Nelson Cruz Rumors

West Notes: Kemp, Cabrera, Kendrick, Upton

With the Winter Meetings beginning in San Diego, this could be the week the Dodgers finally deal from their glut of outfielders, writes Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. The Dodgers would prefer to hang onto Matt Kemp, according to Shaikin, but Major League players are not being offered for either Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford.

Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports the Mariners were close to a deal for Kemp with Seattle paying roughly half of the $107 million remaining on his salary over the next five years, but things fell apart when the Dodgers insisted on the inclusion of either Taijuan Walker or James Paxton. In a second article, Dutton lists the Padres and the Orioles as the Mariners’ primary competition for Kemp, with Shaikin adding the Giants are a possibility, if they fail to sign Chase Headley. With Nelson Cruz now in Seattle, Dutton opines the Mariners’ interest in Kemp will depend on what other offers the Dodgers receive. Those other offers may not be to the Dodgers’ liking, as Shaikin notes the Braves (Justin Upton and Evan Gattis), Red Sox (Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig), and Phillies (Marlon Byrd) also have right-handed power bats available to trade.

Elsewhere in baseball’s West divisions:

  • Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman says the constant rumors that come with running a major market team are “comical,” but he doesn’t necessarily mind it, writes Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. “Misinformation can be a powerful tool,” Friedman said.
  • The Mariners are reluctant to part with their young pitching to acquire an outfield bat, according to Dutton. “That’s a little bit of a dangerous road,” said GM Jack Zduriencik. “You look at our pitching staff, and when you analyze it, a couple of those young starters didn’t pitch a lot of innings last year.
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets the Mariners are very serious about their pursuit of Melky Cabrera. Last week, it was reported the M’s are believed to be willing to offer something similar to the four-year, $57MM deal that they used to sign Cruz.
  • In a separate tweet, Rosenthal posits the Angels are reluctant to trade second baseman Howie Kendrick because of offensive concerns including uncertainity about Josh Hamilton, an unsettled DH situation, and no clear backup catcher.
  • Sources tell ESPN’s Buster Olney (via Twitter) the Giants and Reds are great fits for Justin Upton, but neither match up well with the Braves and may need to involve a third team to swing a deal.
  • Olney also tweets the Astros continue to pursue closer David Robertson and his most lucrative offer might come from Houston.
  • Rockies GM Jeff Bridich tells Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post there has been interest in catcher Wilin Rosario, but Colorado “could very easily go into the season with Wilin.

Mariners Sign Nelson Cruz

5:00pm: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that Cruz will earn $14MM per season plus his $1MM signing bonus, making it a four-year, $57MM deal.

DECEMBER 4, 11:09am: The deal is official, with the team announcing the signing today.

DECEMBER 1: The Mariners have agreed to a multi-year deal with Nelson Cruz, reports Dominican journalist Yancen Pujols (Spanish link). According to Pujols, it’s a four-year, $57MM contract. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick hears that the deal is still pending a physical (Twitter link). Cruz is represented by agent Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports.

Nelson Cruz

Cruz, 34, led the Majors in home runs this past season (40) while putting together an excellent .271/.333/.525 batting line. He ranked alongside Victor Martinez and Melky Cabrera as the best bats on the market this offseason, and he arguably provides the Mariners with the best power upgrade money could buy on the free agent market. Though he’s never approached the 40 homers he hit in 2014 previously, Cruz boasts a lifetime .232 isolated power mark and has averaged 37 homers per 162 games since 2009.

Of course, he’s also had difficulty staying on the field in that stretch. Cruz has a history of hamstring and quadriceps injuries in both legs, and he hit the DL for such maladies five times between 2010-11. He played a career-high 159 games in 2012 (a figure he matched in 2014) and was healthy in 2013 before a 50-game suspension cut his season short after he was connected to the Biogenesis PED scandal. Cruz admitted to making a mistake and taking a banned substance in 2012 after a bout with a bacterial infection called helicobacter pylori caused him to lose nearly 40 pounds in the 2011-12 offseason.

While many will forever connect Cruz to PEDs as a result of that infraction, he was tested extensively in 2013 and in 2014 without suspension, and he batted .269/.331/.518 in that time, so the Mariners are likely to have a significant offensive upgrade on their hands. He figures to see time in both right field and at DH with Seattle — two areas in which Seattle needed additional offense. Mariners DHs combined to bat just .190/.266/.301 last year, while their right fielders hit a pedestrian .255/.308/.413. Though the move to Seattle’s Safeco Field would appear to be a detriment to his right-handed pop, both ESPN Park Factors and Baseball Prospectus Park Factors indicated that in 2014, Orioles Park at Camden Yards was actually less homer-friendly for right-handed bats than Safeco Field. That’s not to say Cruz will repeat his career year, but the drop-off could be less significant than some are anticipating.

For all of the positives there are to say about Cruz’s offense, however, there are negatives when it comes to his defensive value. Cruz played a passable left field in a small, 500-inning sample with the Orioles in 2014, but he’s been below-average in right over the past four seasons and only figures to get worse as he ages. Given his history of leg injuries, it’s more than fair to wonder how much outfield time he can handle in 2015 and how much of his offensive value will be negated by his defense. Of course, if he spends much of his time at DH, there’s a chance he can still resemble the three to four win player he was in 2014.

The Mariners missed a Wild Card playoff berth by a mere game in 2014 after flirting with the idea of signing Cruz last winter but ultimately passing because they weren’t interested in adding any PED-linked players. That line of thinking has clearly changed now. It’s possible that Seattle decision-makers rightly realized that had they inked Cruz a year ago, they’d likely have made the playoffs. Whether that line of thinking justifies a four-year commitment to a defensively challenged player in his mid-30s is up for debate, but the M’s have every reason to make aggressive plays for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and Cruz should still be of significant help in those campaigns. This is the final season of Hisashi Iwakuma‘s contract, and superstar Robinson Cano is on the back end of his prime, so it makes sense for the Mariners to push for contention now, even if the moves contain some downside in the 2017-18 seasons, as this one likely does.

Cruz was also pursued heavily by the Orioles, but his former team wouldn’t budge from its unwillingness to guarantee a fourth season. Now, they’ll pick up a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round next season, while the Mariners will surrender what would have been the 19th pick in the draft (they had been slated to pick 21st but moved up after the Mets and Blue Jays forfeited picks to sign Michael Cuddyer and Russell Martin, respectively). The departure of Cruz would seem to increase the chances that Nick Markakis will be back in Baltimore, and one would think it also lessens the likelihood of the Mariners acquiring Justin Upton from the Mariners — a player in whom they’ve reportedly shown interest. Speculatively speaking, Seattle could still pay a premium to acquire Upton as part of an aggressive run at the 2015 season, with Cruz spending most of his time at DH and Upton serving as the right fielder.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


AL East Notes: Orioles, Kemp, Blue Jays

Earlier today, we rounded up some items from the AL East.  Here’s the afternoon edition..

  • The Orioles have talked to the Dodgers about Matt Kemp, sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). The O’s are lining up alternatives in case they can’t re-sign Nick Markakis and/or Nelson Cruz, but they could also be trying to create leverage to pressure both into staying.  As Rosenthal has said before, a Markakis return once appeared to be a foregone conclusion, but that’s no longer the case.
  • In a chat with Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette of SiriusXM, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos downplayed his interest in the market’s top free agent relievers.  “I don’t know that you’re going to see us involved in some of the large big money deals,” AA said, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet (via Twitter).
  • The Rays‘ trio of managerial finalists – Kevin Cash, Raul Ibanez, and Don Wakamatsu – is about as intriguing and outside-the-box as you can get, writes David Laurila of Fangraphs.  The Rays are in a transition period and Laurila writes that it’ll be fascinating to see how they proceed from here.


Giants Casting Wide Net, Have Contacted Scherzer

After losing Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox, the Giants are casting a very wide net and have reached out to agent Scott Boras regarding top free Max Scherzer, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The Giants appear to be scouring the trade and free agent markets for upgrades, as Heyman reports that they’ve at least initiated talks with free agents Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, Chase Headley, Torii Hunter, Justin Masterson and of course Yasmany Tomas (their interest in Tomas has been well-documented). Beyond that, they’ve kicked the tires on Atlanta’s Justin Upton, and their interest in Jon Lester was reported yesterday as Sandoval looked to be on the verge of departure.

San Francisco’s interest in Scherzer isn’t terribly surprising. The team will bring back ace Madison Bumgarner and stable veteran Tim Hudson, but Matt Cain is returning from elbow surgery and Tim Lincecum‘s reliability has taken s nose-dive in recent years. Both Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy are free agents. Yusmeiro Petit was excellent in 2014 but totaled only 129 2/3 innings between the regular season and postseason. He’s certainly done enough to warrant a look in the rotation, but the lack of innings could be cause for concern.

In terms of their offensive targets, Heyman hears that the Giants are more likely to go with a cheaper option to replace Sandoval at third base, instead spending bigger on a replacement in left field for Mike Morse. He notes that they’ve taken a “close look” at Upton and have even reached out to former Giant Melky Cabrera, though one team source described Cabrera’s departure from the Giants as “awkward” to Heyman. (Cabrera was suspended for 50 games in 2012 to close out the season as the Giants pushed toward a World Series victory.)

Earlier today I looked at some post-Sandoval options for the Giants, listing several trade and free agent targets that the reigning World Series Champions could pursue.


Latest On Mariners’ Pursuit Of Righty Outfield Bat

2:57pm: Seattle is interested in Upton but intends to take a look at free agent Nelson Cruz first, according to a tweet from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

11:51am: The Mariners, as expected, are pursuing several trade possibilities in their efforts to find a right-handed-hitting corner outfield bat, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Seattle has long been expected to try to fill its outfield void with a righty power bat, and it appears that is where the team is focused.

Seattle’s front office has had talks on players such as Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, Yoenis Cespedes of the Red Sox, and Justin Upton of the Braves. Obviously, each of those options would represent a major addition of a premier source of pop, though their contractual situations are notably different. The latter two are playing out their final year of control at fairly reasonable prices, while Kemp is owed $21MM next year and another $86MM over the four seasons that follow.

The Mariners remain one of the more intriguing teams to watch on the trade market, both because of their aggressive stance and stockpile of interesting talent. Seattle has Brad Miller and Chris Taylor potentially available up the middle, though the team may be more inclined to hold if it does not have an attractive upgrade in mind. The club also possesses interesting, MLB-ready arms like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, each of whom would hold broad appeal.


Rosenthal’s Latest: M’s, Hamels, Kennedy, Markakis, Norris

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports has a new notes column posted looking at a number of situations around the league. Here are some quick highlights…

  • The Mariners are on the hunt for a right-handed bat, but they prefer Nelson Cruz to signing Hanley Ramirez or trading for Matt Kemp. Justin Upton is also somewhere on their wish list and is potentially available. Rosenthal writes that the Mariners “are going to do something” of significance to address that search.
  • The Phillies are doing background work on the makeup of Red Sox prospects Christian Vazquez, Mookie Betts and Matt Barnes, Rosenthal hears, fueling some speculation about a Cole Hamels trade. Rosenthal says the Sox are disinclined to move Vazquez or Blake Swihart, however, and previous reports have indicated that the team is loath to consider parting with Betts. As others have noted, Rosenthal feels that Hamels would likely require the Red Sox to exercise his 2019 option ($20MM) in advance, bringing the total he is owed to $110MM over the next five years.
  • The Padres are continuing to listen to offers for Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy, with Kennedy being the most likely of the three to go. Kennedy is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $10.3MM in 2015, and the Royals are interested in the right-hander. Rosenthal also speculatively lists the Rangers as a club to watch in the Kennedy market.
  • A reunion between Nick Markakis and the Orioles seemed like a foregone conclusion at one point, but the two sides still aren’t close to a deal and talks are said to be merely “inching along.” Rosenthal wonders what’s taking so long but does note that the O’s are considering Yasmany Tomas and still working with Cruz as well, so it seems fair to speculate that having three options in the corner outfield is slowing the Markakis progress. As Rosenthal notes, the longer the wait, the more likely it is that Markakis explores other options more seriously.
  • Since the publication of that column, Rosenthal has tweeted that the Orioles might be willing to move Bud Norris, who is projected by Swartz to earn $8.7MM in 2015. Norris is a free agent next season but pitched well in 2014, posting a 3.65 ERA with 7.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 42.2 percent ground-ball rate in 165 1/3 innings. Rosenthal also hears that the O’s have gotten “moderate” interest in Ubaldo Jimenez, although with $38.75MM remaining on his contract, I’d imagine he could only be swapped for another bad contract.

