Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales And The Market

New TV deals have made baseball richer than ever, and teams are passing on some of those riches to free agents. $240MM for Robinson Cano. $153MM for Jacoby Ellsbury. Possibly over $100MM for Masahiro Tanaka. Heck, $35MM for Tim Lincecum. $32MM for Jason Vargas. But it appears not everyone has been invited to the party. Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales seem to be on the outside looking in.

As a free agent, Cruz has four problems. First, he's no help defensively — he's below-average even when compared to other right fielders, posting negative UZR numbers in all of the past three seasons. Second, he's 33 and projects to age badly, as an offensively-minded player who doesn't actually hit all that well. Third, his ties to the Biogenesis scandal might raise questions about his immediate future. And fourth, the team that signs him will have to forfeit a draft pick.

There have been indications that Cruz wants a four-year, $75MM contract. That doesn't appear to be in the cards now — it's difficult to land huge deals this late in the offseason, and one report from December suggested that Cruz was willing to accept a three-year deal from the Rangers.

But one win above replacement is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $6MM or $7MM on the open market, so for Cruz to justify even the three-year, $39MM deal MLBTR projected he would get, he would have to produce about six wins over the life of the deal, even before considering the draft pick.

Even 6 WAR seems like an optimistic projection over the next three years. Cruz has produced WAR figures of 1.3, 1.1 and 1.5 the past three seasons. Even a three-year deal for Cruz looks unlikely at this point, and he may only get one if a team gets desperate, or determines that the escalating price of free agents and Cruz's counting stats make him worth that kind of money.

Morales is even more defensively limited than Cruz, having played 28 games in the field in 2012 and 31 in 2013 in the aftermath of significant injury troubles that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. This far removed from any serious injury, he might be able to handle more time in the field than that, but that's mostly a matter of speculation at this point.

On top of that, there's the matter of the qualifying offer. By declining it, Morales rejected a one-year, $14.1MM deal, despite the fact that he was arguably worth less than that last season, producing 1.2 WAR. Even leaving aside the draft pick, it would be ambitious for Morales to use an amount more than $14.1MM per season as a starting point for negotiations on a multi-year contract, or even on a one-year contract. Accepting the qualifying offer might have been a better path for him.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports recently wrote about the qualifying offer system "squeezing" certain free agents, and it is, as in the case of Kyle Lohse last year and Stephen Drew this year. But it's worth mentioning that, in the past two offseasons, no one has actually accepted a qualifying offer yet. Perhaps certain types of players, like Morales, should consider accepting qualifying offers if they receive them. A bigger problem than getting "squeezed" may turn out to be that the expectations of some free agents are out of step with the market. Morales is arguably not worth $14.1MM per season to begin with. 

Then add in the draft pick. Unless Cruz or Morales re-sign with their old teams, the teams that sign them will have to give up a draft pick apiece, probably in the last two-thirds of the first round or shortly thereafter. A recent study found that the Nos. 16-30 picks in the June draft have surplus values of a little over $7MM. For players like Robinson Cano or Jacoby Ellsbury, whose value dwarfs the value of the pick, the qualifying offer is not a significant concern. But for a player like Morales, whose value is not so much greater than that of the draft pick anyway, this is a big problem.

A further issue for Cruz and Morales is the lack of teams available to sign them. Those problems were magnified when the Mariners, who like all-bat players more than most other clubs, acquired Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. Now there are few fits for Cruz, and even fewer for Morales. And purely as a practical matter, the market for Morales is limited, because it's not clear whether he can be an everyday player in the National League.

It also might be that, as with the closer market, the market for all-bat players and 30-something sluggers is correcting itself to a degree. A team need look no further than Ryan Howard's five-year, $125MM deal with the Phillies to see why signing an aging slugger of limited athleticism might turn out to be a problem. Or Travis Hafner's four-year, $57MM deal with the Indians, or Albert Pujols' ten-year, $240MM contract with Angels. Sometimes, these sorts of players remain productive through their mid-30s — who would have thought David Ortiz would age so well? But often they don't, and that's even before considering Cruz and Morales are nowhere near as well-rounded offensively as Pujols or Ortiz.

In this market, the two players most comparable to Cruz and Morales were probably Mike Napoli and Carlos Beltran. Like Cruz and Morales, Napoli and Beltran are both sluggers confined to corner positions, although they're also better offensively than Cruz and Morales are (and Napoli is superior defensively as well). Napoli received two years and $32MM, getting fewer years than we expected, though at a higher average annual value. Beltran got three and $45MM. We projected Beltran would get two years and $30MM, which suggests that the market hasn't hurt every defensively-challenged slugger.

