Nelson Cruz Rumors

Cafardo On Morales, Yoon, Cruz, Drew

One prominent American League player told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe that he believes players put quite a bit of pressure on Alex Rodriguez to withdraw his lawsuit against the union.  “It didn’t go over too well and Alex heard about it a lot. Nobody ever understood it. He did the right thing by dropping it,” said the players.  Someone who knows A-Rod well believes that he's planning on resting up his hip for the year and coming back strong.  Cafardo doesn't doubt that the third baseman can make a comeback, but he wonders if the Yankees might just eat the remainder of his contract and cut him loose.  Here's more from today's column..  

  • There is mutual interest between the Pirates and Kendrys Morales, but the Bucs may prefer to find their first baseman via trade.  Cafardo cites the MetsIke Davis, the Blue JaysAdam Lind, and the RangersMitch Moreland among the possibilities.
  • There's lots of competition for Suk-Min Yoon out there and while the Red Sox, OriolesBlue Jays, and Diamondbacks are among the interested clubs, one National League GM says that the pitcher could go to anyone.
  • The Mariners' interest in Nelson Cruz has not waned but the number of years remains the sticking point in talks.
  • The Mets remain the best bet to land Stephen Drew, but he still receives text messages from Red Sox teammates hoping that he'll return.
  • The Dodgers still have an outfield surplus with Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig in tow, but they don't appear to be in any hurry to break it up.

Free Agent Notes: Mariners, Cruz, Orioles, Relievers

The last major free agent closer domino fell today when Fernando Rodney signed with the Mariners. That deal carries implications for his new club and for other teams that had interest in his services. Here are the latest rumors on the free agent market …

  • After inking Rodney, the Mariners are "all in" and are "cautiously optimistic" that they will land outfielder Nelson Cruz, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. We heard recently that Seattle was talking with Cruz and was willing to give him multiple years.
  • Though they had interest, the Orioles never pursued Rodney that aggressively, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter links). Connolly says that Baltimore never indicated a willingness to spend near the $14MM guarantee that Rodney will receive from Seattle. "They liked him a little bit more than us," executive VP Dan Duquette told WBAL Radio (via a tweet from MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko). Of course, the O's had a two-year, $15MM deal in place with Grant Balfour until the team blew up the deal over issues with his physical.
  • With Rodney out of the picture, internal option Tommy Hunter appears to be the likeliest choice to close for Baltimore, notes Rich Dubroff of CSN Baltimore (via Twitter). Nevertheless, the Orioles have kept tabs on other late-inning relief options from the scratch-and-dent market. As Kubatko tweets, the club has shown interest in Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey as options to provide a mid-season boost. Both pitchers are coming off of surgeries, but offer plenty of upside. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes reported in early January that Hanrahan was preparing to audition in the spring, and also reported in December that Bailey has received significant interest, and expects to be ready by the middle of May. 
  • Of course, three other relievers also came off the board today, with Carlos Marmol and Chaz Roe signing with the Marlins and Pat Neshek going to the Cardinals.
  • Now that Rodney has signed, it is clear that no reliever will beat Joe Nathan's guarantee of $20MM, writes Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca. That represents a notable shift, as every one of the last six signing seasons has featured a reliever deal with at least $25MM in guaranteed money. The changing market has not only opened the door for smaller-market clubs to ink top bullpen arms, Nicholson-Smith notes, but also creates an opportunity for teams to limit the earnings of their younger arms by preventing them from picking up saves and increasing their arbitration earnings. It is worth noting that this year's market featured an ample supply of excellent-but-aging closers, which could help explain why no single arm garnered a huge guarantee.

Bowden’s Latest: Free Agency, Scherzer, Drew, Lobaton

Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio spoke with multiple agents and executives over the weekend and got contradictory takes on the reasons for so many top free agents remaining unsigned (ESPN Insider required and recommended). Agents told Bowden that they (and the MLBPA) feel that the heightened media coverage resulting from social networking has damaged players' market values. Reports from media members about how teams value players and whether or not they've made offers to players could be violations of the CBA, those parties told Bowden. Meanwhile, executives said to Bowden that the market is simply full of players with baggage (draft pick compensation, PED usage, inconsistent performance) and added that agents entered the offseason with unnatural expectations for their clients.

