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Nelson Cruz Rumors
3:03pm: Cruz himself now tells reporters, including MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli, that the Orioles and Katz have had some extension talks since the All-Star break, but the talks have not been serious in nature. The slugger adds that after his difficult experience last offseason, he would like to get an extension worked out before season’s end, although he knows that scenario may not be realistic, given the casual nature of talks to this point. He also repeated that he would like to remain an Oriole beyond the 2014 season (Twitter links).
11:37am: The Orioles and Nelson Cruz share an interest in keeping the slugger in Baltimore past the 2014 season, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports. Both Dan Duquette and Adam Katz (Cruz’s agent) declined on comment on whether any extension talks have already taken place or will take place, though both parties have felt Cruz has been a good fit in Baltimore this year.
“It’s no secret it’s been a very positive experience for Nelson and the Orioles — though I don’t want to speak for them,” Katz said. “He’s enjoyed every minute of it.”
Cruz is set to hit free agency this winter and his big 2014 numbers will put him in line for a solid multiyear deal. (MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranked Cruz as the sixth-best player on the market in his most recent 2015 Free Agent Power Rankings.) Cruz’s league-leading 34 homers and .256/.324/.510 slash line have gone a long way in answering the doubts that plagued his stint as a free agent last winter. With a qualifying offer draft pick attached to him and a 50-game PED suspension clouding his reputation, Cruz was forced to settle for a one-year, $8MM deal from the O’s.
This tough experience last offseason might be a reason why Cruz is considering an extension, as Heyman notes it would be rather unusual for a player in Cruz’s situation (signing a one-year pillow contract type of deal and then delivering big) to not test the open market. The O’s will certainly offer Cruz a one-year qualifying offer if an extension can’t be worked out, and rather than face such uncertainty again, it could be that Cruz simply prefers to stay in a familiar situation.
Robinson Cano told reporters, including the New York Daily News’ Andy Martino, that he wasn’t bothered by the boos he received in returning to Yankee Stadium. Martino goes on to opine that the booing of Cano seems to be the only emotion the Yankee fanbase can muster due to the team’s lackluster performance. He asked Brett Gardner how the club could be more consistent at the plate and received a frustrated reply: “Well, if we knew that, we would have done it two days ago.” More on the Yankees’ decision to let Cano walk and the AL East…
- Martino’s colleague, John Harper, wonders if the Yankees would let Cano walk again if they had a mulligan on the offseason. As he notes, there’s virtually no certainty next season in the infield with Derek Jeter retiring, Brian Roberts on a one-year deal, Mark Teixeira‘s injuries, an unproven track record for Yangervis Solarte and Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension. While the back-end of any Cano deal would surely look poor, he asks if that would be an acceptable price to pay for chasing greatness in the short term.
- Rangers GM Jon Daniels appeared on The Afternoon Show with Cowlishaw and Moseley in Texas yesterday and discussed Nelson Cruz‘s hot start with the Orioles. Daniels said he’s not surprised to see Cruz thriving — though they wouldn’t have expected 20 homers through this point in the season. He adds that Texas made multiple attempts to sign Cruz, making a qualifying offer and offering a multi-year deal at the Winter Meetings. Daniels adds: “…by the time it came down to Spring Training, when he was signing, there was some other factors at play. We made the decision that we did to give our own guys an opportunity and keep the draft pick.”
- Shi Davidi of Sportsnet breaks down Juan Francisco‘s strong play for the Blue Jays and wonders if the Jays could possibly have struck gold on a third low-cost slugger acquisition. Davidi points out that Toronto stumbled into franchise cornerstones Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and Francisco is cut largely from the same cloth. Davidi looks at improvements to Francisco’s pitch selection — though his strikeout rate remains high — and changes to his approach made by the team’s coaching staff. Francisco, a close friend of Encarnacion, says he feels at home with the Jays. Davidi also reports that Toronto tried to acquire Francisco last season as well before Atlanta traded him to Milwaukee, suggesting he’s been on their radar for quite some time.
The Blue Jays sit atop the AL East but most feel that the club will try to fortify its starting rotation before the trade deadline. Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos hinted to Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com that if his team did make a move, the price might be too high for a big-name arm. “We are pretty much maxed out in terms of payroll, but more important, we cannot keep trading our young [minor league] pitchers,” Anthopoulos said. “We also have to be realistic about whom we can extend if we make a trade for him….We have been feeling out teams and doing background work. I think we’d probably look at something where we have a pitcher for the rest of this season. That makes sense.” Gammons wonders if this means the Jays wouldn’t pursue David Price or Jeff Samardzija since neither pitcher is likely to sign an extension with Toronto to becoming a free agent after 2015. James Shields (a free agent this winter) would also cost a lot, while Gammons suggests names like Francisco Liriano, Jason Hammel or Justin Masterson as possible fits.
Here’s the latest from around the AL East…
- Dellin Betances no longer frets about trade rumors like he did in his younger days, the Yankees reliever tells Brendan Kuty of NJ.com. “I try not to pay too much attention,” Betances said. “Actually, I haven’t heard anything. But this has happened so many times that — you always hear rumors that are coming up.” CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman recently explored Betances as a possible trade chip the Yankees could use in a package for Samardzija, though with Betances pitching so well, Heyman noted New York would be hesitant to move the right-hander.
