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Nelson Cruz Rumors
The Orioles introduced new outfielder Nelson Cruz today, and MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli has a transcript of the press conference. Cruz, of course, settled for a one-year, $8MM deal with Baltimore after previously declining a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers. "It was a frustrating process," said Cruz, "but I'm happy for the decisions that I made. I'm really excited for the opportunity." Here are more notes from the O's and the rest of the AL East:
- We learned previously that the Orioles had made a competitive offer for free agent starter Bronson Arroyo before he signed with the Diamondbacks, and now Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com has the details. Baltimore ultimately offered Arroyo a $21.5MM guarantee over two years, including a third-year option that could have brought the total value to $33MM. The pitcher instead signed with Arizona for a $23.5MM guarantee, but his deal can only max out at $30MM if his option is exercised.
- Though agent Scott Boras softened his strong words towards the Blue Jays in comments today, he continued to implore the team to open its pocketbooks by saying that Toronto has a "rare opportunity" to add impact free agents because of its protected first-round draft picks, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (interview via Jeff Blair of Sportsnet 590 The FAN). In addition to its advantageous draft situation, Boras argued that the Jays have the "flexibility in the long term" to backload contracts.
- Boras said that client Stephen Drew could significantly upgrade the team's second base position, and that Drew would be willing to shift to the other side of the bag "if the club came and made the position a long-term one for him." Meanwhile, Boras argued that the switch-hitting Kendrys Morales would offer a better option against lefties than incumbent DH Adam Lind, who Boras said could be dealt for pitching. Toronto could recoup a future draft choice via qualifying offer when those players' deals end, the agent added.
- In spite of (or, perhaps in part, because of) their success last year, the Red Sox are sticking with their strategy of "caution and strict sensibility," writes MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince. "We recognize that our goal is to be as good as we possibly can be in 2014 but also 2015 and 2016 and beyond," explains GM Ben Cherington. "To do what we want to do, year in and year out, there has to be integration of young players. We're not going to force that unless we're reasonably confident those guys can contribute right away."
The Orioles continued what has been an incredibly busy seven-day span by announcing the signing of slugger Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal. Cruz's contract contains a base salary of $8MM, plus $750K in incentives — a disappointing outcome for a player who declined a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers and at one point reportedly sought a four-year, $75MM deal. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick tweets that Cruz rejected two- and three-year offers this offseason, although the timeline of those offers is unclear. Cruz is represented by the Wasserman Media Group.
Cruz, 33, hit .266/.327/.506 in 456 plate appearances in 2013. A 50-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal shortened his season. As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted in profiling Cruz in early November, however, that didn't stop Rangers manager Ron Washington from offering praise for Cruz as a teammate and a clubhouse presence.
The Rangers will now receive what is currently the No. 30 overall pick in the 2014 draft as a result of Cruz signing elsewhere. The Orioles, meanwhile, will sacrifice the No. 55 pick. Losing the No. 17 pick when they struck a deal with Ubaldo Jimenez likely made it easier for the Orioles to sign Cruz, since they would no longer have to give up a first-round draft choice in order to do so. In addition to Cruz and Jimenez, the Orioles have also signed Korean righty Suk-min Yoon to a three-year deal in the past week.
The Cruz deal is another win-now move for the Orioles, who are trying to build on an 85-win 2013 season and string together more wins before the potential departures of Chris Davis and Matt Wieters following the 2015 season. Cruz will serve as the Orioles' primary designated hitter, and he will also likely occasionally see time in the outfield. The transition to Camden Yards and the other hitter-friendly parks of the AL East should be a good move for Cruz, whose drastic home/road splits have drawn some criticism this offseason.
Of the remaining free agents, Cruz's pact with the Orioles most obviously affects Kendrys Morales. The Orioles reportedly had interest in Morales, so now the already-small number of interested bidders for Morales appears to be even smaller. Also, Cruz signing for one year and $8MM will likely make it even more difficult for Morales, a similar player, to get a sizeable deal.
The size of the deal will also likely increase skepticism throughout baseball about the qualifying offer process. That Cruz received so little was surely due in part to the fact that he had draft-pick forfeiture attached, and one year and $8MM is by far the smallest contract to which a qualifying offer player has agreed.