Here are just some of the highlights from a jam-packed column from the former Nationals and Reds GM…

  • Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are the two most likely candidates from next year's crop of free agent starting pitchers to sign an extension, Bowden writes. Despite the fact that Scherzer is a Scott Boras client (Boras prefers his clients to test the open market), Scherzer seems to want to remain loyal to the Tigers. However, Bowden notes that an extension would still need to be somewhere close to Scherzer's market value, which Bowden pegs at a whopping $196MM over seven years.
  • The Red Sox have made a two-year offer to Stephen Drew, one source told Bowden. The value of that reported offer is unclear, as is the date on which it was made.
  • The Nationals have discussed Jose Lobaton trades with the Rays as they look to add a backup catcher for Wilson Ramos. Lobaton figures to be expendable for the Rays, as they project to have a strong defensive tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina behind the dish. Shedding Lobaton's $950K salary would seem to be more beneficial to the tight-budgeted Rays than most teams, particularly if they don't have a roster spot for him.
  • The Dodgers are pushing for an infielder over another starting pitcher and hope to have a deal done within the next 48 hours. Los Angeles isn't likely to bid on any of the remaining free agent starters unless they're willing to take a short-term deal, as Dan Haren did to play near his hometown.
  • Kendrys Morales is the most likely free agent to be this year's version of Kyle Lohse, writes Bowden. He notes that the Orioles — who still have about $15MM to spend — and Mariners remain interested in the switch-hitting Scott Boras client. Both are still in on Nelson Cruz as well. MLBTR readers seem to agree with the Morales/Lohse comparison; in the poll I conducted earlier this morning asking which Top 50 free agent would be the next to sign, he drew the fewest votes.
  • The Royals and Indians are both highly unlikely to be able to lure back their respective free agent pitchers, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. The Blue Jays are a likely landing spot for both pitchers.


Cafardo’s Latest: Arroyo, Cruz, Burnett, Middlebrooks

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe shares a few hot stove items in his latest Sunday column…

  • Bronson Arroyo has been looking for a three-year deal or at least a vesting option for a third year, which could be holding up his market.  If Arroyo was willing to settle for a flat two-year contract, Cafardo opines, he could find a deal, possibly with the Diamondbacks; Cafardo reported earlier this week that Arizona was "beginning to kick the tires" on the veteran right-hander.  Arroyo recently said that he has yet to receive a concrete offer from any team, despite a lot of interest from around the league.
  • The Dodgers are another team who "are very interested" in Arroyo but don't want to give him a guaranteed third year.
  • Nelson Cruz's market is beginning to heat up, and “there could be up to four or five teams who could take the plunge in the end," a Major League source tells Cafardo.  This interest could manifest itself into a multiyear deal for Cruz, though Cafardo notes that the slugger could still have to settle for a one-year contract.  We've recently seen the Mariners, Orioles, Rangers and Twins linked to Cruz in rumors, though Texas and Minnesota only seem interested at a greatly reduced price.
  • Cafardo thinks the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes is down to the Pirates, Phillies and Orioles, though he wouldn't be surprised if the Yankees were also exploring a reunion with the veteran right-hander.  The Rays and Blue Jays have also been connected to Burnett, though it seems more likely that Burnett will choose a team located closer to his home in Maryland.
  • The Marlins have "asked a lot" about Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks but there doesn't seem to be a trade fit.  Miami is one of several teams who have asked Boston about Middlebrooks' availability, but the Sox don't want to give up on Middlebrooks' power potential.  Even if the Red Sox re-signed Stephen Drew to play shortstop and Xander Bogaerts took over at third, Middlebrooks would still receive playing time alternating between third and first base.
  • While Jon Lester recently said he would take a hometown discount to remain with the Red Sox, Cafardo points out that it might not be a huge discount, as Lester also noted that "you never want to be the guy that takes the market backward."
  • The Red Sox will experiment with Ryan Lavarnway as a first baseman during Spring Training, GM Ben Cherington confirmed.  Since Boston is so deep at catcher at both the Triple-A and Major League levels, Lavarnway's only chance at continued playing time may be as a Triple-A first baseman.
  • "There’s a feeling that a team like the Yankees may pluck Fernando Rodney, or someone of his ilk, to ensure they have another closer in case David Robertson breaks down or isn’t up to the task," Cafardo writes.  Rodney was reportedly drawing interest from four teams, though the Yankees hadn't spoken with him since November and may not have enough remaining payroll space to add to the bullpen.

Latest On Nelson Cruz

Just yesterday, the reports indicated that the Mariners were "back in business" in their pursuits of Nelson Cruz and Fernando Rodney, and their pursuit of Cruz appears to be picking up. MLB Network Radio's Jim Bowden said on the air today that the Mariners could make an offer to Cruz as early as today (Twitter link from MLBN Radio).

Bowden also tweeted earlier today (prior to the above report) that the market for Cruz currently consists of the Mariners, Orioles and Rangers, with Texas only serving as a fallback option for Cruz should his market completely crash. Seattle is "clearly the best fit" for Cruz in Bowden's mind, he added.

