Cano gets some help as Seattle signs Cruz

Cano gets some help as Seattle signs Cruz

SEATTLE -- General manager Jack Zduriencik made it clear from day one this offseason that the Mariners' top priority was to acquire a big right-handed hitter to put behind Robinson Cano in the lineup. The club has filled that need by signing free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz.

The four-year, $58 million deal was formally announced on Thursday by the Mariners, who introduced the slugger at a Safeco Field news conference.

"I am excited to join the Mariners," Cruz said. "Watching Seattle play from the other side of the field, I know how close this team is to the postseason, and I am hopeful that I can help to get us there."

Seattle finished 87-75 last season, one win shy of an American League Wild Card berth.

"Our No. 1 goal this offseason was to improve our offense, ideally by adding right-handed power, and with the addition of Nelson Cruz, we think we've accomplished that goal," Zduriencik said. "He is an impact hitter that will bat in the middle of our lineup.

"Nelson has a track record as a middle-of-the-order hitter on pennant-contending clubs. He will be an asset on the field and in the clubhouse. Nelson's presence in our clubhouse and as a teammate will continue to help our club advance to the next level. We see him as an ideal fit as we strive toward our goal of winning a world championship."

The Mariners had been interested in Cruz for the past two offseasons, engaging in talks last year that never came to fruition before the Dominican native signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles in Spring Training. Cruz went on to lead the Major Leagues with 40 home runs while putting up a .271/.333/.525 slash line and 108 RBIs.

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The Mariners sorely need some right-handed balance to their lineup and Cruz should slot in between left-handers Cano and Kyle Seager, the latter of whom finalized a seven-year, $100 million extension this week.

Cruz set to join Cano in Seattle

Cruz played in 89 games as a designated hitter and 70 in the outfield last season for the Orioles. With Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales getting most of the at-bats, Seattle's DHs had the worst production in the American League with a .190/.266/.301 line and just 15 home runs and 50 RBIs.

Cruz has spent eight of his 10 big league seasons in the AL West with the Rangers and is a three-time All-Star who has averaged 29 home runs, 86 RBIs and a .271 batting mark over the past six seasons. He had his best season this year, finishing seventh in the AL MVP balloting after hitting .252 with 15 home runs and 40 RBIs in 79 games at Camden Yards and .289 with 25 home runs and 68 RBIs in 80 road games.

He also had a strong postseason for the Orioles, hitting .357 with two home runs and seven RBIs in seven games. The Orioles wanted to retain the player who was voted Most Valuable Oriole by the Baltimore chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, but apparently were unwilling to go beyond a three-year deal.

The Orioles extended a $15.3 million qualifying offer to Cruz, so Seattle will lose its first-round Draft pick, which currently would have been the 19th selection.

The Mariners finished 87-75 in 2014, coming one win shy of tying for a Wild Card berth with a club that led the AL in ERA but was tied for 11th in runs and was last in the league in OPS.

Seattle's push for a right-handed bat comes at a time when free-agent hitters have been the early hot-ticket items. The Mariners made a strong bid for DH Victor Martinez, but he re-signed with Detroit. Hanley Ramirez, Russell Martin, Yasmany Tomas, Michael Cuddyer and Billy Butler have also come off the board in the initial stages of free agency.

Manager Lloyd McClendon has said he'd love to add two quality bats to his lineup, so it remains to be seen if the Mariners continue pursuing offense as they head into the Winter Meetings in San Diego next week. But Cruz, whom Cano was pushing for last spring after signing his 10-year, $240 million deal, clearly would be the prize addition for a team looking to challenge in the AL West after improving by 16 wins this past season.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.