It's pretty late in the game for Cruz and Morales to cash in the way Beltran did, though. Earlier today, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo wrote that, in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal, Cruz might ultimately settle for a one-year deal, hoping to prove himself post-PEDs, and then hit the free-agent market again next year.

It's unclear what he'll find when he gets there. With free-agent salaries exploding, it's easy to imagine a world where teams see Cruz's 27 homers and 76 RBIs, or Morales' 23 and 80, and offer them big-money deals. But that does not appear to be the world in which we live, at least not this offseason. Cruz's and Morales' predicaments may primarily be the results of their individual circumstances (Cruz's Biogenesis ties, a lack of obvious fits for Morales) and not the start of a trend. But it may also be that defensively-challenged sluggers, especially ones with good-but-not-outstanding bats, may have trouble getting their usual slice of the free-agent pie, especially when qualifying offers are also a concern.

61 Responses to Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales And The Market Leave a Reply

  1. Jeff Miller 1 year ago

    Will either of these guys even play MLB in 2014? Might be forced to play overseas. Would that take draft pick compensation off the table if they don’t sign with a big league club until 2015?

    • LazerTown 1 year ago

      They will certainly play. But maybe less than the qo.

      • Jeff Miller 1 year ago

        Would probably have to be significantly less, but doing that gets tricky.

        • livingpaint 1 year ago

          Morales is repped by Boras, so he’ll find a decent paycheck somewhere. Probably at or more than the QO the Mariners offered.

    • pft2 1 year ago

      All they have to do is be patient and wait till June 15 when they don’t cost a pick. Teams out of the running now will be all over them then. In the off season, everyone has their rosy projections that Player X will have a breakout season or rebound, and by June 15 they realize Player X is no better than he was last year. So they lose a couple of months salary, but can recover that over a 3 year deal. Better than panicking and signing for 1/2 what you are worth with the only reward for a good season is you are stuck dealing with another QO, or worse, you get injured and play for even fewer peanuts in 2015

      • STEVE KOENIGSBERG 1 year ago

        I have heard this June 15 argument before and I don’t buy it. Is there going to be a contending team that will want to sign these guys 2 1/2 months into the season when they haven’t aeen major league pitching since the end of 2013. If teams are looking for a quick fix, this doesn’t aeem like the best plan. In spring training, pitchers are almost always ahead of hitters….even at the end of March. These guys would theoretically need a month in the minors getting used to live pitching. Now you would be 3 1/2 months into the season. I don’t see teams coughing up big bucks foe this. Maybe at a discount?

        • Jeff Weissbuch 1 year ago

          Agree not sure I would sign a guy like this in June unless I had a huge injury.

        • bjsguess 1 year ago

          Why don’t you buy it? Several players have done this (albeit for different reasons). If Cruz and Morales are healthy I could see a team offering them $7/$8M (with a no QO clause) to play the last half of the season on a 1 year deal. They could then re-enter the market without the draft pick issues.

          As a team I would rather take this approach. And as a player I would also find this preferable to many of the scenarios being bandied about. The only losers here are the Rangers/Mariners since their compensation would be removed.

          • oz10 1 year ago

            Several pitchers have but I have not heard of an offensive player doing it effectively. Please enlighten us to whom these several players are that you refer to.

          • STEVE KOENIGSBERG 1 year ago

            This approach works for pitchers much better than it would for position players. I cannot think of any difference-making position player that has signed mid-season in recent memory.

            At this point, I am sure that both Cruz and Morales wished that they’d accepted the qualifying offers; and both the Mariners and Rangers are both a little glad that neither player took them up on their offers.

    • Shane1885 1 year ago

      If they sign with somebody after the Draft in June then they won’t be tide up to the compensation pick. It is interesting you said about them playing overseas, that might be their best option at this point.

      • Daniel Franklin 1 year ago

        Really? Masahiro Tanaka was looking at a RECORD payday of HALF of the Qualifying Offer. How would playing over seas help these guys in ANY way??

        • Shane1885 1 year ago

          Because obviously nobody wants to pay these guys what their asking for one and also dont wanna give up a Draft pick. These guys are one dimensional players and teams out here don’t value them as much as say a team in Japan and might offer them more money.

  2. LazerTown 1 year ago

    And I said both were nuts to turn down the offer. Neither of them is an elite bat but they want to get more than $14M each over multiple years.

    • Tony Matias 1 year ago

      Congrats Morales for not taking the M’s QO and all the “best” in finding someone who’ll pay it.

      • LazerTown 1 year ago

        Yea, Mariners should be thrilled. They got Hart, so they got a draft pick, the better player, and even saved money.

  3. Tony Matias 1 year ago

    No sympathy for Morales here.