Reports on the Mariners' ability to spend (or lack thereof) have gone back and forth since the team's blockbuster signing of Robinson Cano earlier this offseason. GM Jack Zduriencik quickly followed that mega-deal up by signing Corey Hart and swinging a trade for Logan Morrison, but since that time all has been quiet for the Mariners in terms of significant additions. Cruz is the most powerful bat left on the market, which would make him a welcome addition to a Mariners lineup that is in need of some thump even after the Cano deal.

Cruz would add another corner/DH bat to a mix that already includes Hart, Morrison and Justin Smoak, and his questionable defensive reputation would be magnified by the fact that other corner outfield options (such as Hart and Morrison) aren't considered strong defenders either. Mariners right fielders combined to bat just .239/.290/.400 in 2013, however, so Cruz's bat would be a clear upgrade.

As for the Orioles, they lack an obvious answer in left field and could also upgrade at designated hitter, though they recently signed Delmon Young to a minor league deal and could be looking at him as a potential platoon partner for David Lough in left field. From an offensive standpoint, however, Cruz would likely be an upgrade over that platoon or Baltimore's in-house candidates at designated hitter.


Quick Hits: Prospects, Cruz, Yoon, Madson, Baker

MLB.com's Jim Callis has an interesting breakdown of the dollars committed to the game's top prospects. Over $228MM has already been committed by teams to the prospects listed among MLB.com's top 100. Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Keith Law has released his own prospect rankings (Insider links), naming the Astros' system as the game's best and tabbing Byron Buxton of the Twins as the best overall prospect. In his own top 101 prospects list, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus agrees with Buxton as the top choice, which certainly appears to be the consensus. And Baseball America has completed its listing of the ten best prospects by team.

Here are some more links from around the game:

  • The Twins are keeping tabs on free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN, but are a long shot to land him. Minnesota is probably only interested if Cruz drops his price fairly significantly, Wolfson adds, guessing that the club would probably only be involved at two years with an average annual value at or below the $10MM mark.
  • Likewise, the Twins are waiting for the price to fall on South Korean hurler Suk-min Yoon, Wolfson reports (Twitter links). When Wolfson floated the number of two years and $10MM total to his source, he was told that cost was likely too steep for Minnesota.
  • Free agent reliever Ryan Madson plans to hold a full public workout on February 7th, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com (Twitter links). The 33-year-old threw yesterday for an unknown club that is reportedly a leading candidate to land him, Crasnick adds. 
  • Starter Scott Baker chose the Mariners over offers from the IndiansRangers, and Royals, reports Wolfson (via Twitter). The Twins never had interest in a reunion, Wolfson adds.
  • Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers were discussing a deal in the range of $200MM to $205MM over the summer, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. By waiting until he wrapped up a Cy Young campaign, Kershaw was able to secure a deal with a $215MM guarantee.

Rosenthal’s Latest: M’s, Cruz, Rodney, Reds, Drew

The Mariners are "back in business, showing strong interest" in Nelson Cruz and Fernando Rodney again, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports in his latest column. The Mariners, who are said to have some financial leeway by new team president Kevin Mather, is also looking at the trade market for starting pitchers, though they're not currently focused on David Price or Jeff Samardzija. Rosenthal also notes that the Indians aren't having any conversations on Justin Masterson, nor are the Reds inclined to move any of their starters, further limiting the list of trade targets. More highlights below…

  • Cruz could be a fallback option for the Rangers, but probably only if he's willing to sign a one-year deal. Bringing Cruz back would allow the Rangers to deal Mitch Moreland.
  • Rosenthal wonders if the Reds should be thinking about dealing a starter. While they're trying to extend Homer Bailey, that seems to be a tall order as he's just one year from free agency. Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto are all only controlled through 2015, and as Rosenthal notes, not all can be long-term pieces.
  • The Athletics aren't considering making a run at Stephen Drew and shifting Jed Lowrie from short to second base. The A's are comfortable platooning Eric Sogard and Nick Punto.
  • A rival executive wondered to Rosenthal if the Braves would match up with the Mariners on a Dustin Ackley trade, but Rosenthal hears that the Braves aren't looking for a second baseman. They currently have Dan Uggla, who is owed $26MM through 2015, and three fallback options in Ramiro Pena, Tommy La Stella and Tyler Pastornicky.
  • Braves GM Frank Wren said he doesn't hold any ill will toward players who go to arbitration hearings — such as the ones he could face with Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman: "We don’t look at it as an antagonistic process. We look at it as a solution to a disagreement on a player’s salary."

