Amidst sometimes choppy and uncertain waters, Nelson Cruz’s ship finally came in last December.
It wasn’t a yacht. But the Seattle Mariners took care of him.
After twice rejecting qualifying offers from his teams — the Texas Rangers two years ago and the Baltimore Orioles this past off-season — Cruz seized the Mariners’ four-year, $57 million offer and didn’t even ask to inspect the new grounds.
He hits home runs. He drives in runs. And, oh, yes, he bats right-handed and will fit neatly into the lineup between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. That’s all the Mariners cared about.
“We should have a very good team,” Cruz said Friday as the Mariners visited the Rangers for a spring exhibition. “We’re going to have great pitching. I think this team is ready to win.”
For Seattle, 11 years have passed since designated hitter par excellence Edgar Martinez retired at age 41. The long list of unsuccessful replacements has included Kendrys Morales, Russell Branyan, Jose Vidro and Ben Broussard.
Along now comes Nellie, who led all of major league baseball with 40 homers last season.
Give a four-year contract to a 34-year-old who’s had injuries in his past? Of course you do. Home runs are baseball’s new market anomaly.
It was only a schedule-maker’s coincidence that Cruz was here in his new Seattle uniform Friday, as the Rangers continue to stage a game of musical chairs to find a starting left fielder. Cruz would have been that left fielder, but ….
Rangers fans know the story. Though he has never failed an MLB drug test, Cruz’s name was implicated in the Biogenesis clinic scandal.
Cruz accepted his 50-game suspension in 2013 and tried to turn the page.
Cruz turned down the Rangers’ $14.1 million qualifying offer and elected to shop himself around, as all of baseball’s free agents did that off-season. Camps had already opened by the time Nellie accepted the Orioles’ one-year, $8 million deal.
He responded with a career season — the 40 home runs and an .859 OPS — and then he shopped his wares again.
“I was fortunate,” he said Friday. “The most important thing is health, and the last three years I’ve been able to play many games.”
Playing for manager Buck Showalter in a clubhouse that featured several ex-Rangers, Cruz returned to the postseason in Baltimore. His career numbers show 41 postseason games with 16 homers, 34 RBIs, a batting average of .292 and an OPS of 1.016.
With the likes of Victor Martinez and Pablo Sandoval off the free agent board, that apparently was enough for Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik to offer the four years that Cruz wanted.
The Mariners weren’t supposed to be able to attract power-hitting free agents, not to spacious and pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.
Nellie shrugged at the notion Friday.
“I’ve played there many times before, playing in this division,” he said. “Not all my home runs last year came in Baltimore.”
To be exact, 25 of his 40 came away from homer-prone Camden Yards.
In the preseason magazines, the Mariners have become the trendy pick to win the AL West. Some of us don’t quite see it. But the middle of the Seattle lineup should be as good as advertised.
The Mariners are already marketing their new Boomstick addition. Nellie co-stars in one of the club’s TV commercials with Fernando Rodney, Seattle’s crooked-capped closer who shoots an imaginary arrow in the air after each save.
In the spot, Cruz tries to correct teammate Logan Morrison by telling him it’s not a real arrow. “It’s an ‘air arrow,’” he says, channeling his best Christopher Walken delivery.
The punchline comes when you see where the “arrow” lands.
The Mariners took care of him. Now Nelson Cruz will try to take care of the Mariners.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697