Steve Adams contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
MLBPA head Tony Clark is worried about the qualifying offer system that has led Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and, perhaps to a lesser degree, Ervin Santana to remain on the free agent market into spring training, the Associated Press reports. "The way the free agent market has played itself out over the last couple of years suggests that draft pick compensation and the free agent market in general is a concern that we're paying attention to, obviously," Clark says.
Clark says he plans to make qualifying offers a "topic of discussion." It does not appear, however, that the union will address the issue before the current CBA expires following the 2016 season. "There's certain criteria that's going to have to be met for a CBA to be opened up (before then) and I'm not sure that's happened," Clark says.
The qualifying offer topic is in the news today in part because of of the surprisingly small deal Nelson Cruz received from the Orioles. Cruz, who had rejected a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers before hitting the open market, will receive just $8MM plus a possible $750K in incentives.
Nelson Cruz signing with the Orioles for $8MM highlights the "absurdities" in Major League Baseball's qualifying offer system, notes ESPN's Keith Law (Insider-only). Law writes that MLB seems uniquely adept at "crafting policies that create unintended consequences." A team that loses its first-round pick as a result of signing a player who had rejected a qualifying offer has a greater incentive to sign a second one, since the penalty for signing the second one is reduced. This policy incentivizes spending sprees by richer teams, at the expense of poorer ones. Here are more reactions to the Nelson Cruz deal.
- Despite his flaws — his age, defensive defiencies, and unimpressive performance away from Arlington — Cruz is a good deal for the Orioles at $8MM, CBS Sports' Dayn Perry writes. It's only a one-year deal, and Cruz fills an obvious hole in Baltimore's lineup. Perry also notes that Cruz is a good fit in Camden Yards.
- The Mariners had concerns about Cruz's PED history and with how he would perform at Safeco Field, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets. They preferred Kendrys Morales to Cruz, Heyman notes.
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson says he's happy to have Chris Young at $7.25MM rather than Cruz at $8MM, reports Newsday's David Lennon (Twitter links). Alderson says that Cruz "brings power to the table … Doesn’t bring the defense. Doesn’t really have our approach, necessarily."
9:11am: Cruz and the Orioles have mostly been discussing the possibility of a one-year deal, ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets.
7:02am: The Orioles are close to a deal with slugger Nelson Cruz, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Heyman adds, "There are still a couple issues to be resolved, according to sources, though a deal looks extremely likely."
Cruz was one of 13 players to receive and turn down a one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offer in November. Signing such a player requires the forfeiture of a draft pick, which contributed to slow markets for Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez, and the still-unsigned Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales. The Orioles signed Jimenez on Monday to a four-year, $50MM contract, a franchise record for a pitcher. The O's sacrificed the 17th overall pick in the June draft to do so. At the trade deadline last year, the Orioles dealt their Competitive Balance Lottery Round A pick to the Astros in the Bud Norris deal, currently #33 overall. That means their next available pick to sacrifice for a qualifying offer free agent is #52, so the penalty to sign Cruz is less pronounced. The Rangers will receive a supplemental first round pick for their loss.
On Friday, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted that the Orioles were in talks with both Morales and Cruz, and a deal with one could happen soon. In Cruz, they'll get a 33-year-old right-handed bat who hit .266/.327/.506 with 27 home runs in 456 plate appearances in 2013. The overall line is reflective of Cruz's recent body of work: good power, not too many walks. His home run total ranked second among free agents, even though he was suspended 50 games for a connection to Biogenesis. Cruz explained in an August statement that a gastrointestinal infection led to "an error in judgment that I deeply regret" weeks before he was to report in spring training 2012. It appears that the draft pick attached to Cruz affected his market more than the 2013 suspension, with Jhonny Peralta scoring a $53MM contract in November after serving an in-season Biogenesis suspension.
For the Orioles, Cruz could play both left field and designated hitter, as they're not locked into an established or expensive player at either position. Cruz has played 384 2/3 innings in left in his career, though his defense is generally considered below-average.
