December 4, 2014. The Seattle Mariners signed Nelson Cruz to a four year $57 million contract. Over those four years Cruz averaged .283/.362/..545 and 41 homers.
July 20, 2016. Mariners trade LHP Mike Montgomery and RHP Jordan Pries to Chicago Cubs for 1b/DH Daniel Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn. In his three years with the Cubs, Montgomery is a valuable swing man, contributing 175.0 valuable innings, and serving a valuable role on Chicago’s championship team. Paul Blackburn was traded for the clubhouse cancer Danny Valencia, now on his 27th big league roster. Vogelbach has 127 plate appearances over his three years of Mariner stewardship, is now out of big league options, and has never really had the opportunity to provide the left-handed offense for 2016 and beyond that Jerry Dipoto promised when he made this trade so long ago.
It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. In this season of swaps big and little, and the general purge of the 2018 Seattle Mariners roster, it is Nelson Cruz I will miss most. Yes I’ll miss the Boombstick’s titanic blasts. But Cruz proved was that he was more than a guy who hit occasional home runs around 200 strikeouts that seems to be the popular model in baseball these days. He hit for average, would take his walks, was happy to drive in runs with a single, could hit with two strikes as well as hacking at number three. Nelson Cruz was an All-Star three of his four years in a Mariner uniform, received MVP votes in those years, and twice was in the top ten in voting. He was the real deal.
Cruz played healthy, he played when he was dinged. Scott Servais literally was not allowed to write in somebody else’s name in the four spot. I watched him hit in Minnesota with an injured wrist screaming in pain after a swing and miss, and he still drove a ball out of Target Field. He was tough as nails. I truly believed he loved Seattle, being a Mariner, being Robby’s teammate.
Word everybody knew was coming today, Nellie signed with the Twins. And good for him. He may help a rising Twins team overcome a strapped Indians team trying to hang on to as much of its division-leading pitching as possible.
And Cruz’s signing may, in its own way, be a farewell present to his old team. As the first of the quality DH only types to hook on with a team, it now opens the door for other teams to look for a DH. Available, as posted on a big sign outside T-Mobile Park, one Edwin Encarnacion. Maybe the Astros, looking for a replacement for Evan Gattis will kick his very large tires. Though they are in denial, maybe the Rays will also look under the hood.
Sorry Edwin, you just aren’t the guy we need. It’s not that you’re bad, or that you can’t still jolt ’em out of the ballpark, nothing personal at all.
We just need to revisit that second transaction. I hated the Montgomery trade. At the time of the deal with the Cubs, Montgomery was a useful piece out of the bullpen, He’d started some games as other Mariner pitchers like Wade Miley and Nate Karns struggled to carry their load. I have no doubts that Mike Montgomery was not the second coming of Randy Johnson or Sandy Koufax, but could he have gotten the one or two more wins the M’s needed to get into the 2016 playoffs?
Vogelbach is my least favorite kind of baseball player. Round, unathletic, really not capable of playing in the field. Despite that, the man has lit up AAA with the bat.
2017: .290/.388/.455 17 HRs
2018: .290/.434/.545 20 HRs
That said, in very limited and scattered service with the M’s, Vogelbach has done very little to scream “Vogelbach needs to play!!” His .197/.301/.315 major league slash over three years and 146 PA doesn’t make an overwhelming argument in his favor. However, his irregular appearances in Seattle, and even rarer games played hardly gives a player the consistency and confidence to play well. There was always that Cruz fellow ahead of him on the DH depth chart, and when you have a productive Cruz, why look for help elsewhere?
But 2019 will be different. Cruz is a Twin. Encarnacion is a player in chartifiable, decline. It’s a year the M’s know they aren’t going to compete for much more than pride. It’s time to give those at bats to Vogelbach. Let’s see if the premise for making the Montgomery trade was based on truth and not fantasy. Yes, Jay Bruce, if not traded before the season, will have to get at-bats somewhere. But Vogelbach is 26. His ticket on the Tacoma Express is expired; he’s out of minor league options. He’s strictly in use-him-or-lose him territory. It’s time to see what the big lefty can do with 400 PA’s
Cruz’s signing with Minnesota opens the door for an Encarnacion trade to Houston or Tampa, or some other unwitting suitor. It is his final gift to the Mariners and Daniel Vogelbach.