SEATTLE -- Nelson Cruz seems to keep getting better with age, a fact not lost on his manager or the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which selected the slugger as the Mariners' Most Valuable Player for 2017 on Friday.
James Paxton was named the club's Pitcher of the Year, and reliever Nick Vincent earned Unsung Hero honors.
Cruz became just the fourth Major Leaguer with four-plus consecutive seasons with 35 or more homers at age 33 or older on Thursday, joining Babe Ruth, Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds. Mariners manager Scott Servais said the 37-year-old designated hitter continues to defy the odds, producing at such a high level when most players his age have slowed down.
"He's the outlier, and good for us," Servais said. "But it's not easy. It's by design with his approach, his film study, his game plan, the whole ball of wax. And you put on top of that the type of teammate he is and what he does in the clubhouse, it's the entire package."
Cruz entered play Friday's matchup with the Indians hitting .286 with 35 homers and an American League-leading 112 RBIs. And while some baseball analysts downplay the value of RBIs, since they depend on other players getting on base, Cruz feels much differently.
"It is a big deal," he said. "Scoring runs and driving in runs is what gets you wins. That's my job, driving in runs. That's what I'm here for, and it's definitely something to be proud of."
Cruz also was selected as the Mariners' MVP in 2015, but this is Paxton's first Pitcher of the Year honor. The 27-year-old has gone 12-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 22 starts and has been the club's top hurler despite missing a combined seven weeks during two stints on the disabled list.
"That's kind of the story of the season for me," Paxton said. "When I've been out there, it's been pretty good, for the most part. Coming back from injury, I've had a couple blips there, but once I'm at full strength, it's been good.
"Obviously the goal for me is to stay healthy and get those 33 or 34 starts in a season, so that's what I'm going to be focusing on this offseason, finding a way to stay healthy for an entire season because that's what we need out of me."
He'll get no argument there from his skipper.
"He was as good as you can be for those 7-8 starts in a row, just dominant, Cy Young Award-type stuff," Servais said. "Then the injuries totally stopped any momentum and it was hard to get it going again after that. But overall, it's a good year. His numbers are outstanding, he's won a lot of ballgames for us. He was the one constant in our rotation that allowed us to reset every five days. And when he went out, it was crushing."
Vincent has been much more of a constant, leading the Mariners relievers in appearances (66) and innings (62 2/3) while posting a 2.87 ERA. He's been the rock in an otherwise tumultuous season in which the Mariners have used an MLB-record-tying 40 pitchers.
"For a long time he was probably the MVP of our team," Servais said.
Such is the life of a setup man that Vincent rarely received attention when doing well. He gets interviewed by the media usually only when something goes wrong, but that's part of the job the 31-year-old accepted long ago.
"As a reliever, that's what we do," Vincent said. "We go out there and try to keep the game where it's at. You kind of don't think about it because everything is based off offense these days. Everybody thinks about the home runs and RBIs and all that and it's not really about the guy that kept the one-run lead instead of the guy that hit the two-run homer in the ninth.
"I'd rather be in that spot. I'd rather be the guy that goes out and does his job and doesn't deal with the media. They just say, 'Good job.' It's easier that way."