Free Agent Faceoff: Nelson Cruz vs. Kendrys Morales

Yesterday, I took a side-by-side look at right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, asking MLBTR readers who they preferred between the prominent early-30s hurlers, as each has seen his free agent stock weighed down by draft pick compensation. Today, let's take a look at another pair of players who are languishing on the free agent market due to their ties to draft pick compensation: Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales.

While Cruz, unlike Morales, is an outfielder by trade, neither is known as a solid defensive player. Rather, each is valued primarily for his bat, and teams/fans can make the case that each is best suited for a DH role at this point in his career (the players and their agents, of course, would strongly disagree).

Cruz, 33, entered the offseason as one of the top right-handed power bats on the open market — a rare trait among free agents. No remaining free agent, not even Morales, can claim to match Cruz's power. He batted .266/.327/.506 with 27 homers in 2013 in just 109 games (446 plate appearances). However, the reason for the shortened campaign wasn't injury, but rather a 50-game suspension for his ties to the Biogenesis PED scandal. Cruz can argue that he's served his time and state that his violations took place in 2012 (via the L.A. Times' Mike DiGiovanna) as he recovered from a rare illness that caused him to lose roughly 40 pounds, thereby indicating that his 2013 numbers were legitimate. Interested teams don't appear as likely to write off the suspension, however.

Morales comes with his own baggage, though his in the form of injury history. The 30-year-old switch-hitter fractured his leg in 2010 while celebrating a walk-off grand slam and missed the better part of two seasons recovering from that freak accident. Morales has posted solid offensive numbers since returning (.275/.329/.457), but his production hasn't come close to matching that which he showed in 2009-10 (.303/.353/.548 in 203 games) prior to his injury.

Neither player is considered much of a defender, though Morales is limited to first base while Cruz can man a corner outfield spot, even if defensive metrics don't speak highly of his outfield play. Even at his best, Morales' isolated power (slugging minus batting average) from 2009-10 was .246 — roughly the same as the .241 mark Cruz has averaged over the past six years. However, Morales is a switch-hitter who strikes out far less often and is also three years younger than Cruz. He's also succeeded in pitcher-friendly environments, whereas Cruz's .912 OPS at Rangers Ballpark dwarfs his career road mark of .734.

Clearly, each player has some flaws. Cruz likely offers more power and can be played a more valuable defensive position, but he's older, strikes out more and comes with troubling home/road splits. Morales has yet to prove that he can replicate his monster 2009 season, and he's even more defensively limited than Cruz, as all but 31 of his games last season came as a DH. Either would bolster the majority of Major League lineups, but (assuming both would fit on your team) if you had to choose just one…



NL Notes: Bailey, Cruz, Espinosa, Phillies

Earlier today, the Brewers finally locked down their agreement with Matt Garza. Elsewhere in the National League:

  • Homer Bailey was cautious in his remarks about signing a multi-year contract with the Reds, according to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. "There is [interest], but it has to be something that works out for both ends," said Bailey. "That's kind of tough to do. You see a lot of the signings that are going on, so, of course, it's going to raise eyebrows on my behalf. Obviously, with a mid-market team, it's tougher for them, also. We're just going to have to see how everything goes." Bailey, who is represented by Excel Sports Management (the agency which negotiated lucrative long-term deals for Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka this offseason), is arbitration eligible asking for $11.6MM while the Reds countered with $8.7MM. 
  • Reds GM Walt Jocketty says he is not interested in signing free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz (#17 on MLBTR's 2014 Top 50 Free Agents list) because he is tied to draft pick compensation, reports Sheldon.
  • Danny Espinosa has been told by manager Matt Williams and GM Mike Rizzo he will be given the opportunity to compete with Anthony Rendon to be the Nationals' starting second baseman, writes Chase Hughes of Nats Insider. "That’s all I can ask for," said Espinosa. "I’ve never asked for anything to be handed to me. If I can get a fair opportunity to win my job back, I feel like I can do it." Espinosa struggled in 2013, due in part to injuries, batting .158/.193/.272 in 167 plate appearances before being demoted to Triple-A. The 26-year-old's name has popped up in trade rumors this winter with the Yankees, among other clubs, showing interest.   
  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. needs to decide when the team can realistically contend next and then set them up do so because going all in while simultaneously investing in the future only offsets each other, opines philly.com's Justin Klugh.

Quick Hits: Tigers, Rockies, Cubs, Padres

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told fans at TigerFest today to expect a different style of Detroit baseball now that he's completed his offseason retooling of the club's roster, Jason Beck of MLB.com writes. "We'll play better defense. We'll score from first or second on base hits or extra-base hits more than we have in the past," Dombrowski predicted, while noting that the 2014 Tigers won't have as much power as some of his previous teams. "It's a different type of club. … What you try to do is give your club a chance to win a world championship every year," the GM commented. Here's more late-night MLB links: