Nelson Cruz Rumors

AL East Notes: Cruz, Rays, Vazquez

Ten years ago today, Curt Schilling pitched the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Yankees in Game Six of the ALCS in what has become known as “the bloody sock” game. A retrospective by MLB.com’s Ian Browne chronicles Schilling’s performance with a torn tendon sheath in his ankle and the ingenuity of the Red Sox’s medical team suturing Schilling’s ankle tendon to his skin. Before making the decision to perform the procedure on Schilling, Dr. Bill Morgan first tried it on a cadaver to see if it worked. It did and Schilling and the Red Sox went on to make baseball history by becoming the first team to win a playoff series after facing a 3-0 deficit and winning the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.

Flash forward a decade and here’s the latest from the AL East:

  • The Orioles need to take advantage of Nelson Cruz‘s warm feelings for the organization while they last and make their best offer to him early, opines the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck. The Orioles, Schmuck adds, would like that offer to be a two-year deal with an option worth a guaranteed $30MM.
  • Cruz is one of the top ten moves GM Dan Duquette made over the past two years to make the Orioles the AL East champions, writes CSNBaltimore’s Rich Dubroff.
  • Despite Andrew Friedman’s departure, the decisions and evaluations that went into constructing the 2014 Rays will be the same decisions and evaluations that go into retooling the team for 2015, reports Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune. The operations department will remain the same, but with Matt Silverman at the helm and top assistants Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander sharing the mantle of VP of baseball ops.
  • The Rays are expected to make a series of transactions over the next few weeks to clear 40-man roster space and protect several rising prospects, notes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Catcher Justin O’Conner, outfielder Mikie Mahtook, and left-hander Adam Liberatore are among those who will be shielded from the Rule 5 draft.
  • Defense and leadership are the calling cards the Red Sox hope will make catcher Christian Vazquez their long-term solution behind the plate, according to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber. The Red Sox feel his offense will develop as future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez compares Vazquez to the CardinalsYadier Molina and a NL talent evaluator likens the 24-year-old to the PhilliesCarlos Ruiz.

Orioles Expect To Increase Payroll

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette says the team plans to increase its payroll next season, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports. Duquette notes that he still needs to meet with team ownership to discuss the payroll, but he expresses confidence that it will rise.

The important thing for our fans to know is that we’ve increased our payroll over the last couple years,” says Duquette. “I expect that we’ll be able to increase our payroll because the fans have responded to our team the last couple of years.”

The Orioles will have to deal with arbitration raises for a number of key players, as well as options for Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day. They are likely to buy out their end of Nick Markakis‘ $17MM mutual option, but they’d like to retain him, Encina writes.

Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller and Delmon Young will be free agents. The Orioles will likely extend Cruz a qualifying offer, and Cruz has said he would like to stay in Baltimore, but Duquette cautions that it will be tricky to keep him. “You can tell just by watching him, he’s the leader of the ballclub,” says Duquette. “Having said that, he came here to have a platform year to get himself re-established to get him a long-term deal and that’s something we will have to consider.”

As Encina points out, the Orioles had an Opening Day payroll of over $107MM last year, then increased it in-season by adding Miller, Alejandro De Aza, Nick Hundley (whose 2015 option they’ll likely decline) and others. Keeping most of their existing talent (including Markakis) will likely force them to go higher than that $107MM figure. They’ve already agreed to an extension with shortstop J.J. Hardy that will pay him $11.5MM in 2015, and Adam Jones and Ubaldo Jimenez will make even more. Chris Davis, who made $10.35MM in 2014, will top the Orioles’ long list of arbitration-eligible players, which also includes Matt Wieters, Bud Norris, Steve Pearce, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Zach Britton and De Aza.


AL East Links: Rays, Maddon, Cruz, Duquette, Red Sox

New Rays president of baseball operations Matthew Silverman told reporters, including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, that he has no plans to hire a GM (Twitter link). Silverman seems poised to head up the baseball ops department by himself, whereas former GM and new Dodgers president of baseball ops Andrew Friedman is reportedly on the hunt for a GM in a setup that will be similar to that of the Cubs (Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer) and the Marlins (Dan Jennings/Michael Hill). Silverman isn’t expecting further changes to Tampa’s scouting or player development departments, either.

