By Tim Booth
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SEATTLE _ The Mariners are on the verge of landing the right-handed slugger they were seeking for the middle of their batting order.
Free agent slugger Nelson Cruz and Seattle are nearing agreement on a contract, two people with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday. The pair spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal had not been finalized and was still pending a physical.
Seattle did not comment.
Cruz led the major leagues with 40 home runs last season and had 108 RBIs for Baltimore, which signed him to an $8 million, one-year deal. He served a 50-game suspension in 2013 for violations of the major league drug agreement in relation to the sport’s Biogenesis investigation.
He likely will bat behind fellow Dominican star Robinson Cano, who will be starting the second season of a $240 million, 10-year contract.
Cruz did not accept a $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Orioles. Seattle would forfeit its first-round draft pick, the 19th overall selection. Baltimore would get an additional pick between the first and second rounds.
Seattle also has a $100 million, seven-year deal with third baseman Kyle Seager that awaits completion.
The Mariners have among the top pitching staffs in the AL but missed the post-season by one game last season due to offensive shortcomings.
Cruz would fit the need, even if Seattle is taking a risk with such a significant commitment to a 34-year-old who has never posted big numbers at Safeco Field. Cruz has hit at least 22 homers in every season since 2009 and has been an All-Star three times. Cruz’s .271 batting average and .525 slugging percentage last season with Baltimore was his highest since 2010 with Texas.
Cruz has hit .240 with nine homers and 19 RBIs in 52 games in Seattle _ better than his .185 career average in Oakland and .218 in Anaheim.
Seattle hoped last season that Corey Hart could return from knee troubles and add right-handed pop to an overwhelmingly left-handed batting order but he hit .203 with six homers and 21 RBIs in 68 games. Seattle also brought back switch-hitting designated hitter Kendrys Morales at midseason, but he could not match his 2013 production.
According to STATS, Inc., the Mariners’ .332 slugging percentage by right-handed batters this year was the lowest for an AL team in a non-shortened season since the 1979 Oakland Athletics.