    • LazerTown 1 year ago

      Hey, I’d rather have Hart regardless. Morales is a mediocre DH, and wants to be paid more than David Ortiz?!?

    • Kyle 1 year ago

      Maybe he just got bad advice from his agent, Boras.

      • jazznbluz 1 year ago

        That would be a first (he said sarcastically).

    • Shane1885 1 year ago

      He can thank Scott Boras for being greedy lol

    • Scott Goin 1 year ago

      Boras will never accept a QO because it would hurt his reputation as a hard-ass in negotiations. Mid-level free agents like Morales get hurt because he’s not giving them the best representation they can get.

      I’d say it was smart of the Mariners to offer the QO, but knowing them, they may actually think he’s worth $14 million a year.

  4. Paul Shailor 1 year ago

    Honestly how did they not see this coming? I mean really turning down 14 mil for one year and if they are lucky they will end with 2/20?!?!

    • Edgar4evar 1 year ago

      It makes me wonder how the mind of the FA works. It should be obvious that $14 million right now with the chance for a new deal next year is a really good deal for a player like this. I guess to be good at baseball you have to believe you are amazing and worth oh-so-much more than that.

    • pft2 1 year ago

      If they blow out a knee in 2014 then 2/20 is the better deal. Players take longer deals at less annual salary for security all the time. Why do you think so many players sign team friendly extensions?. Teams are willing to pay more per year for shorter years for the same reason, risk management.

      In the end, 10 million a year vs 14 million is not going to change these guys way of life. They are millionaires already and set for life. It just means less money paid to Uncle Sam and left for the kids. Every decision has some risk. Win some, lose some.

    • bjsguess 1 year ago

      Cruz was picked, on this site, to sign for 3/$39. That is significantly better than 1/$14M. I don’t think it was the worst advice to have him turn down the QO.

      At the time, I probably would have offered the QO but prayed that he declined. I’m not a fan of Morales or Cruz at this point in their career. However, I could see other teams valuing them more than 1/$14M.

  5. Edgar4evar 1 year ago

    I think both of these guys, but especially Morales due to his defensive limitations, are going to sign late in the offseason for small contracts of short duration. I put Morales at 2/15 and Cruz at 2/20 or so. Alternatively either could sign a one-year, incentive-laden deal to establish value. Likely suitors are those that won’t lose a first-rounder, either due to a protected pick, or having already lost theirs due to other signings.

    And I’m really glad the M’s have stayed away from them. I want Morales to sign elsewhere so the M’s get the pick. I’m really afraid Cruz would play outfield, badly, every day. And that his bat would suffer at Safeco. The deal we gave Hart is perfect, and there is a lot of upside there for the money.

    • nighthawk180 1 year ago

      The mariners actually wont get the pick they will lose it for signing Cano. As it stands currently they will lose their 2nd rounder for Cano. How it works since their first round pick is protected is that the next highest pick goes. If Morales signs elsewhere the comp pick for him goes as well.

      • Jeff Weissbuch 1 year ago

        Why is that I thought they would get a pick for Morales why do they lose 2 picks.

        • Scott Goin 1 year ago

          This sounded confusing to me as well. While the Mariners are going to lose the Morales pick because of Cano, they’ll actually get back their 2nd round pick.

          So Morales signing with someone else before the draft gives the Mariners an extra draft pick. It’s just a 2nd round pick instead of a compensatory round pick.

    • John Kreese 1 year ago

      Cruz does nothing for me but I’d love to see the M’s re-up with Morales. Of course that would have to mean that one of Hart or LoMo are capable enough to play the outfield & Smoak gets traded. A 2-3-4-5-6 of Seager, Cano, Morales, Hart, LoMo is pretty solid.

      • TheRealRyan 1 year ago

        The problem with that is 2 of Morales, Hart and LoMo have to also play the field. That means at least one of them will be giving back most, if not all, of the value you receive from their bat because of their defensive limitations. It also means Smoak is out of a job.

    • Scott Goin 1 year ago

      I can’t see Boras letting Morales accept 2/15 when he just refused a 14 mill QO.

      Also, If I were a GM, I’d hate to give up a draft pick to get a guy like Morales or Cruz for just 1 year.

      I think in order to maximize the value of the draft pick you’re giving up, you need a cheap, 3-year deal. Something like 3/24 for Morales or 3/30 for Cruz.

  6. scs 1 year ago

    This has probably been addressed, but is there anything stopping the Rangers from offering Cruz something like 1-year, $10 million, with the stipulation that they will not make him a qualifying offer at the end of the season? Is this even allowed?

    • Daniel Franklin 1 year ago

      The reality of the situation is that if Cruz is good enough to deserve a Qualifying Offer next year, either he accepts it, or he hopes that another team is willing to pay him more AND give up a draft pick. It is not the Rangers fault for offering him $14.1M; it is his own for declining it. It is entirely possible that he believes that he is worth more than people are willing to pay him. It happens a lot in life.