- In an Insider-only piece for ESPN.com, Christopher Crawford breaks down what each of the five AL East teams could look for in the upcoming amateur draft.
- The struggling Red Sox may not look to help their lineup by trading for a notable hitter, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said in a recent radio appearance on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Show (WEEI.com’s Nick Canelas has a partial transcript). “To expend what you’d have to expend to get that player, I’m not sure the Red Sox want to do that because right now they’re in a situation where they are protective of what they have,” Rosenthal said. “They have depth in young talent all over the place, we know that; left side of the infield, catching, pitching to some extent. But their idea is to keep this going, and I’m not sure you keep it going by trading for a big-money hitter and expending prospects to do it with one or two years left on the guy’s contract.”
- From that same interview, Rosenthal also touched on Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz, who “looks like a player that a lot of people underestimated” coming off his PED suspension in 2013. “The price was not to the liking of a lot of teams early on, and he’s not that offensive-defensive mixture that most teams seek now….He’s a guy that clearly has shown that whatever was going on with him, assuming that nothing is going on now, he is back to the player that we thought he should be.” Cruz is currently slashing .295/.361/.612 with a Major League-leading 16 homers.
- Rosenthal notes that the Red Sox didn’t pursue Cruz last winter. Cruz’s success notwithstanding, I’d say it’s hard to fault Boston for that non-move since the club was seemingly set in the corner outfield spots and David Ortiz is the everyday DH.
We just looked at the latest from the AL Central; here are some notes from the rest of the American League:
- The Orioles will not discuss contract extensions during the season, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. “We’re not going to be exploring any extensions during the season,” said Executive VP Dan Duquette. “… Once the season starts, I think it benefits the team and the players and the fans to keep the focus on the field and the players on the field.” While star center fielder Adam Jones was inked to a mid-season extension back in 2012, Duquette explained that was a different situation since “we started that discussion during the winter, and it extended into the season.” The team is not presently in talks with any of its current crop of pending free agents, Duquette said. While shortstop J.J. Hardy had been linked to contract chatter during the spring, he and fellow free-agents-to-be Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis will seemingly be allowed to test the open market. (MLBTR’s Steve Adams just took a look an early look at the free agent case of Markakis.)
- Mariners closer Fernando Rodney said today that he wanted to stay with the Rays but never received a contract offer, reports Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune (Twitter link). Rodney added that he received two-year offers from the Mets, Orioles, and Indians, in addition to a one-year offer from the Yankees, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Of course, Rodney ultimately went to Seattle for two years and $14MM.
- Yankees hurler C.C. Sabathia is headed to see Dr. James Andrews, tweets Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com, though thankfully the issue is in his knee rather than his left elbow. As MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch writes, the visit is viewed as precautionary, as a recent MRI showed no structural issues. “The best-case scenario is, CC gets the knee drained, rests for five days and gets a couple of bullpens under his belt and he takes the start after he comes off the DL,” said GM Brian Cashman. “That’s the best-case scenario. I’m not saying that’s the scenario we’re dealing with yet, but that’s the best.” The club will hope that proves to be the result, as its rotation is already dealing with several notable injuries. Needless to say, any ongoing issues with Sabathia would only further enhance New York’s starting pitcher needs at the trade deadline.
- The Athletics have gained more production from the catching spot than any other American League club through the combination of Derek Norris and John Jaso, writes John Hickey of Bay Area News Group. Heading into today’s action, the platoon pair had combined for an impressive .338/.419/.507 triple-slash. Indeed, that line has actually been good enough to vault the A’s catching unit into the league lead by measure of fWAR, with a healthy 1.9 wins above replacement through just 184 plate appearances. Both players came to Oakland through trades involving the Nationals, with Norris a piece in the Gio Gonzalez trade and Jaso heading down from the Mariners in the three-team Michael Morse deal.
With Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow going to the 60-day DL with a torn tendon sheath, the Star’s Richard Griffin writes that Morrow may well have thrown his last pitch for the club. As Griffin notes, the 29-year-old’s $10MM club option (which comes with a $1MM buyout) seems unlikely to be exercised at this point after yet another significant injury. Here’s more from Toronto and the rest of the AL East:
- Indications are that the Blue Jays will look to keep power-hitting corner infielder Juan Francisco in the fold after Adam Lind is activated, tweets Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star. Discussing the situation, MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm writes that Toronto could conceivably drop one of its eight relievers or shift Brett Lawrie into the club’s regular second base role.
- Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz discussed his difficult last year with MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli, saying that it was hardest on his family. As for the qualifying offer situation, Cruz said he probably would have grabbed it had he known what was in store. “But it’s something that you risk and you trust your instincts,” said Cruz. “In this case, it wasn’t what I expected. But I’m happy with my decision and happy with where I am now. That’s the only thing that matters.” From the O’s perspective, executive VP Dan Duquette said that the deal was made when Cruz’s camp “adjusted what they were looking for in terms of the term” (i.e. length) of the deal. Cruz if off to a hot start, of course, posting a .294/.369/.596 triple-slash with nine home runs in his first 122 plate appearances with Baltimore.
