PEORIA, Ariz. -- With outfielder Nelson Cruz agreeing to a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles on Saturday, former Mariners designated hitter Kendrys Morales is the biggest remaining hitter on the free-agent market. And the question now seems to be whether Seattle will be interested in bringing him back or not.
Morales turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer in order to seek a deal on the open market. Cruz did the same and wound up settling for $6 million less with the Orioles as time began running out.
Seattle had been linked to Cruz in media speculation throughout the offseason and general manager Jack Zduriencik said at Mariners FanFest last month that he'd love to have Cruz in his lineup. But it appears neither side felt strongly enough about it being a good fit with the Mariners to get into the sort of long-term contract that likely would have been necessary.
Cruz, 33, has far better numbers at home in Texas than on the road during his career with the Rangers and there were questions how his bat would play in Safeco Field, which can be tough on right-handed hitters. The Mariners did move the fences in last season, but no one will confuse Safeco Field with Camden Yards in terms of a place for a right-handed hitter to put up numbers before re-entering free agency next year.
Morales, on the other hand, is a switch-hitter who proved last year he can produce at Safeco Field as he led Seattle in batting average (.277), doubles (34), RBIs (80) and extra-base hits (57). The Mariners talked to Morales and his agent, Scott Boras, last fall about a long-term extension, then made the qualifying offer when nothing got done.
Morales' situation in Seattle could hinge largely on the health of Corey Hart. If Hart can play the outfield, as he's done in the opening days of camp while coming back from a year off with two knee surgeries, that opens up the DH spot considerably. Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison are splitting first-base duties early in camp and Morales would provide a strong presence at DH.
But if Hart can't play the outfield full-time, he'll need to get at-bats at DH or first base, which would limit Morales' options.
Morales produced equally from both sides of the plate last year, which would be helpful for a Seattle lineup that is heavily left-handed at this point.
Manager Lloyd McClendon has previously noted the team's shortness of right-handed hitters, but on Saturday said "we certainly have options. There's opportunity. We'll see how things play out."
Switch-hitters can help balance any lineup, but McClendon said that comes with a big qualifier. The Mariners currently have Smoak as a switch-hitter, along with shortstop Nick Franklin and outfielder Abraham Almonte, neither of whom is guaranteed a roster spot.
"I think when you talk about having switch-hitters in your lineup, they need to be productive," he said. "I don't need switch-hitters just to be switch-hitters, I need guys to be productive. But it certainly helps if you can have a couple of those guys in your lineup. That's a nice asset to have."
McClendon welcomes addition of instant replay
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Lloyd McClendon is waiting for Major League officials to tour the various Spring Training sites in Arizona to provide complete details on this year's new instant replay rules, but the new Mariners skipper likes the idea of having a chance to challenge crucial calls.
McClendon is returning to the manager's seat for the first time since 2005 when he was with the Pirates. He was known then as a skipper who got into it at times with umpires, including a well-known incident in his first year on the job in 2001 when he ripped first base out of the ground and stalked into the dugout at PNC Park after an argument with umpire Rick Reed.
That incident led to a fine for McClendon, but has since earned him considerable air time on highlight reels of some of baseball's best ejections.
He figures the replay system gives managers a chance to possibly win an argument now, without actually having to yell and scream -- or steal a base.
"I just look at it like it's going to save me a lot of money," McClendon said with a chuckle. "Bases are safe. I wish they'd have had [replay] back then."
McClendon is fully in favor of the new system, which is currently being clarified in teams' camps in Florida by an MLB contingent led by Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. He said he's been told managers will throw a flag onto the field, much like with NFL coaches, in order to challenge a call. But the finer points of the system will be explained when Torre and La Russa get to Arizona later this month.
"I think it's going to be another decision, an important decision that a manager will have to make in the course of a game," McClendon said. "When do you use it? When do you figure it's important? Because a lot of times, you can lose a game in the fourth inning. It's not necessarily the eighth or ninth inning. So you have to be smart about how you use it.
