday designated hitter, which is what Cruz mostly was for Seattle during his years in the Pacific Northwest.

Turner, 38, posted an OPS of .800 with 23 homers and 96 RBIs in 2023 with the Boston Red Sox. He’s also one of the better hitters in baseball when it comes to handling breaking balls and offspeed offerings. He’s a proven bat that can still drive in plenty of runs in the middle of a lineup, and being a proven veteran with a World Series ring and plenty of playoff experience doesn’t hurt, either. He could also fill in at the corner infield spots if needed, or if the M’s move on from Ty France or Eugenio Suárez this offseason.

As for the 36-year-old Martinez, 36, he made his third straight All-Star Game this year after signing a one-year deal to join the Los Angeles Dodgers. Martinez posted an .893 OPS with 33 homers and 103 RBIs in just 113 games. While he has more swing and miss in his game than Turner, he provides more thump and also would bring a veteran presence to the clubhouse. Martinez has no shortage of postseason experience himself with 33 games, a World Series ring and a .974 OPS in the playoffs.

Turner has a player option for $13.4 million to potentially return to Boston while Martinez is a pending unrestricted free agent. Even if Turner picks his option up, there’s still the possibility he is traded, especially given Boston is undergoing a regime change in the front office after finishing fourth in the AL East in 2023.

While both Turner and Martinez are essentially everyday DHs at this point of their careers, Cruz made a living in that role. The Mariners have struggled to find consistency at that DH spot over the last few years, so having a true designated hitter – emphasis on the designated part – would be a welcome sight for 2024.

• OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

I already wrote a piece on why Gurriel would fit with the Mariners, which you can check out at the link below.

Related: One World Series outfielder could help M’s solve key issues

The bottom line is he makes a lot of contact, including hard contact, and has limited swing and miss to his game, especially compared to what the Mariners rolled out last year. He’s not going to be the run producer or home run provider that Cruz was, but he could be a stabilizing force in Seattle’s lineup, which is something Cruz also provided.

Gurriel is also a young player in his prime at 30 years old, and is coming off a deep playoff run with Arizona where he was one of the team’s better hitters in the World Series. Like Martinez, he is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Hit a ton of bombs

During his four-year run in Seattle, Cruz certainly lived up to his “Boomstick” nickname, swatting 163 home runs.

While these two sluggers aren’t nearly as good of pure hitters as Cruz was, they have the power that could hit result in plenty of homers in a Mariners uniform.

• OF/DH Jorge Soler

They don’t call this guy “Soler Power” for nothing. Some of Soler’s homers would make Cruz proud.

Soler, 31, has no shortage of pop in his bat, which was especially true in 2019 when he led the American League with 48 homers. He swatted 27 in 2021, which is the year he won World Series MVP with Atlanta, and hit 36 this year with Miami while making it to the All-Star Game.

Soler would, however, be another player that features something the M’s had a lot of in 2023, meaning yes, he has plenty of power, but he strikes out a lot.

Soler absolutely shouldn’t be the big free-agent signing the Mariners make this offseason, but if he’s, say, the third bat brought in, that’d be the makings of a solid offseason.

• 1B/DH Rhys Hoskins

The Phillies didn’t need necessarily need another bat this year, but Rhys Hoskins missing all of 2023 was definitely noticeable.

Hoskins, 30, has been one of baseball’s best power hitters since debuting in 2017, and he’s slugged 148 homers and driven in 405 runs in 667 games, which averages to 36 home runs and 98 RBIs per 162 games played.

Hoskins is a pending free agent after missing all of 2023 with an ACL tear, but he likely will have no problem finding a new home given his track record of being  a big-time, middle-of-the-order bat who hits bombs. Hoskins didn’t hit for much average in the postseason in 2022, but he did have six home runs, including four in the NLCS.

Hoskins, like Soler, has a lot of swing and miss to his game, but he’s also been one of MLB’s top walks guys during his career, even leading the league in that category in 2019.

While it would be strange to see Hoskins in a different uniform in 2024, he could be a true run producer hitting third or fourth in the Mariners’ lineup, much like Cruz was.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Morosi: Why Mariners should spend at ‘higher level’ and ‘behave accordingly’
Morosi: Factors to watch in potential M’s trade for Juan Soto
• Mariners Notebook: Sewald addresses trade, echoes Cal’s comments

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