Buster Olney and Keith Law on the Cruz signing and M’s offseason

Dec 2, 2014, 1:57 PM | Updated: Dec 5, 2014, 5:00 pm
The Mariners bested Baltimore’s offer to bring Nelson Cruz to Seattle as their designated hit...
The Mariners bested Baltimore's offer to bring Nelson Cruz to Seattle as their designated hitter. (AP)

ESPN baseball insiders Keith Law and Buster Olney weighed in on Tuesday morning on 710 ESPN Seattle with their takes on the Mariners’ offseason and the Nelson Cruz signing. Both agreed that the Cruz addition was a move for now.

“He’s what they needed for 2015, there’s no question,” Law said on “The Michael Grey Show.” “He fills a clear short-term need. They probably need another bat like him. They could clone him – put one in left and one at DH – that would be even better.”

Olney, on “Brock and Salk,” agreed that the addition of Cruz is a positive in the short-term.

“Absolutely yes, and it makes them better in the immediate future,” Olney said.

Years three and four of the four-year, $58 million deal are of more concern for the two insiders.

“The problem is they gave a four-year deal to a guy that was probably worth no more than a two-year contract, and frankly one-year would probably be appropriate given his age, history of performance and projections for where his performance goes from here,” said Law.

Cruz turned down a qualifying offer from Baltimore so there is little chance he would have accepted a one-year deal anywhere. According to Olney, the fourth year was the determining factor in where he signed, and perhaps that should be of concern to the Mariners.

“There’s a reason why other clubs weren’t jumping in with offers as big or bigger,” Olney said. “He just had his career year at age 34 – that’s a huge red flag for people in the sport. He was busted for PEDs in 2013; that’s part of the reason why other clubs stayed away.”

That said, the team that knew him the best, the Orioles, were interested in bringing him back.

“I do think on a three-year deal the Orioles were absolutely comfortable in doing that,” said Olney. “The O’s like Cruz. I heard great things from Buck Showalter on Nelson and how he was around the team, but the tipping point was the question of three years or four years for him. On a three-year deal I bet he would have had some other teams involved. I think that is where the Mariners separated themselves was with the fourth.”

From the Mariners perspective Olney could see why they felt this move was necessary now.

“It was an interesting decision,” he said. “We got a great stat from Elias – last year the M’s OPS of right-handed hitters of .604 was the lowest for any team since the Pirates in 1988. You understand that they were looking to upgrade.”

Law was more concerned that the signing would be trouble for the Mariners down the road, pointing to dollars and a roster spot being tied up in years where Cruz might not be anything more than a borderline big leaguer.

“It’s kind of a bet they are going to be so good this year that they will get to the playoffs, advance in the playoffs and nobody is going to worry too much about the fact that they gave Cruz probably two years too many,” he said.

Both insiders agreed that the Mariners are in go-for-it-now mode and both believe they are a move or two away from competing for the division title.

“What they need now is guys with better OBP. There’s been a lot of talk about them with Justin Upton,” Law said. “The big question is, do you trade one of Taijuan Walker or James Paxton? Would you do it straight up? Five or six years of those guys for just one year of Upton? That’s probably too steep, however, are they in a playoff or bust mode for ’15? If that is the mandate, then maybe it does make sense.

“He would be a good fit. He has power, he has a very good approach at the plate, he would be a good two-hitter or a four because he has got both of those skills, and he is a good defensive outfielder. That would be a better acquisition than Cruz just in terms of what it does for the 2015 club. If they had both of those guys I would like their chances to at least make a Wild Card spot substantially more.”

Olney sees the Mariners in the mix as well, but looks to a different player to put them over the top.

“For me it is basically a three and-a-half horse race,” he said. “We don’t know what to make of Texas yet (injuries), Oakland certainly has come back to the pack, they are in transition. The Angels were the best team in the division last year but they had some things go right and it is kind of a top-heavy team with an older roster and the fragility of their starting pitching, I don’t think it would be a shock if they took a step back, and the Mariners are adding. They are still out in the marketplace looking for another hitter.

“Once you commit to someone like Nelson Cruz, you get past the PED questions and you have given up the draft pick, hey the perfect guy for them right now is Melky Cabrera. You could sign probably for three years and 40 million. He’s a guy that would give the M’s exactly what they need in that he gets on base constantly, he can play both corners. He would be a nice addition.”

Olney then raised the possibility that the Mariners could go in a completely different direction. He believes they could surprise everyone and jump into the premier starting pitching market. For him, Jon Lester or Max Scherzer are not completely out of the question.

“We know Seattle has tremendous financial flexibility. They’re looking to push to the next level, I wouldn’t rule them out of making one more big move before the winter is over,” he said.

Other topics Olney and Law hit on:

Law on the Kyle Seager addition

“The Seager move was a very shrewd long-term move. They are getting him at the right age. They are covering what are going to be the most productive years of his career. Arbitration salaries were going to start to raise very quickly. I think it is very hard to go wrong locking up a young position player as long as you are not extending him into his mid to late 30’s. With a player like Seager who provides defensive value, is a pretty good athlete, is a very, very smart player, those are the guys I like to age well. I think over the life of that contract they might contend now, enter a fallow period where they are trying to retool a little bit and be contending again before the Seager contract comes up. It sets them up really nicely by locking down a key position, getting all these productive years out of him. It may make DJ Peterson who could be ready for the majors by the end of this year, he may be trade bait for them, in a good way, not that they don’t like him but suddenly they don’t need him and maybe they can trade him to fill another hole.”

Law on the price for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp

“Multiple prospects. You are not getting Kemp on the cheap. The Dodgers are looking to get two or three significant pieces in return, not just Taijuan Walker; Taijaun Walker and Peterson, and maybe one or two more pieces from the farm system. That’s the kind of price the Dodgers have been asking for so far.”

Olney on the perception of general manager Jack Zduriencik around the league

“When you look at what they have done there is no question it is a better organization than when he arrived. From the perspective of other GMs they find him to be a difficult partner in trade. They feel like he is all over the map and in no way predictable. I talked with one exec who talked about the M’s as being serial daters. They will have interest in your players and you will think, okay, maybe we got something, and then you don’t hear from them. That can frustrate other execs but when you look at the M’s in the big picture, where they are now and the moves they are making, they kind of remind me in a way what we saw in the Pirates in 2013 and with the Royals this year. I think these are teams that are looking to take that next step to revitalize their fan base. They are not that far from having that happen. That fan base is waiting to be inspired and when you look at the regression in Oakland, the potent regression with the Angels, some of the problems that Texas is dealing with, the growing pains that Houston still has to go through, there seems there is a real opportunity right in front of them right now.”

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