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Seattle Mariners: Signing Nelson Cruz Is a Start, but M's Need More Hitters

The Seattle Mariners have reportedly signed Nelson Cruz. Yancen Pujols of the Dominican newspaper El Caribe reported the news, which was confirmed by ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick.

The former Rangers slugger will make his return to the American League West after a one-year hiatus in Baltimore, where he mashed 40 home runs and drove in 108 runs.

Cruz gives the Mariners a three-headed monster in the middle of the order that also features Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. For manager Lloyd McClendon, it’s a poor man’s version of the trio (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez) he coached in Detroit.

While not as fearsome as Detroit’s grouping, Seattle’s trio finally gives the M’s the complete set of sluggers they have been searching for.

The middle of the Mariners lineup is complete, but the batting order is far from it.

In terms of OPS, Seattle received below-average production from every position except second and third base—positions where Seager and Cano receive the lion’s share of at-bats. These low numbers should change in 2015.

First base and center field will be greatly improved with Logan Morrison and Austin Jackson, respectively, playing full seasons, while Cruz will solidify the designated hitter position. In addition, catcher and shortstop should see continued improvements from youngsters Mike Zunino and Chris Taylor.

That leaves the corner outfield spots as the only positions susceptible to change.

Seattle’s right fielders (namely Michael Saunders, Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero) ranked 17th in OPS in the league. Dustin Ackley received the majority of the at-bats in left field. Ackley and the Mariners' other left fielders ranked 21st in OPS.  

It’s entirely possible that none of the previously mentioned four hitters will be in the Opening Day lineup in 2015.

According to Crasnick, the Mariners have reportedly shopped Saunders. In addition, Chavez is 36, and Romero hit .192 in 177 plate appearances.

At 26 years old, Ackley hasn’t lived up to the potential that made him the second overall pick. That, combined with Ackley’s ability to play multiple positions, makes him better suited as a utility player.

An outfielder like Yoenis Cespedes or Justin Upton would be an outstanding addition. But at this point, with a middle-of-the-order trio in place, Cespedes or Upton would be a costly luxury that would likely mean the loss of Taijuan Walker or James Paxton.

Seattle should be going after complementary bats in the mold of Jackson or Morrison—players who can fill out the top of the lineup card and, more importantly, the sixth through ninth spots in the order.

Cano, Cruz and Seager are fantastic, but someone has to hit between them and Zunino (who’ll likely hit toward the bottom of the lineup).

Players like Marlon Byrd, Alex Rios, Torii Hunter and Alejandro De Aza are all attainable, as is old friend Ichiro Suzuki. Melky Cabrera is another name to watch.

Cabrera finished 2014 with an .808 OPS, good for 33rd in all of baseball. His OPS was higher than potential teammate Seager, as well as established stars like Albert Pujols, Josh Donaldson, Adam Jones and Ryan Braun.

Hunter—who is looking at Seattle along with a handful of other teams, according to Mark Whicker of OCRegister.comwasn’t far behind Cabrera with a .765 OPS. Byrd posted a .757 OPS.  

The moral of the story here is that there are options out there for the M’s.

Signing Cruz is a start, but the Mariners need more hitters to fill out the lineup. Whether they accomplish the feat by trade (Byrd or potentially De Aza) or free agency (Hunter, Cabrera, et al.), the team will have plenty of attractive options.

Once this happens, the M’s offense will no longer be second fiddle to the team’s outstanding pitching. Once this happens, the M’s will finally experience October baseball.

 

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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