More from the AL East…

  • Even after Friedman left for the Dodgers, Maddon voiced his commitment to the Rays to reporters and said he expected to talk about an extension with the club. Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune was among the reporters yesterday to speak to Silverman and hear the newly minted head of baseball ops state that he expects his manager to be with the team in 2015 and beyond. However, Silverman stopped short of saying an extension would be done this winter. “We’ve been comfortable with Joe managing in the final year of his contract. It may not be ideal, but it’s always a possibility,” said Silverman. “…I hope we all wake up one day and you see that Joe’s here even longer than he’s signed for today.”
  • Following his team’s exit from the postseason, Nelson Cruz repeated to reporters, including MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko (Twitter link), that he wants to return to the Orioles. Cruz said he loves both the organization and the team, but as Kubatko notes, he’s sure to be looking for a sizable free agent deal after leading the Majors in homers this season and having to settle for a one-year, $8MM contract last winter. Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun has a full article with quotes from Cruz on his time in Baltimore.
  • Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan examined the Orioles‘ roster and concluded that GM Dan Duquette has done an excellent job in focusing on raising his team’s floor while many clubs are more focused on raising the ceiling. Duquette has prioritized a deep roster, and Sullivan uses negative WAR as a means of illustrating this fact. Over the past three seasons, the Orioles have received the sixth-lowest cumulative negative WAR total, suggesting that while they may not always have a lot of star power, they don’t stock up on expensive stars while punting roster spots at the bottom of their 25-man group. In this season alone, Baltimore gave just 3.2 percent of its innings to negative-WAR pitchers (league average, excluding Baltimore, was 13.4) and 3.2 percent of its plate appearances to negative-WAR position players (league average, excluding Baltimore, was 19.4). Sullivan also notes that Friedman is a master of this (the Rays have the lowest negative WAR total over the past three seasons), making it one way in which the Dodgers, who had the sixth-most negative WAR, can improve quickly.
  • Though the Red Sox are known to be in pursuit of elite starting pitching this offseason, Alex Speier of WEEI.com writes that perhaps they should be placing a more significant emphasis on improving the team’s defense. Speier points out how superior both the Royals and Orioles were to the Red Sox in terms of defense and speculates that Shane Victorino‘s tremendous defensive upside is enough that those clamoring to trade him should rethink their stance. He also points out that the third base trio of Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt combined to make 24 fewer plays than a league-average third baseman in 2014 before highlighting the strong defensive reputation of free agents Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley.


O’s Expected To Make Qualifying Offer To Cruz, Decline Markakis’ Option

The Orioles are planning on making a qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz and decline their half of a $17.5MM option on Nick Markakis in favor of a $2MM buyout, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

The Cruz decision has been evident for quite some time, given the slugger’s MLB-leading 40 homers and strong .271/.333/.525 batting line. Cruz struggled in the wake of a qualifying offer from the Rangers last offseason, ultimately settling for a one-year, $8MM contract with Baltimore. While many contend that the qualifying offer crushed his market — and that’s certainly part of the reason for his struggles — Cruz also hit the open market with sky-high expectations in 2013, reportedly seeking as much as $75MM in the early-going. Had he been open to signing for less, a strong multi-year offer may have been on the table. However, now that he’s coming off such a strong season that put more separation between him and a suspension for performance enhancing drugs, he’s a lock to turn down that QO and in a much better position to land a strong multi-year deal.

The Markakis decision could have gone either way, in my mind, but the decision to decline his option seems to indicate that he won’t be on the receiving end of a QO of his own. The Orioles, in theory, could have exercised their half of the option in hopes of Markakis declining his, then made a qualifying offer, assuming that a player at his age and with his track record wouldn’t want to play on a one-year deal. I thought that to be the likely outcome prior to Heyman’s report.

However, declining the option suggests that they’re not interested in paying him $17.5MM, which is nearly the exact amount that the buyout plus a qualifying offer of $15.3MM would total. It’s possible that Baltimore will still extend the QO in order to have saved roughly $200K in the event that Markakis accepts, but that would be a very peculiar route to take with someone who is so respected within the organization. The likely outcome now seems to be that he won’t cost a draft pick this offseason, which should dramatically improve his free agent stock.

The O’s have a large number of arbitration eligible players, including Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and Bud Norris, so their arb-eligibles will inflate their payroll substantially. Because of that, it’s possible that the Orioles simply felt that they couldn’t fit both Markakis and Cruz into their 2015 budget, and their preference is to position themselves more strongly to retain Cruz’s power.  The 30-year-old Markakis certainly didn’t have a poor season himself, however, as he hit .276/.342/.386 with 14 homers and right-field defense that graded out favorably from a metrics standpoint.


West Notes: Cruz, Rangers, Peavy

Over at The Hardball Times, Jon Roegele breaks down some interesting data on Tommy John surgeries. The number of UCL replacements was a big story this year, of course. Roegele’s research suggests that, while the overall rate of return for pitchers who have undergone the procedure has not improved much since it was invented, the recovery time has been shortened significantly.

Here’s the latest from out west:

  • Referring to a report that Mariners ownership had killed a deal that would have brought in free agent Nelson Cruz, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that Seattle’s ownership had in fact determined before the offseason that it would not sign any players linked to PED use. The details of the situation remain hazy, but Heyman indicates that Cruz’s Biogenesis-related suspension was the root of the decision.
  • The Rangers are looking for a manager in the mold of Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Indeed, every one of the five external candidates under consideration have links to one of those two skippers, as does candidate and interim manager Tim Bogar. Texas is expected to whittle its search down to three finalists in the coming week, says Grant.
  • Giants starter Jake Peavy thought at one point that he would be traded to the team he is now facing in the NLCS, the Cardinals, as Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The veteran righty could still end up in St. Louis next year, as Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reports. Peavy speaks very highly of the club and city, and could make some sense for the Cards if the team decides another established arm is needed for 2015.

Cafardo On Peavy, Martinez, Samardzija

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that Jake Peavy has gone from a likely minimal contract in free agency to a possible three-year deal.  The Giants are interested in re-signing him because they need him, and manager Bruce Bochy has gotten great work out of him.  For his part, the 33-year-old appears to enjoy being back with Bochy, his manager during his glory years in San Diego.  Here’s more from today’s column..

  • A major league source tells Cafardo that Victor Martinez‘s preference is to stay with the Tigers and, therefore, Detroit will get the first crack at him. The interest is mutual and the Tigers would like to get something done sooner rather than later.
  • If A’s GM Billy Beane listens to offers on Jeff Samardzija this offseason, you can count the Red Sox as one of the possible interested parties.  The Sox inquired with the Cubs about him before the trade deadline, and they would not give up a package that included lefthanded pitching prospect Henry Owens.
  • Orioles outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz enjoys Baltimore and wants to stay, but Cafardo expects the Yankees, Rangers, and Mariners to be in on the bidding.  No matter what, the 34-year-old looks like he’ll make a bundle somewhere on a three- or four-year deal.
  • First baseman Adam LaRoche likely won’t re-signed by the Nationals, who could move Ryan Zimmerman to first base.  However, LaRoche lines up nicely as a target for the Brewers, who have toyed with the idea of Ryan Braun moving to first but will likely keep him in the outfield.  He could draw interest from the Orioles if they lose Cruz.
  • While there’s intrigue over Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, there’s still some pushback from scouts who have seen him play on whether he can translate well to MLB.  Some are worried about the pronounced leg kick in his stance that lasts deep into his swing.  There also has always been skepticism over his defensive ability, even though he won the Korean version of the Gold Glove.

Orioles Working To Extend Cruz, Possibly Markakis

3:26pm: Markakis, too, says he is unaware of any current extension talks, tweets Connolly. He quotes the right fielder: “Nothing. Unless my agent hasn’t been telling me everything, because I haven’t heard anything.”

2:53pm: Cruz says that there are no talks at present, though he had some discussions with the Orioles earlier in the year, MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli reports on Twitter.

1:37pm: The Orioles have interest in reaching a late-breaking extension with outfielder Nick Markakis as well, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun suggests on Twitter. He does note that deals do not appear imminent with either Markakis or Cruz.

Earlier, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweeted that he would not be surprised to see the club try to open talks with Markakis.

12:08pm: After seemingly reaching terms on a deal with J.J. Hardy, the Orioles are now “pushing” to get a contract done with fellow free agent-to-be Nelson Cruz, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter.

Cruz, 34, enjoyed a monster season at the plate in his first year with the O’s, hitting an MLB-best 40 home runs while working his way to a strong .271/.333/.525 batting line. While he’s been known to have injury problems in the past, Cruz tied a career-best with 159 games played this season.

Cruz is currently playing on a one-year, $8MM contract after struggling to find a suitable multi-year deal last offseason on the heels of a PED suspension and a qualifying offer. The slugging DH/outfielder recently switched agents, signing on with Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports, so he’ll have different representation this time around than he did when negotiating his last contract.

If the two sides do indeed reach a deal, the free agent market will take a significant hit today. Hardy was arguably the best pure shortstop on the market, and Cruz represented perhaps the best power bat for teams looking to add some thump to their lineup. An extension for Cruz would be unquestionably good news for the likes of Victor Martinez, Melky Cabrera and Yasmany Tomas, as there will now be less competition on the open market.


Nelson Cruz Switches Agents

Nelson Cruz has switched agencies and is now represented by Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (via Twitter).  Cruz had previously been represented by WMG’s Adam Katz.

Though Cruz and the Orioles are on their way to the ALCS, the 34-year-old slugger is clearly preparing himself for free agency this winter.  Cruz received only a one-year, $8MM deal from Baltimore on the open market last offseason as his value was depressed by a PED suspension, his age and the first-round draft pick compensation tied to him via the qualifying offer.  After hitting 40 homers with a .859 OPS in 2014, however, Cruz looks in good shape to score a multiyear deal even though the O’s will surely tag him with the qualifying offer.

Relativity’s list of baseball clients includes such major names as David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Andrelton Simmons, Jordan Zimmermann, Julio Teheran, Paul Goldschmidt, Madison Bumgarner and Jhonny Peralta.  As ESPN’s Enrique Rojas tweets (in Spanish), Peralta received a four-year, $53MM deal from the Cardinals last winter despite his own ties to the Biogenesis scandal, though Peralta didn’t have draft pick compensation hanging over him.

For more on who represents who around the baseball world, check out the MLBTR Agency Database.


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AL Notes: Soria, Indians, Cruz, Bogar

Offense is at a premium this season and Rays manager Joe Maddon doesn’t think it will improve any time soon, writes MLB.com’s Bill Chastain. “The hitter’s at a total disadvantage right now,” Maddon said. “And there’s no advantages on the horizon. I don’t see it. That’s why it’s going to take a lot of creative thinking. It could be just going back maybe to something that had been done before. I’m not sure. But right now, offense is going south, and it’s going to continue going south based on pitching and defense. Everything, data, video, all the information benefits them over offense.” Maddon also pointed to improved bullpens throughout baseball as another factor in the depressed offensive numbers.

Here’s more from the American League:

  • July acquisition Joakim Soria deserves a shot at pitching in high-pressure situations for the Tigers, writes Chris Iott of MLive.com. Soria could be the best relief pitcher the Tigers have and they paid a price to get him, so they should utilize him in the best way possible, Iott argues.
  • The Indians led the majors in errors for much of the sesaon, but there likely won’t be sweeping changes in Cleveland’s infield, writes Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer.
  • Nelson Cruz reiterated he would like to stay with the Orioles, but extension talks will still wait until after the season, tweets Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com.
  • Tim Bogar is now the clear runaway favorite to be hired as the next Rangers manager, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (on Twitter).

Olney On Qualifying Offer Candidates

In his latest Insider-only blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney runs down a list of pending free agents that are candidates to receive qualifying offers. Olney spoke with several executives from around the league and is of the mind that James Shields, Max Scherzer, Pablo Sandoval, Melky Cabrera, Russell Martin, Nelson Cruz, J.J. Hardy, Victor Martinez, Ervin Santana, David Robertson and Hanley Ramirez will receive qualifying offers, which should fall between $15MM and $15.5MM.

Here are a few more notes from Olney’s piece…

  • The Giants intend to give Sandoval a QO with the assumption that he will reject the offer and test the open market. San Francisco appears willing to offer him just three years, says Olney, and even going to four years might be too much of a stretch. Such a commitment seems much too light to land Sandoval, who, at 28 years old, will be one of the youngest free agents on the market.
  • It looks like the Dodgers and Ramirez could be moving in separate directions, as rival evaluators anticipate the team will extend a qualifying offer with the expectation that Ramirez signs elsewhere.
  • The value of Martin on a one-year deal, even north of $15MM, makes a QO for the Pirates “an easy call,” one rival GM said to Olney. Some may wonder whether or not Francisco Liriano is a QO candidate, but executives polled by Olney feel that his injury history and lack of innings present too much risk for the Bucs to extend such an offer. I’m inclined to agree; while Martin is a lock to turn down the QO, Liriano would have more hesitancy, and a $15MM salary would represent nearly 21 percent of the Pirates’ Opening Day payroll from 2014.
  • Some evaluators think that Cruz will again find himself with a more limited market than he expects due to his age, 2013 PED suspension and the fact that his OBP and defense are less impressive than his power totals.
  • Many rival executives feel there’s simply no way that the Tigers will let Martinez get away. Olney’s right in noting that a QO is “an easy call” for V-Mart, who currently sports a hefty .333/.401/.567 with a career-high 31 homers.
  • Olney also feels that a QO for Robertson is an easy call. While he notes that teams don’t pay $15MM for closers anymore, one evaluator said to him: “…with any other team, we wouldn’t be talking about this. But it’s the Yankees, and they can do it.” On a somewhat related note, Olney adds that Koji Uehara‘s late-season swoon may be a blessing of sorts for the Red Sox, who can now approach him with an offer much lower than a QO would have been. I noted in yesterday’s MLBTR chat that I’d be more hesitant to give Robertson a QO, but the Yankees could certainly afford to run the risk.