Back in November, before the plight of certain qualifying offer free agents was fully established, MLBTR's Steve Adams predicted a three-year, $39MM contract for Cruz. He's represented by Adam Katz of Wasserman Media Group.
Clearly, the Orioles signing Cruz would remove a suitor for Morales. According to Heyman, Morales has been working out for a month at the Boras Sports Training Institute on the campus of St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens. Morales could still return to the Mariners, and Boras has pitched him as a potential first baseman for the Pirates.
Earlier today, a report indicated that the Orioles' pursuit of switch-hitting, first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales had picked up steam in recent days. Here are the latest rumblings on both Morales and fellow bat-first free agent Nelson Cruz, a right-handed-hitting outfielder. Though each of the reports appears to be consistent with the idea that the two players' fates are intertwined, they differ somewhat as to where things stand:
- The Orioles are talking with both Morales and Cruz, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. A deal with one of the two "could happen soon," Rosenthal adds.
- Baltimore is divided internally as to which is the better target between Morales and Cruz, MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko tweets. Regardless, says Kubatko, nothing is imminent.
- Both the Orioles and Mariners have Morales above Cruz on their target lists, sources tell Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The two clubs are both chatting with the two sluggers, according to Bowden.
- Morales and Cruz both declined qualifying offers, meaning that signing clubs will sacrifice a pick to sign them. But both the O's and M's already decided to part with their top, non-protected pick for other signings. So, if Morales and Cruz were to sign with Baltimore and Seattle — regardless of which player signs with which team — the former would give up its second-round choice while the latter would remain neutral. If the Mariners were to sign Morales, they would neither gain nor lose a choice since he turned down their qualifying offer. If they sign Cruz but lose Morales, they would lose each of their two top unprotected picks, which would include the compensation choice otherwise obtained for allowing the latter to walk.
The Rangers didn't really expect to re-sign Nelson Cruz this winter, yet did their due diligence by keeping in touch with Cruz's agent Adam Katz, GM Jon Daniels told MLB.com's Lyle Spencer. "We've touched base every week or so," Daniels said. "Nellie's highly regarded here. We have a good relationship with Adam. We made our moves and kind of expected [Cruz] to sign elsewhere. But we'll see where it goes. It's a unique situation for him as a free agent. When we made our decision to sign [Shin-Soo] Choo, it was with the understanding that [Cruz's] best opportunity would be to sign elsewhere. I don't know what's going on with other teams and Nellie."
Here's some more from around the AL West…
- The Rangers' view on re-signing Cruz is "unchanged," FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweets, in that the team would only bring him back at a lower price and if he can't find any other suitors.
- Nick Franklin was almost traded to the Diamondbacks last offseason and had been the subject of trade rumors this winter as well since the Mariners' acquisition of Robinson Cano. Despite all of the speculation, Franklin tells Larry Stone of the Seattle Times that he's just focusing on the upcoming season. “I mean, as far as I know, I’ve been traded 20 times, and I’m still here," Franklin said. “It doesn’t really bother me at all. All I can do is control what I can and go out and play the game.”
- A 10-year, $300MM contract for Mike Trout has often been cited as a possible extension for the young superstar, though MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez opines that Trout's representatives might take a lesser deal given that Trout still has four years until free agency and his stock could drop in the interim. Also, a shorter deal would set Trout up for another massive contract later in his career. Gonzalez suggests a seven-year, $200MM extension could work. In my opinion, while the $200MM mark is a major threshold for any player, I'd guess the Angels would happily lock Trout up at that price.
- Athletics manager Bob Melvin told reporters, including Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, that there is very little chance top prospect Addison Russell begins the season on the Major League roster. The A's are already set at shortstop wth Jed Lowrie (with Nick Punto and Eric Sogard as backup options), and as Slusser notes, there is little reason to start Russell's service time clock at this point in his young career.
Even after giving up a first-round draft choice to add one of the premier free agents still available in starter Ubaldo Jimenez, the Orioles could still sign another player tied to compensation, tweets Jim Bowden of ESPN.com. The club remains in on both Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales.