- A less-consequential decision for the Orioles front office was the low-risk signing of one-time ace Johan Santana, who has been working his way back to full strength on a minor league contract. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports on Twitter that Santana’s fastball has reached the 88-89 mph range, with his slider in the low-80’s and change in the mid-70’s. While that obviously represents a significant drop from his peak years, Santana posted an average fastball velocity of just 89.6 mph in his 2.98 ERA, 199-inning 2010 season.
- In a chat today, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick touched upon the situation of Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia. A scout recently told Crasnick that Sabathia’s offerings are “very fringy,” and that he will need impeccable control to be effective going forward. On the other hand, Crasnick opines that Sabathia has actually delivered decent value to New York on his massive contract. For what it’s worth, Sabathia’s unsightly 5.75 ERA through his first 40 2/3 innings in 2014 is much worse than his 4.16 FIP, 2.95 xFIP, and 2.92 SIERA marks. Indeed, while Sabathia has been hurt by the long ball (21.9% HR/FB rate) and a .361 BABIP, he is sporting 9.74 K/9 against just 1.99 BB/9 while generating a 50.8% ground-ball rate.
George Digby, a Red Sox scout from 1944 to 1994 and a scouting consultant until 2004, passed away on Friday at age 96. Digby’s long career earned him a spot in the Red Sox Hall Of Fame and his many signings included such notable names as Wade Boggs, Mike Greenwell and Jody Reed. An even bigger name, however, eluded Digby through no fault of his own. As ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes relates, Digby pushed the Red Sox to sign Willie Mays in 1949 yet got nowhere thanks to the club’s ban on black players that shamefully existed until 1959. The MLBTR staff extends our condolences to Digby’s family and many friends around baseball.
Here’s the latest from the AL East…
- Jon Lester recorded a career-best 15 strikeouts over eight innings of one-hit ball in a 6-3 Boston win over Oakland today. MLB.com’s Mike Bauman notes that such performances are what makes Lester so valuable to the Red Sox and it only raises the southpaw’s asking price on his next contract. When last we heard about negotiations, Lester and the Sox had reportedly suspended talks until the end of the season.
- Dalier Hinojosa has a 7.15 ERA and 12 walks over his first 11 1/3 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket, yet the PawSox coaching staff isn’t yet concerned about the Cuban right-hander, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes. This is not only Hinojosa’s first taste of American pro baseball since signing a $4.25MM contract with the Red Sox in October, but it is also his first time pitching in cold weather, which the PawSox coaches believe is affecting his performance.
- Nelson Cruz is off to a hot start and is only under contract through 2014, though MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski opines that the Orioles shouldn’t be in any rush to extend Cruz’s contract. The O’s have other long-term deals for building block players (i.e. Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy) to consider first, plus Baltimore can also extend a qualifying offer to Cruz in the offseason.
- Infielder Pete Orr wanted to sign with the Blue Jays last winter, his agent Blake Corosky tells Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. “Pete made it clear to them that they were his first choice and starting in [Triple-A] Buffalo was fine. But they were equally clear there were better options and that they liked him but not enough,” Corosky said. Orr, born just outside Toronto in nearby Richmond Hill, instead signed a minor league deal with the Brewers.
Here’s the latest from Ken Rosenthal, via a video at FOX Sports:
- The White Sox might prefer not to trade John Danks, who they have signed to a reasonable contract through 2016. But Adam Dunn is set to become a free agent, and the team has plenty of potential replacements for Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham, so Chicago could deal any of those players at the deadline.
- Since Josh Johnson won’t start more than seven games this season, the Padres have a $4MM option on him for 2015. Given Johnson’s Tommy John surgery, though, it’s unclear whether the Padres will be able to get enough out of Johnson in 2015 to make the option worthwhile.
- Nelson Cruz of the Orioles has done a good job rebuilding his value after taking a one-year offer significantly below the cost of the qualifying offer he rejected last winter, Rosenthal says. Cruz is off to a fast start, hitting .300/.391/.588 in his first 92 plate appearances with Baltimore.
Diamondbacks pitcher Brad Ziegler, a member of the players' association's executive subcommittee, says that Major League Baseball and the players' union are unlikely to address the qualifying offer issue before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2016 season, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reports. "The CBA won't be reopened," says Ziegler. "There's no way it's a big enough deal to do that right now. I haven't heard any rumblings that's even realistic."
Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew have all struggled to find markets after declining qualifying offers this offseason. Cruz signed a one-year deal with Baltimore that guarantees just $8MM, and Santana appears set to sign a one-year deal in the $14MM range with either Toronto or Baltimore. Morales and Drew remain unsigned well into spring training, and there's little indication that either of them will sign soon.
MLBPA head Tony Clark has also expressed concern about the qualifying offer, but like Ziegler, he suggested that the CBA would not be reopened. "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 told the Associated Press in February.
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.