By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz won’t be a Seattle Mariner.
After a winter-long courtship that ranged from hot to lukewarm, Cruz opted Saturday to sign a one-year deal with Baltimore for $8 million in hopes of rebuilding his market value.
The Mariners, from all indications, never made a formal offer as negotiations snagged, in part, because both sides questioned whether Cruz’s power swing would suffer in the transition to Safeco Field.
Cruz, 33, is also returning from a 50-game drug suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal which raises further questions regarding his ability to maintain his power.
Even so, Cruz’s decision leaves the Mariners still searching for a right-handed power bat to help balance a lefty-heavy lineup.
The top remaining available free agent is a former Mariner — first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales, a switch-hitter who rejected a $14.1 million qualifying offer in November to remain with the club.
Cruz rejected a similar offer from Texas, which turned into a $6.1 million mistake. Morales also seems unlikely to match his qualifying offer; the only clubs known to be showing recent interest were the Mariners and Orioles.
Further, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik indicated little urgency Friday to make any major personnel moves before club officials make on-field evaluations of their roster as currently constructed.
“I want to see our players with our own eyes,” he said. “Let’s let a whole new coaching staff put their hands on them. Get their opinions, and we’ll see. There will be opportunities if we want to do something.
“Not that we will, but I think they’ll exist.”
Hernandez pleads for peace
Right-hander Felix Hernandez is trying to use his influence as one of the world’s best-known Venezuelans to seek an end to the increasing violence between the government and anti-government protesters in his country.
Hernandez and all other Venezuelans in the Mariners’ camp posed for a picture amid Venezuelan flags, which he then sent out on Twitter with the following message.
“Solo queremos PAZ para nuestro pais #PazParaVenezuela.” (We just want PEACE for our country. PeaceForVenezuela.)
Optimistic on Iwakuma
Club officials are cautiously optimistic that All-Star pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma can make a quick recovery from the strained tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand.
“We won’t really know until he starts throwing a baseball,” Zduriencik said. “I know he’s anxious right now. He wants to rip this (bandage) off and starting throwing now.
“That’s not the wise thing to do, but I think we’re all feeling good about it.”
Iwakuma confirmed his finger “is doing better” and is scheduled to undergo a re-examination a week from Monday (March 3).
The injury occurred Jan. 20 when he caught his finger in the net of a protective screen, which was positioned behind him, when he jumped for a high throw in an off-season workout.
“Any injury to a pitching hand is serious,” Zduriencik cautioned. “This one might not be as serious as we originally thought, which is a positive but we really won’t know that until he starts throwing a baseball.”
McClendon previously said Iwakuma won’t join pitch in the regular season until he is conditioned to work at least six innings. That typically requires at least four spring starts.
Third baseman D.J. Peterson, the club’s first-round pick in last year’s draft, is taking part in a minor-league minicamp and showing no lingering effects from the beaning last August that ended his season.
Zduriencik said Peterson, 22, will likely get some one-day promotions this spring to take part in Cactus League games. He batted .303 with 13 homers
and 47 RBI in 55 minor-league games before getting hit in the jaw.
“Typically, you bring your first-round pick into big-league camp,” Zduriencik said. “We didn’t do that. I had a face-to-face (meeting) and told him we didn’t bring him in simply because this is big-league camp, and he hasn’t seen pitching since he’s been hit.
“He feels great, but the cautious route, with a player who is going to be a good player, that is the way to go. That’s what we decided to do, and he understands that it’s the best thing for him.”
Right-handed pitcher Brandon Maurer threw long toss one day after getting scratched from throwing live batting practice because of tightness in his back. … Another day, another coaching injury. Now, first-base coach Andy Van Slyke is nursing a sore ankle after being hit by a golf ball. That came one day after hitting coach Howard Johnson suffered a broken toe when hit by a line drive in the batting cage. … Tentative plans call for a five-inning intrasquad game on Tuesday. Look for it to be dominated by younger players. McClendon said: “I doubt if you’ll see Robinson Cano in intrasquad game. It ain’t happening.” … It was a light workout Saturday. No mound sessions for any pitchers. Coaches threw batting practice.