      It would be hard to believe that a team would be willing to give him a multi-year deal worth more annually than the QO if the team that signs him to a 1 year deal doesn’t even offer him a QO…

    • pft2 1 year ago

      Its not allowed. At least, they can’t put it in the contract, and most players won’t take a gentlemans agreement.

  7. bdiddy7 1 year ago

    Hearing 35MM for Lincecum as too much is so weird. Then I remember that it’s 2014 and how far he’s fallen the past 2 years.

  8. pft2 1 year ago

    With offense in decline and the poor performance some teams got offensively at DH and in RF its hard to fathom. Cruz of course has PED concerns and his H-A splits over the past years may give teams pause (he hit well on the read last year though).

    I think teams missing out on Tanaka or other free agent pitchers will spend the money on offensive holes. Tanaka pushed things back a month for a few players

    • Trock 1 year ago

      I completely agree with that. I feel as though a good amount of teams will post the 20 mil to negotiate. If they think there team has any sort of remote chance to signing him, they are going to wait on other holes before finding out who he ends up with. As soon as he is signed, you will see guys like Garza, Jiminez, Morales, Cruz signed by the teams who lose out on Tanaka.

  9. famous_amazing_guy 1 year ago

    Great analysis and summary.

    This site is the gold standard for understanding ballplayers as assets, and baseball as a business.

    Keep up the good work.

  10. Steven Russell 1 year ago

    I’d be thrilled if Texas was able to bring back Cruz for one year as a DH. Although, if he’s doing the one year thing, he may want to go play outfield as well somewhere to try to get his value up and to remain an everyday position player for free agency and our outfield in Texas is filled. I’d be very happy keeping his power in the lineup and not having to worry about his defense though.

    There is the awkward problem of Choo having his #17 though…

    • GD 1 year ago

      lol. I totally spaced out the #17 thing.

    • Daniel Franklin 1 year ago

      When you’re off PEDs, your numbers drop… even on your jersey: Cruz can choose any number lower than 17

    • Chet Steadman 1 year ago


      : )

      • Daniel Franklin 1 year ago

        No. None of Moreland/Fielder/Cruz can play 2B. If the Rangers sign Cruz, Moreland WILL be gone.

        • Chet Steadman 1 year ago

          lol i forgot Profar : / too much coffee

        • Steven Russell 1 year ago

          Yes, I think they would trade him if Cruz returned, most likely for prospects but I suppose they could look at pitching as well. I can’t see them using him as just a bench player, even though that would be an awesome luxury because he could do OF, 1B and DH. Although, I kind of like the idea of having a good defensive first baseman to relieve Prince or play a good chunk of it if Prince didn’t mind but I think he would mind. He seems dead set on playing everyday at first base, not knocking that or anything but it would help our defense.

      • Steven Russell 1 year ago

        Yep it would be mighty fine! Although Profar would definitely be in there somewhere so Moreland would either be traded or provide relief for guys like Cruz, Fielder, Choo and Rios.

  11. Stevil 1 year ago

    This is a really well laid-out article by Charlie. Every angle and point was made clearly. Couldn’t agree more.

    It will be real interesting to see what happens with Cruz and Morales. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if both end up with one year deals or remain on the market til after the draft.

  12. Djones2109 1 year ago

    Remember some teams have protected picks and can sign these guys and not lose a pick

    • bjsguess 1 year ago

      They won’t lose their FIRST ROUND pick. If they are protected the team would lose their SECOND ROUND pick. Obviously, this pick is much less important but it still carries a fair amount of value.

  13. daveineg 1 year ago

    If I’m Morales, I sign with an indy league team that will play him at 1B (to show he can play there), then wait for the draft to pass when teams won’t lose a pick and will be willing pay market level price. He’d likely make the same for 2/3 of a season than he would for a full season at a heavy discount and get a decent 2nd and 3rd year.

    Bottom line is that some players are getting bad advice from their ego driven agents.

    • Trock 1 year ago

      I am unsure how it works, but if they sign a player after the draft, can they lock him up for a multiyear deal at that point? Or can it only be for the rest of that season?

      • Christopher J. Mills 1 year ago

        He’s a FA, so there’s no restriction. He just no longer has a pick attached to him. Morales will be signed though. A team will wait as long as they can to drive his price down, then give up the pick like the Brewers did with Lohse last season.

  14. westcoastwhitesox 1 year ago

    Awesome post; very well written!

  15. Dan Bowen 1 year ago

    Whoever supplies Ortiz with his steroids probably “thought Ortiz would age so well.”

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