Like Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew, Nelson Cruz‘ value has been hurt by the Qualifying Offer. At this point, it appears that all three of the above players should have accepted the one-year, $14 million deal extended to them by their teams, as their markets don’t look too strong. Each of the above players have their flaws, and most teams appear unwilling to surrender a draft pick in order to sign one of them.
Early on, Cruz appeared to have a strong market, and he reportedly turned down a five year, $75 million deal from the Seattle Mariners back in December. If that rumor was true, it’s hard to determine who was more off-base, the Mariners for extending the offer, or Cruz for turning it down.
At this point, the price for Cruz appears to have come down, as well it should. To recap, Cruz is a 33 year-old outfielder who is coming off a PED suspension, and has totaled all of 3.9 fWAR over the last three seasons. That sandwiches him between Drew Stubbs and Emilio Bonifacio.
Cruz is an above-average hitter who has managed a .263/.319/.489 line over the last three seasons, good for a 114 wRC+. But, his defense and baserunning have decayed significantly since 2009-2010, when he totaled 7.9 fWAR. He grades out at eight runs below average on the bases since 2011, the fifth worst mark in the majors. Defensively he ranks near the bottom of the league as well, suggesting that he’s more suited to DH duties than field play.
The one thing Cruz does is hit homeruns, and he’s tallied 80 since 2011. However, he’s benefited greatly from playing half his games at hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington, where he’s hit 50 of those home runs. For his career, Cruz has managed just a .242/.299/.435 line on the road, compared to .294/.356/.556 at home.
Looking to 2014, Steamer projects a .260/.322/.478 line for Cruz in 540 plate appearances, which comes out to a 113 wRC+. Combine that with his negative value on defense and the bases, and you get 1.6 fWAR, or a slightly below-average player. A move away from Texas could depress his value further, since it would deflate his power totals more than the average player.
Given these projections, which teams could be in the market for Nelson Cruz?
The Mariners, one of the teams in the running for Cruz look to have a pretty dismal outfield situation on their hands in 2014. Currently, their outfield looks to consist of Michael Saunders in right, Dustin Ackley in center, and some combination of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison in left, with Hart and Morrison also spending time at DH.
Cruz would represent a very small upgrade over Saunders, who is projected for a .231/.283/.371 line in 611 plate appearances, and 1.0 fWAR. The duo of Hart and Morrison project for batting lines of .257/.325/.456 for a 114 wRC+ and .250/.342/.429 for a 113 wRC+, respectively. Those look like very similar lines to what Cruz has produced, and both are poor defenders. Throwing Cruz in that mix would just add another player with similar skills to the mix.
Overall, Cruz would provide very little additional value to the Mariners, and given the loss of a draft pick, a contract worth more than $6-7 million per year starts to look pretty bad for Seattle.
The Cincinnati Reds may also be interested in Cruz given their dismal outfield situation. After losing Shin-Soo Choo, Ryan Ludwick looks to be the starter in left field. The 35 year-old Ludwick spent time on the DL with a shoulder injury in 2013, and played in just 38 games. In the last three seasons, he’s posted a batting line of .253/.323/.427 for a 106 wRC+ and just 1.9 fWAR. He projects for a similar line and just 0.4 fWAR in 2014.
Along with the Colorado Rockies and the Chicago White Sox, the Reds have the most favorable park for right-handed power hitters. Granted, if the Reds brought Cruz into the fold, he would have to play the field full time, but they are one of the few teams for which he would actually represent an upgrade of at least +1 WAR. Still, if Cruz is asking for anything close to what he was demanding at the start of the offseason, it would be a massive overpay.
Finally, the Baltimore Orioles have a weak outfield and DH situation. In right field, they have Nick Markakis, who managed a woeful .271/.329/.356 line and -0.1 fWAR in 2013. Still, with $15 million committed to Markakis for 2014, the Orioles will probably take their chances and hope that he rebounds.
At the other corner, the newly acquired David Lough figures to get the bulk of the playing time. He’s a far better defender and runner than Cruz, but he’s a 28 year-old whose hitting ability is such that he’s received only 400 plate appearances at the big league level with a .278/.308/.396 line.
At DH, the Orioles are even weaker. Henry Urrutia, a 26 year-old Cuban defector, figures to be the starter. He compiled a .347/.406/.506 line in 81 games between Double-A and Triple-A last season, but demonstrated his lack of plate discipline in 58 big league plate appearances.
Behind him, the Orioles have Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold, Francisco Peguero, and Delmon Young, which is probably all you need to know. All in all, their DH situation projects for a .265/.325/.418 line and 0.7 fWAR. Like the Reds, the Orioles have a welcoming park for right-handed power hitters, and Cruz would actually be an upgrade in the range of +1 WAR.
At the end of the day, there shouldn’t be much of a market for Nelson Cruz. There are very few teams for which he would be an upgrade, and the combination of his salary demands and the loss of a draft pick make him unpalatable. It’s possible that his ability to hit for power might entice a team to overpay drastically. But unless that happens, he’ll have to come down to something in the range of $6-7 million per year for no more than three years.