The Mariners spent last winter attempting to rebuild their image by bringing in hitters who can actually produce, while moving the fences at Safeco in to further emphasize that fact. Whether it has worked or not is up for debate, but they've moved on to phase two of this plan, and are targeting free agent sluggers Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.
Olney wonders if elite free agents will sign with the Mariners, but the groundwork of a year ago should help them in their cause. Safeco is still pitcher-friendly, but it's not the death trap for offense it once was in the days of Adrian Beltre: Seattle Mariner. Most importantly, though, the Mariners have money to spend, and that will win them points on the free agent market: Seattle has just $33 million in guaranteed salary in 2014, giving a team that just five years ago featured a $117 million Opening Day payroll plenty of room to play with. Carlos Beltran is looking for more than a two-year deal, and was already making $13 million per season on his last contract. Nelson Cruz might not demand the same per-year money as Beltran, but at 33 years old, he will command a lengthier -- and still expensive -- deal. The M's have the funds for either -- or both -- and that could go a long way towards erasing any doubts a free agent might have about Seattle and their chances at success.
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The Mariners need help in order to be competitive, but unlike in recent seasons, there is at least a core in place to build around. It's not just the land of Felix Hernandez anymore, as the Mariners also feature third-place Cy Young finisher Hisashi Iwakuma and top prospect Taijuan Walker in their rotation. The lineup has holes, sure, but young position players like Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak, Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, and Nick Franklin represent hope that hasn't been seen on the Mariners' roster for years now. Veteran, game-changing pieces like Beltran and Cruz could go a long way towards closing the gap between the Mariners and the top clubs of the AL West. Or, at the least, get them closer to wild card contention.
Beltran would certainly be a step in the right direction, despite his age. He hit a combined .282/.343/.493 over two years with the Cardinals, and his worst season since 2006 still produced an above-average offensive line. Cruz, however, could be a different story, as he's relied heavily on hitter-friendly Texas during his career -- his .242/.299/.435 career road line should be a red flag for suitors.
Seattle likely won't stop with just Beltran or Cruz, if they manage to snare one. They submitted the qualifying offer to last year's designated hitter, Kendrys Morales, and that designation may keep him from signing elsewhere. If he does end up with another team, though, the Mariners will receive a compensatory 2014 first-round draft pick, which would help alleviate the acquisition cost of Beltran or Cruz to a degree: both of those players received qualifying offers from their respective teams.