Inbox: Cruz at DH in Seattle's best interest?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers questions from Mariners fans

January 26th, 2016

I realize Nelson Cruz may seem to be the Mariners' best fit for designated hitter, considering the other outfielders' fielding is better, but doesn't he have a significantly lower batting average as a DH?

-- Mike D., Orem, Utah

That's an interesting situation, as indeed Cruz put up a .337/.402/.670 line with 31 home runs and 59 RBIs in 312 at-bats at right field last year, compared to .263/.333/.450 with 13 homers and 34 RBIs in 278 at-bats at DH. For his career, he's hit .262/.324/.474 in 192 games at DH, which is lower than his overall career numbers of .273/.334/.510.

Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto believes last year's numbers were somewhat of a small sample situation and Cruz won't see such a dramatic difference over the long haul at DH, but that remains to be seen. Cruz definitely likes playing the outfield, and many players will tell you it's easier to hit if you're involved in the game and not just waiting between at-bats. But Cruz is a team player, and he'll do his best at whatever role is needed. At 35, he's certainly headed for more of a DH role in the future, and the Mariners would like to get more athletic in the outfield, which is why they acquired Leonys Martin and Nori Aoki this offseason.

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One definite in Cruz's favor -- he'll have Edgar Martinez, one of the greatest DH's in baseball history, working as his hitting coach from the first day of camp this spring. And I do think he'll still get some time in right field, just not as much as last year.

Franklin Gutierrez was a Gold Glove center fielder before all his health issues. Why are there no plans for him to play there again? Is it because of injury risk or due to his previous health problems?

-- Bill H., Apple Valley, Calif.

Gutierrez won his American League Gold Glove in 2010, but he hasn't played more than 92 games in a season since and missed all of 2014 while dealing with his ankylosing spondylitis (an arthritic condition). He played strictly left field last season, because he doesn't run like he used to and also because there is concern that he'll be more likely to deal with hamstring and hip issues if he tries to cover that much ground. Gutierrez is a different player now. He's gained quite a bit of weight -- and strength -- which is why he hit 15 home runs in 171 at-bats last year, one of the highest ratios in the Majors. I believe you'll continue to see him strictly in a corner outfield spot going forward, mostly in right field this season with Aoki playing left.

With the Mariners signing Gaby Sanchez, how is the first-base position looking? Who has a better chance of being the starter?

-- Christian T., SeaTac, Wash.

Sanchez is one of three veterans who have agreed to Minor League deals with invitations to big league camp, along with Travis Ishikawa and Ed Lucas. Those guys are being brought in to compete with Jesus Montero for the backup spot, but the definite starter -- barring injury -- will be Adam Lind. Dipoto acquired Lind from the Brewers to be the main man, though the lefty does have a history of being much better against right-handed pitchers, so that opens up a possible platoon scenario with Montero, Sanchez or Lucas, who all are right-handed hitters.

What does the Mariners' batting order look like, as of now?

-- Brad M., West Richland, Wash.

They haven't asked me to be the manager yet, and a lot can happen in Spring Training, but I think you can project something like Aoki (LF), Ketel Marte (SS), Robinson Cano (2B), Cruz (DH), Kyle Seager (3B), Lind (1B), Seth Smith (RF), Chris Iannetta (C) and Martin (CF) against right-handers. Or Seager might bat second and then flip-flop Cruz and Cano to alternate right- and left-handers if they prefer the switch-hitting Marte at the bottom of the order.

And against lefties -- and the Rangers will almost certainly come with southpaw Cole Hamels on Opening Day -- you'll likely see Gutierrez in place of Smith and Montero or whoever earns the backup first-base job in place of Lind, with Steve Clevenger sometimes getting the nod over Iannetta behind the plate.

What has Willie Bloomquist been doing? Does he have any plans for 2016 Spring Training?

-- Bob P., Ridgefield, Wash.

Bloomquist didn't catch on with any other teams after being released by Seattle last July, but the 38-year-old is staying in shape this offseason and says he hasn't closed the door on playing again if the right situation arises. Bloomquist said a few teams have inquired, but nothing has come to fruition yet. And he said if nothing works out, he's had a great ride in a 14-year Major League career.

Considering the pitching acquisitions this offseason, do you think Mike Montgomery will start the season in the bullpen and be available for further starting depth?

-- Jonathan D., Emmett, Idaho

I expect Montgomery will be given a look in a relief role this spring, given he's currently the No. 7 or 8 starter behind Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Nathan Karns, with Vidal Nuno potentially in that mix as well. Since Montgomery is out of Minor League options, he'll need to either make the 25-man roster or be exposed to waivers. With Charlie Furbush and Nuno penciled in as the likely lefties in the bullpen, there's not a lot of room as we speak. But lots can happen between now and Opening Day, particularly when it comes to pitching depth.