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Inbox: Will Cruz be back with Mariners in '19?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers questions from Mariners fans
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

Is there any talk about a Nelson Cruz extension with the Mariners?
Jacob S., Ephrata, Wash.

The Mariners would love to bring their big designated hitter back on a new deal now that his four-year, $56 million contract is expiring, but that issue won't likely be settled until the season ends. It always needs to be remembered that players have a choice in these situations -- it's not simply a matter of their team wanting to keep them.

Is there any talk about a Nelson Cruz extension with the Mariners?
Jacob S., Ephrata, Wash.

The Mariners would love to bring their big designated hitter back on a new deal now that his four-year, $56 million contract is expiring, but that issue won't likely be settled until the season ends. It always needs to be remembered that players have a choice in these situations -- it's not simply a matter of their team wanting to keep them.

Though Cruz hasn't talked publicly about his future plans, it's fair to assume he'll want to see what options are available. Cruz likes Seattle, but that doesn't mean he won't want to see if other teams are interested. At 38, he has to know this next contract likely will be his last and he'll want both the most years and money, but also the best chance to win a World Series title.

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The market for DHs has proven to be limited, but if Houston, for example, says it'll match any offer the Mariners make, Cruz would have to consider the potential of hitting in Minute Maid Park and playing for a team that is well positioned for the next few seasons. So it could behoove Cruz to test the waters, though the Mariners will have the initial shot to negotiate before pending free agents hit the open market five days after the final game of the World Series.

Under the old rules, the Mariners could have made a qualifying offer for a one-year deal for Cruz and either had him accept the on-going rate (last year was $17.4 million) or get Draft pick compensation. But last year's new Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that players who've already been given a qualifying offer during their careers aren't eligible for another such offer, and Cruz received -- and rejected -- offers from the Rangers in 2013 and the Orioles in '14.

With Ryon Healy showing progress at the end of the season, Dee Gordon and Jean Segura still doing well and an anticipated bounce back for Kyle Seager, how do you see next year's infield looking?
C.J., Arlington, Wash.

That decision will lean largely on what happens with Cruz. If the Mariners re-sign Cruz to be the DH, then they have to decide where Robinson Cano fits in. Cano hasn't looked great at first base in his limited time there, but if he moves back to second, that pushes Gordon into center field again -- and he seems better suited for the infield.

If Cruz leaves, then Cano and Healy could handle the first base and DH roles, Gordon remain at second and the club would simply need to solve the center-field issue. But that plan also means replacing Cruz's bat in the lineup, which seems problematic. Personally, I'd prefer the first option, keeping Cruz and having Gordon continue working in center field, which seemed to be working out early in the year.

They'll also need to figure out what's going on with Seager, who finished 12th in the American League MVP Award voting in 2016 when he hit .278 with a .359 on-base percentage, but has fallen to .215 with a .265 OBP this year.

Should we be encouraged or discouraged by Erasmo Ramirez's season, pitching very well on occasion but injury riddled?
Allen B., Seattle, Wash.

Ramirez is 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA in six starts since returning from the arm issues that wiped out his first half and has allowed two earned runs or less in five of those six outings. Last year, he was 1-2 with a 3.35 ERA in his last nine starts after getting stretched out following his acquisition from the Rays.

So that provides a pretty good snapshot of what to expect from the 28-year-old right-hander when he's healthy, which he's been for most of his career. While he seems a frequent target of fan criticism, I think Ramirez is certainly a guy worth having in the mix as a fourth or fifth starting candidate at a reasonable price ($4.2 million this year with one more year of arbitration eligibility).

How long should we be patient with Mike Zunino? This year he's hit below .200, though he sometimes hits clutch home runs. Isn't it about time we went for an offensive catcher?
Nobu Y., Tsuchiura, Japan

That's a fair question, given Zunino has fallen back to a .191/.247/.406 line after hitting .251/.331/.509 last season. He does rank third among AL catchers with 19 home runs, despite spending 29 games on the DL. The Mariners should pursue another veteran catcher to team with Zunino next year, but it's also worth noting that quality catchers who also hit well don't grow on trees. The average line for AL catchers this year is .226/.291/.367.

Why isn't anyone talking about how this team went in the tank as soon as Cano returned?
Frank Y., Yakima, Wash.

Because that is a faulty narrative. The Mariners' slide began well before Cano's return. They were 13-19 in the last 32 games of his 80-game suspension and are 10-13 since he's been back. Similarly, they were 23-17 before Cano got hurt and then suspended in mid-May, and 46-34 (exactly the same win percentage) in the 80 games he was out. Cano certainly hasn't been able to save the season, but he hardly can be blamed for the second-half swoon.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Nelson Cruz