Report: The Mariners are still interested in Nelson Cruz

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After shocking the baseball world by agreeing to a 10-year, $240 million contract with second baseman Robinson Cano last week, the Mariners reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with Corey Hart today while picking up Logan Morrison in a trade with the Marlins. However, they aren’t done attempting to remake their offense.

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Mariners are still interested in signing free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, though it sounds like he still has some other possibilities to choose from:

Even after signing Robinson Cano and bringing Hart and Morrison into the fold, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik doesn’t appear ready to close the door on upgrades to an offense that ranked 12th in the American League with 624 runs scored. The Mariners have been ardent Cruz pursuers from the start of the winter, and one baseball source said they’ll continue to be in the mix for him.

Cruz has a few other potential landing sites. The Texas Rangers would like to bring him back on a two- or three-year deal, and the Baltimore Orioles could use an impact bat in left field. ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark has also speculated that the Kansas City Royals could jump into the fray if they trade Billy Butler for pitching. But that’s a complicated, long-shot scenario at best.

Rumors of Cruz turning down a five-year, $75 million offer from the Mariners haven’t been confirmed, but Crasnick hears that many at the Winter Meetings believe he’ll ultimately land a contract close to the four-year, $60 million deal the Mets gave to Curtis Granderson. The 33-year-old turned down a qualifying offer from the Rangers in order to test free agency, so teams would have to give up a draft pick in order to sign him. A return to Texas could happen if Shin-Soo Choo (and Scott Boras) remains firm about his lofty asking price.

Cruz hit .266/.327/.506 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI over 109 games this past season and served a 50-game PED suspension for his ties to Biogenesis.

James Paxton has a fantastic new nickname

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James Paxton of the Mariners is 3-0 with a 1.39 ERA, 39 strikeouts and only six walks in 32.1 innings of work over five starts. Last night he shut the Tigers down, tossing seven shutout innings, striking out nine and allowing only four hits. With Felix Hernandez looking less than king-like lately, Paxton is asserting himself as the new ace of the Seattle staff.

And now the tall Canadian native has a nickname to match his ace-like status:

“Pax was really outstanding and we certainly needed it,” manager Scott Servais said of the Canadian southpaw. “Big Maple is what he was nicknamed tonight and I kind of like that. He was awesome.”

“Big Maple” is a fantastic nickname. That’s the sort of nickname guys used to get back when nicknames were great. Before managers just put “y” at the end of dudes’ names and before the “First Initial-First Three Letters of The Last Name” convention took hold in the wake of A-Rod.

“Big Maple.” That makes me smile. I’m gonna be smiling all dang day because of that.

The Rays gave Seth Smith a little league homer last night

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I mentioned this in the recaps this morning, but I think it deserves it’s own special place. Get what went down in the second inning of last night’s Rays-O’s game:

Ryan Flaherty was on first with Seth Smith up to bat. Smith hit a single to center. Flaherty, who was running with the pitch, was making for third base. All-world defender Kevin Kiermaier tried to gun him down but threw wildly to third, causing Flaherty to break for home.

Pitcher Alex Cobb had the play backed up, however! He got the ball near the dugout. Flaherty scampered back to third and Cobb tried to throw him out. The ball hit Flaherty’s helmet, richocheting into left field, allowing both Flaherty and Smith — who had stopped at first and then stopped at second, like a kid at tee ball or something — to come around and score.

Watch:

 

I still think the Rays walking home the winning run on four pitches in the 11th inning was worse, but this looked worse.

Oh well: the Rays get the day off today and tomorrow, of course, is another day.