West Notes: Cruz, Mariners, Hellickson, Rangers

The Mariners make sense as a suitor for Nelson Cruz, but their organizational philosophy regarding players who have been suspended for PED could be an issue, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports writes. There are conflicting details regarding whether the Mariners might have a policy in place preventing them from signing PED players and whether Mariners chairman Howard Lincoln refused to approve a deal for Cruz last winter. If they team does have such a policy, however, it could have a significant impact on their offseason, given that both Cruz and Melky Cabrera, who play positions the Mariners could try to upgrade, have PED suspensions in their pasts. A source within the Mariners tells Morosi that the team does not have a policy against PED players, and, further, that the team has spoken to Cruz and his agent this offseason. Here are more notes from the West divisions.

  • Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano fractured his toe while playing in Japan Saturday and will miss the rest of the Japan series, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports. Cano will only be out three to four weeks, however, and should easily be ready for spring training.
  • Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart is a big fan of new acquisition Jeremy Hellickson, Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona writes. “He is going to be outstanding here,” says Stewart. “He is going to pitch well. This is one guy I believe is really going to help our rotation.” The Hellickson deal, which sent two prospects to Tampa, became official last night. The Diamondbacks will continue to search for starting pitching, Magruder adds, with Kenta Maeda or Chad Billingsley (a former client of Stewart’s when he was an agent) as possibilities.
  • The Rangers‘ recent extensions for GM Jon Daniels and assistant GM Thad Levine help provide continuity and stability throughout the organization, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. “We want to build from within and keep the group together,” says Daniels. “Thad and I are the ones mentioned in the press release, but [ownership] has allowed us to do good things for others.” Daniels adds that Levine is likely to one day be a GM, perhaps in Texas.

West Notes: Mariners, Cruz, Padres, Haren

The latest out of the game’s western divisions:

  • The Mariners have had conversations with Nelson Cruz and his agent since the start of the offseason, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports. According to Morosi, Seattle does not have a club policy against signing players with past PED suspensions. A recent report stated that the team backed off of Cruz last year because of his recent Biogenesis situation, but it appears that will not be a roadblock this time around.
  • The Padres will listen to trade offers for their top three pitchers (Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross) as well as catchers, Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported yesterday. Presumably it would take quite an offer to part with Cashner or Ross, and Kennedy could be held and reassessed at the trade deadline. Behind the plate, the 26-year-old, former top prospect Grandal has yet to establish himself fully. Though he posted a solid 112 wRC+ last year, he also rated as one of the league’s worst defensive catchers. Rivera, meanwhile, came out of nowhere to post by far his most extensive and productive MLB season in 2014, slashing .252/.319/.432 over 329 plate appearances while grading out as one of the game’s best-fielding backstops.
  • Righty Dan Haren of the Dodgers has come up in trade chatter, but could retire if he is dealt away from Los Angeles, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Haren exercised a $10MM player option to stay on the west coast, and Heyman indicates that he might prefer to hang up his spikes than pitch for any other club but the cross-town Angels.

O’s Made Three-Year Offer To Cruz Before Free Agency

7:15pm: Cruz is at the GM Meetings with his representatives, and had a meeting today with Baltimore, according to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal. It seems likely that he will meet with other clubs while in town, Rosenthal suggests.

6:27pm: Cruz is seeking a five-year contract, and the Orioles have no interest in that length of commitment, tweets Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. I’d assume that if Cruz is indeed asking teams for five right now, it’s likely just a bargaining ploy to get clubs to come up to four years as a compromise of sorts.

4:12pm: The Orioles made Nelson Cruz a three-year offer to remain in Baltimore before the 2014 MLB home run leader officially hit the open market, reports Buster Olney of ESPN (Twitter link). The Orioles now feel positioned to wait as Cruz explores his options with other teams, Olney adds.

Olney also reports that Baltimore remains in contact with Nick Markakis‘ camp about a new multi-year deal, though one of the unresolved issues for the two sides is deferred money. Earlier today, executive vice president/GM Dan Duquette told reporters that the O’s have enough financial flexibility to retain both Cruz and Markakis.

Baltimore figures to be one of the primary suitors for Cruz, though he’s also been connected to the Mariners in the early stages of the offseason. Cruz struggled to find a multi-year deal on last year’s open market when he entered free agency with what were then considered to be extremely lofty expectations. Now he’s coming off a .271/.333/.525 season with 40 homers and about 15-16 months between him and his 50-game suspension for PED usage, giving him a considerably stronger case. MLBTR’s Zach Links recently profiled Cruz and projected that he would indeed be able to find a fourth year.


AL East Links: Rays Stadium, Duquette, O’s, Marrero, Sox

The Rays are nearing an agreement with St. Peterburg mayor Rick Kriseman that will grant the team permission to explore new stadium sites in Hillsborough County, report Stephen Nohlgren and Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times. Kriseman would like to finalize an agreement within the next month and “definitely before Christmas” so he can present the plan to City Council. If the Rays do leave for a new Hillsborough stadium, the city of St. Petersburg would be entitled to monetary compensation, as the Rays’ current lease at Tropicana Field runs through 2027.

Here’s more from the AL East…

  • Orioles GM Dan Duquette was named Major League Baseball Executive of the Year by The Sporting News, and he spoke with MLB.com’s Paul Hagen about the honor. Duquette, who narrowly edged out Dayton Moore of the Royals, said his focus from day one has been improving the club’s pitching staff. He also addressed the success he’s had in finding value from unheralded minor league signings, and how that success makes them an attractive destination: “…when players sign with us, whether it’s Triple-A or the big leagues, they know they’re going to get an opportunity.”
  • Duquette tells Andy Martino of the New York Daily News that he has enough financial flexibility to sign both Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz (Twitter links). He plans to meet with Cruz’s new agent, Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports, at the GM Meetings, and the book is not closed on Markakis returning even though he’s meeting with other clubs.
  • The Red Sox are receiving a lot of interest in minor league shortstop Deven Marrero, reports Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com (Twitter link). The 24-year-old was the club’s first-round pick back in 2012 and has an excellent defensive reputation, though he batted just .258/.327/.372 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. The Mets, of course, are one team known to be looking high and low for a shortstop.
  • Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal spoke with Sox GM Ben Cherington about interest in Marrero, and while he noted that there has indeed been interest, Cherington said it hasn’t been any greater than the interest he’s received in the past. Marrero has drawn steady interest over the years, according to Cherington. As MacPherson notes, however, Marrero is posting particularly strong numbers in the Arizona Fall League this year.
  • Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe discussed the possibility of the Red Sox acquiring Cole Hamels with Hamels’ agent, John Boggs, and came away with the belief that the team has a shot, even though the Sox are on Hamels’ no-trade list. Hamels doesn’t have any issue with Boston, writes Cafardo, though he’d likely use the no-trade clause as leverage to get his 2019 option picked up in advance, as Ken Rosenthal noted yesterday. The Phillies have scouted Boston’s system extensively and like many of their players.
  • Cafardo also notes that the Sox are receiving quite a bit of interest in Yoenis Cespedes. Boston is “desperately” trying to keep an outfield spot open for Mookie Betts, making a trade of Cespedes possible.
  • The Boston Herald’s John Tomase spoke with Cherington, who stopped short of labeling any of his prospects untouchable, but he made it clear that those who contributed in 2014 (e.g. Betts) are extremely unlikely to be moved, Tomase adds (Twitter link).