Indeed, as executive VP Dan Duquette recently noted (via Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports), "if you do one, I think that makes the second one easier, frankly." In large part, the reason for that stance is that Baltimore would pay a relatively meager price in terms of draft compensation. Having already given up the 17th overall choice and traded the team's competitive balance pick (currently, 33rd overall), the O's would now only need to part with their second-round choice (52nd overall as of today), as well as its slot value of just over $1MM.
According to Rosenthal (via Twitter), the Orioles appear more interested in Cruz than Morales. While both players have their limitations defensively, Cruz is capable of playing the outfield, while Morales is limited to first (or, depending upon who one asks, designated hitter). Of course, the latter offers a switch-hitting option while Cruz only bats right-handed.
As camps open around the game, let's take a look at a few notable free agents who remain unsigned:
- Though long-time shortstop Derek Jeter is now set to retire after the year, and the club faces questions around the infield, the Yankees are still not interested in adding Stephen Drew, reports Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com. Marchand notes that the club could have its eye on a bigger fish as an eventual replacement for Jeter, suggesting the possibility of looking at next year's free agent market or trying to trade for a big-contract star like Troy Tulowitzki or Jose Reyes. But the availability of those options remains unclear, especially given that the Yanks possess a farm that most regard as below average. And while 2015 currently promises a nice crop of free agent shortstops — headlined, at present, by Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, and Asdrubal Cabrera — it is far from certain that all of those players will reach the open market.
- Echoing Marchand on the Yankees' interest, ESPN.com's Buster Olney told WEEI's Mut & Merloni (via WEEI.com's Jerry Spar) that Drew's market looks poor. The Pirates make sense in theory, says Olney, but the club seems very unlikely to give up its first-round pick to land him. Olney opines that the shortstop's best bet, at this point, could be to wait and see if a contender loses an infielder to injury. Though he agrees that Drew faces difficult market, Jonathan Bernhardt of Sports on Earth argues that Drew and agent Scott Boras should instead act quickly to speed up negotiations and get the best deal possible.
- Of course, one obvious landing spot all along has been the Red Sox, who could use Drew to bolster the left side of the infield without giving up a pick (other than the one they stand to gain should he sign elsewhere). As WEEI.com's Alex Speier reports, however, Boston has settled into the position that it would be interested in a one-year arrangement. That could take the form of a straightforward one-year deal, or could be structured with a low-value player option for a second season (like Adrian Beltre's 2010 deal) that would spread the contract's luxury tax impact.
- The Twins, who have been mentioned as a dark horse suitor for both Drew and outfielder Nelson Cruz, likely have sufficient payroll space to make an addition, reports Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. But the team is not willing to meet the demands currently being floated on those players, and has not been in recent contact on either.
- Bean Stringfellow, the agent for starter Ervin Santana, rejected an apparent rumor that the Blue Jays had offered his client a three-year, $27MM deal, reports John Lott of the National Post. Stringfellow also dismissed the rumor that he had earlier demanded five years and $112MM for Santana. Though some clubs may hope to wait out the market for prices to fall, Stringfellow says he is not concerned by that possibility. "The calendar doesn't really affect us in that regard," he said. "The teams need the pitching by Opening Day. That's when the bell rings. I think a lot of clubs might think that as [Opening Day] gets closer, the price comes down. I would simply say to that, 'You're not filling your need for pitching, so I don't know why our value is any less when your need is still as great as what it was.'"
- Though Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos declined to comment on any offers to Santana, he said that the club would remain true to its internal valuations of free agents. "We just haven't been able to line up on value, on years and dollars," Anthopoulos added with regard to the team's possible targets.
- Another team that is reportedly dabbling in the starting pitching market is the Mariners. The club is not just looking at top options like Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, reports Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (via Twitter), but is casting a "wide net" in its search for an arm.
- Free agent reliever Ryan Madson is looking for a major league deal, sources tell MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said that he received good reports from Madson's recent throwing session, but did not leave the impression that Philadelphia was the likely landing spot. "Our reports were good when we saw him," said Amaro, "so he's going to sign somewhere." As Zolecki notes, Philly may be unwilling to give out a major league deal, especially given Madson's injury history and the recent signing of A.J. Burnett.