DIPOTO CONFIRMS MARINERS OPEN TO ALTERNATIVES TO CRUZ

 Bob Dutton

Bob Dutton

   TACOMA, WA. — Remember when general manager Jerry Dipoto declared in a recent interview on KIRO (710 AM) that the Mariners couldn’t be more interested in retaining pending free-agent designated hitter Nelson Cruz

   Well, not so fast.

   Dipoto clarified that position Monday in a season-wrap news conference alongside manager Scott Servais at Safeco Field. Here’s the key quote from T.J. Cotterill’s typically excellent story in The News Tribune.

   “Clearly if we were committed to going back to the DH-only player,” Dipoto said, “we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. We would have taken care of it much earlier this year.”

   That answers the question posed recently in this space that, if the Mariners truly wanted to retain Cruz, and Cruz, as he stated on numerous occasions, truly wanted to return…then why weren’t the two sides talking?

   The takeaway from Dipoto’s latest comment is the Mariners are more than willing to turn away from Cruz, who led a run-challenged attack this season with 37 homers and 97 RBIs.

   Letting Cruz walk away might seem foolish, but that depends on how the Mariners replace his production because there are obvious roster benefits to having the flexibility created by the absence of a full-time designated hitter.

   The Mariners could shift an aging Robinson Cano increasingly into that role, particularly if they intend to return Dee Gordon to second base. Or Cano could shift to first base with Ryon Healy and/or Daniel Vogelbach serving as the DH.

   *****

   It was also notable Monday that Dipoto dismissed Cano’s recent declaration that he expects to return next season to full-time duty at second base.

   “He talks to (reporters),” Dipoto said, “(but) we will talk amongst ourselves and go figure out what our roster looks like when we get to next year. We can’t root ourselves in thinking any one way.”

   The takeaway there is Cano had better hold onto his first baseman’s glove.

   *****

   Letting Cruz depart as a free agent provides payroll flexibility as the Mariners seek a replacement — presumably an outfielder and preferably a center fielder (although club officials seem comfortable with Mitch Haniger in center).

   This winter’s list of free-agent outfielders is notably thin unless you believe the Mariners can make a reasonable play for Bryce Harper. Yes, that seems laughable — stop, I said laughable — and I’ve heard nothing to suggest he’s on their list.

   But five years ago at this point, who would have thought Cano would end up here? Again, I don’t see Harper coming here and, anyway, Dipoto has always preferred to make trades rather than sign free agents.

   But who knows?

   It’s also important to note that while the Mariners are willing to seek alternatives to Cruz, they haven’t closed the door. They might spend the next month or so sifting through possibilities before determining that Cruz is their best option.

   If so, the two sides could then quickly reach an agreement. Everything suggests Cruz truly prefers to stay in Seattle and is unlikely to regard the Mariners’ current approach as anything more than a reasonable business practice.

   But that cuts both ways.

   The Mariners’ exclusive negotiation window with Cruz ends five days following the World Series’ conclusion. And if he’s being put on hold by the Mariners, why wouldn’t he wait to see what other offers arise? That, too, is just business.

   Multiple sources says Cruz should generate some interest as a free agent. He is still productive. At age 39, he is not in position to demand a lengthy contract. And he is widely regarded by teammates as a great clubhouse presence. 

   One obvious possibility is Houston, where he could serve as a replacement for pending free-agent DH Evan Gattis. Picture Boomstick taking aim 81 times a year at those cozy Crawford Boxes.

   That could really come back to haunt the Mariners. For now, let’s see what they do over the next several weeks.







WHY THAT $27 MILLION SHOULDN’T BE A FACTOR IN MARINERS’ LOOMING DECISION ON FELIX HERNANDEZ

   TACOMA, WA. — It’s a $27 million question that, as odd as it might seem, should have very little to do with that $27 million.

   The Mariners must decide, in fairly short order, whether long-time ace and franchise icon Felix Hernandez has a future with the club. This assumes that Felix wants to stick around for the final year of his contract.

TRACKING THE MARINERS IN TWO ORGANIZATIONAL PRIORITIES

  TACOMA, WA. — Trolling through the wreckage of the Mariners’ depressing second-half collapse as the season winds down…

   This seems a good time to assess the club’s performance in two oft-cited organizational priorities: controlling the strike zone and significantly reducing the number of baserunning mistakes.

RECOGNIZING THE BEST PERFORMANCES THIS SEASON IN THE MARINERS’ FARM SYSTEM

   TACOMA, WA. — The minor-league season came to an end Sunday in the Mariners’ organization when Double-A Arkansas lost a decisive fifth game to Tulsa (Dodgers) in the Texas League North Division finals.

   That’s our cue here at KLAY (1180 AM) to select our player- and pitcher-of-the-year awards for each of the organization’s seven affiliates along with an overall minor-league player and pitcher of the year.


MARINERS’ CLUBHOUSE SCRAP HAS A LIKELY UNDERLYING CAUSE

   TACOMA, WA. — We might never know the full story behind the pre-game scuffle Tuesday in the Mariners’ clubhouse between (from all indications) Dee Gordon and Jean Segura.

   The lack of details, in the end, probably doesn’t matter much, but that doesn’t diminish the larger reality that seems a possible, even likely, root cause. We’ll get to that in a minute.

KLAY FARM REPORT: A TOP PROSPECT HEATS UP IN AUGUST

TACOMA, WA. — While Labor Day marks the end of the regular season throughout the minor leagues, Mariners first-base prospect Evan White will be getting back to work before too long.

THERE’S SELDOM A GOOD REASON TO GIVE A GENERAL MANAGER OR A MANAGER AN IN-SEASON CONTRACT EXTENSION

   TACOMA, WA. — The St. Louis Cardinals are enjoying a renaissance under manager Mike Shildt, and they rewarded him the other day by removing his interim status and signing him to a new deal that runs through 2020.

   (Hang with me. This has a Mariners’ connection.)

THIN FARM SYSTEM OFFERS LITTLE FOR MARINERS’ STRETCH RUN

   TACOMA, WA. —  Big-time radio honcho Mike Franco posed a standard August question last Friday during our weekly chat at 8:30 a.m. on KLAY (1180 AM):

   What kind of help can the Mariners expect from their farm system in September when the rules permit rosters to expand from 25 to as many as 40 players?

FOUR THINGS THAT NEED TO HAPPEN FOR MARINERS TO RESCUE THEIR SEASON

SEATTLE — It’s an accepted postulate in Major League Baseball that pretenders begin to unravel in August. Clubs that can patch their deficiencies for four months typically succumb at that (this) point to the law of averages.

WHAT NOW? PAXTON’S INJURY AND OAKLAND’S SURGE PUTS SQUEEZE ON MARINERS AS TRADE DEADLINE NEARS

SEATTLE — A scout from a rival club, whom I’ve known for many years, called earlier this week and asked, in the brutally caustic manner that often characterizes his fraternity: “What’s wrong now with Potato Chip Paxton?”