"And we have to figure out how we develop my relationship with [bench coach Trent Jewett] and our video guy and getting that information to me right away. It's still a work in progress. If you're right, you don't lose [your ability to challenge again]. So you have to be smart about when you do it."
Mariners' Venezuelan players hope for peace back home
PEORIA, Ariz. -- As Felix Hernandez sat in his locker in the Mariners clubhouse at the Peoria Sports Complex on Saturday, the flag of Venezuela was draped over the adjacent chair.
For Hernandez, springs normally are filled with baseball and more baseball. But this isn't a normal spring for Hernandez or any of the Venezuelan natives participating in Major League camps. For back home in their country, protests are raging, the streets of the major cities are filled with angry students and at least six protesters have been killed by the military and police in recent days.
The political unrest weighs on the minds of Hernandez, who is closely following the news on Twitter, Instagram and Spanish TV.
Hernandez grew up in Valencia, where two of the protesters have been killed. He's seen pictures and video of fires burning in the streets and mobs pushing back against the police.
"It's a big deal," the Mariners ace said Saturday. "I'm a little worried because my family is over there. I don't know what's going on. I just want peace. It's dangerous. I just want my family to be safe. That's all I want. I talked to my mom. I'm trying to figure out how to get her here."
Hernandez posed for a photo Saturday with his Venezuelan teammates holding their flags and signs asking for peace in their homeland, then put the picture on his Twitter account with the message: "Solo queremos PAZ para nuestro pais #PazParaVenezuela,", which translates to "We just want PEACE for our country. #PeaceForVenezuela."
The other Mariners from Venezuela in Major League camp right now are outfielder Endy Chavez, first basemen Jesus Montero and Gabriel Noriega, catchers Manuel Pina, Humberto Quintero and Jesus Sucre, reliever Yoervis Medina and Minor League coach Jose Moreno.
"It's worrisome," said Chavez, who also is from Valencia. "I know a lot is going on over there. I try to be aware and in contact with my family. I expect this all to end soon, but I'm worried because my daughter is over there, too. I have my parents, my daughter, my cousins."
Chavez, 36, watches the news and tries to understand how this can be happening in his hometown.
"It's not easy. It's hard to believe," Chavez said. "I know there are things we need to work on, as people, as human beings, to make things better."
Montero is another Venezuelan wondering and worrying.
"It's crazy," said the young first baseman. "I've never seen anything like it in 24 years. The government is killing people. My parents live in a small town about 10 minutes outside Valencia, so thank God they're safe. The bad stuff is in the cities. But it's sad. It's hard to see. Somebody needs to do something to stop this."
Hernandez knows he needs to focus on baseball and his job and says that isn't an issue when he's working. But he's human. And the situation in his country cannot be ignored, not when friends and family in the city where he spends time every offseason are dealing with such an ugly reality that seems a million miles from the serenity of the practice fields in Peoria.
"That's the hardest part because you're here and you're safe, but they're over there and they don't know what's going on," Hernandez said. "I tell them to stay home, don't go out, stay safe."
And when he sees the pictures from back home?
"I just think, 'Wow,'" Hernandez said. "How did this happen?"
• After being held out of Friday's workout due to a stiff back, right-hander Brandon Maurer played long toss on Saturday and "feels 100 percent better," according to McClendon.
• None of the pitchers threw live batting practice on Saturday as the hurlers took a scheduled day off from throwing while coaches threw batting practice to hitters. Pitchers will throw live BP Sunday and Monday before the Mariners hold an intrasquad game on Tuesday in preparation for Thursday's Cactus League opener against the Padres.
McClendon said the intrasquad affair would probably go five innings and will give some of his young players a chance to get their feet wet before facing other teams.
"I doubt if you'll see Robinson Cano in an intrasquad game," he said with a chuckle. "It ain't happening."
• Felix Hernandez said he'll throw against hitters on Sunday, then will have another bullpen session and a simulated practice game before making his Cactus League debut on March 6.