One calendar month in and baseball has begun writing some interesting story-lines that may carry on throughout the rest of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. We saw last year’s American League champions go from America’s favorite underdog to the villains of the wild, wild Midwest. Fans have witnessed the Astros grab hold of the reins in a competitive AL West, the Brewers and Reds engage in the season’s first grand-slam-off, and the younger brother in New York taking task of the National League.
Each one has a unique dynamic to it that may impact on the rest of the season (well, maybe not the grand-slam-off, but I am a sucker for the long ball). One of the more striking story-lines, however, may be the tales stemming from this past offseason’s frantic free agency frenzy.
The Seattle Mariners went after another big fish in the offseason a year after signing Robinson Cano to a mammoth contract by signing the 2014-branded home run leader Nelson Cruz to a four-year, $57 million contract. As a Mariners fan speaking from experience, I hesitate to rejoice when it comes to Jack Zduriencik’s dipping into the free-agent pool.
Putting down nearly sixty-million dollars for a slugger that is on his way out of his prime felt speculative. Cruz seemed set to be a perpetual designated hitter too old for running the spacious outfield greenery at Safeco Field.
So far, that signing is looking to be mighty nice for the M’s. Cruz is currently tied for the Major League lead in both home runs with 10 and runs batted in, with 22. Both of these contributions are vital aspects that served as attractive factors in Cruz being brought to the Pacific Northwest when he signed last December.
The right-handed slugger is also serving as the Mariners’ leader in batting average, seeing a slight dip in April RBI from last season (25) while holding a large increase in hitting (from a .287 April average in ’14). The 34-year-old right fielder has also fared well in patrolling the lengthy outfield in Seattle, including this flashy sliding grab on a sinking liner from Torii Hunter.
Cruz has served as a perfect complement to his All-Star teammates in Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, keeping the Mariners present in an early AL West battle with a 10-12 record, good for third in the division.
Where else has big spending shown to be fruitful in this young season? On the other side of the United States, Fenway Park plays home to a few big dollar free agent signings in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. In contrast to the typically frugal Mariners, the Boston Red Sox are accustomed to throwing down big dollars for big names.
Apr 29, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Hanley Ramirez (13) hits a two run home run off Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey (not pictured) during the third inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Sandoval has shown to be a quality signing, providing solidarity at third base for the Red Sox that has been lacking since their brief relationship with Adrian Beltre and the championship days of Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell patrolling the hot corner.
Ramirez, however, has proven that the added muscle gained from offseason workouts and a shift to the outfield bodes well for his bat. The 31-year-old recently minted left fielder is tied with Cruz for the MLB lead in home runs and runs batted in. With the closely staged wall of the Green Monster in left field for all of his home games, the right-handed Ranirez benefits greatly, and so too have the Red Sox.
Sandoval and Ramirez have backed the unstable starting rotation to put Boston in third place in the tight AL East at 12-10.
In a long, tenuous Major League Baseball season, much can happen. Each player mentioned may lose track of their hot April’s and succumb to the dog days of summer. One may rise above the others and cast doubt as to whether or not we still dwell in the age of the pitcher, or trend back towards the time of the long ball reigning supreme.
Time will tell, but for the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox, the extra greenbacks thrown down during the offseason are currently bearing the fruits of great power.