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Nelson Cruz Rumors
A.J. Burnett's decision about whether or not to retire is a crucial one for the Pirates, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan writes. The Pirates are a "bubble team," and re-signing Burnett would give them the chance to separate themselves from potential Wild Card competitors like the Diamondbacks, Giants, Braves and Nationals, while also giving them a better chance to win the NL Central. If Burnett returning is worth even two wins to the Pirates, he could be crucial. Unfortunately for the Bucs, they have little control over Burnett's decision. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- If Ubaldo Jimenez can't get the three- or four-year contract he seeks elsewhere, it's possible he could return to the Indians for one year and $14MM or less, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. Such a scenario might sound unlikely, but Jimenez will cause the team that signs him to lose a draft pick, and Matt Garza, who didn't require the loss of a draft pick, will reportedly only get four years at an average of $13MM per season from the Brewers. (That deal does not yet seem to be complete, however.)
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski says his team is unlikely to make any more big moves this offseason, MLB.com's Jason Beck tweets. That means the Tigers don't appear likely to sign Nelson Cruz, although Dombrowski did not mention Cruz by name.
In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that outside of his own representation, you won’t find a lot of legal experts who believe Alex Rodriguez will win in federal court. “I would be surprised if the decision is reversed,” Stanford law professor William B. Gould IV said. “Since 1960, arbitration awards can only be reversed when the arbitrator decides on his own ideas of justice rather than the CBA or because of fraud, corruption or partiality. The merits are for the arbitrator, not the courts. Probably the arbitrator should have called Selig to the stand to avoid partiality, but that won’t be a basis for reversal on its own. As for the union, their obligation is to investigate A-Rod’s claim in good faith — they did so and took his case. And allowing his own counsel.” More from today's column..
- Teams are staying away from Nelson Cruz because salary demands still haven’t come down quite enough, according to one National League GM. He made sense for the Orioles as a power-hitting right-handed bat, but their recent acquisition of Delmon Young may have squashed their interest.
- Teams have been reluctant to pony up a four- or five-year deal for Matt Garza and he may have to settle for fewer years, even with the price of pitching very high. “There may be concerns about him physically,” said one AL exec. “I think most teams are thinking four or five years is just too risky, even if he’s a no-compensation guy.”
- Cafardo hears that the bidding for Masahiro Tanaka could get as high as $120MM over six years and that he could shake hands on a deal before the January 24th deadline.
- The Red Sox were not among the teams who watched Chone Figgins workout in Arizona as he attempts a comeback. Figgins hopes to resurrect his career, even if it’s as a utility man. It appears he’ll get the chance to be in camp with someone.
- After recovering from life-threatening injuries and having his spleen removed, Carl Pavano is throwing off of flat ground in Arizona, according to his agent, Dave Pepe. “Some teams have popped in to see where he’s at. Our intention is for him to throw bullpens for teams in mid-February,” Pepe said.
- Former Rockies and Red Sox pitcher Aaron Cook is also looking to bounce back after a tired arm ended his season in July. He did not pitch in the majors last season, making eight starts with Triple A Colorado Springs.
- Agent Alan Nero says he'd be surprised if any of the arbitration-eligible players went to a hearing this year.
- Former Indians and Mariners skipper Eric Wedge will likely take a network television job soon but he'd like to get another chance in the dugout at some point.
- Reliever Cedrick Bowers, who spent last season in the Atlantic League, is starting to catch the eye of scouts in Venezuela.
Speaking at a luncheon in Fort Worth on Friday, Rangers GM Jon Daniels emphasized that his team is unlikely to re-sign Nelson Cruz or sign Masahiro Tanaka, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reports. Daniels said the Rangers are still in touch with Cruz's agent, Adam Katz, but that "it’s highly unlikely he’ll be back. He’d have a better opportunity elsewhere." Daniels still did not completely rule out the possibility of a return, however. Daniels did not go into specifics on Tanaka, but said, "We’ve spent our budget, and then some."
Daniels' comments were made prior to the news about Derek Holland's knee injury and surgery, which should keep Holland out until midseason. Daniels very likely would have already have been aware of Holland's situation, however, since Holland suffered the injury Tuesday. Reporting last night indicated that, even after Holland's injury, the Rangers were unlikely to pursue Tanaka or another big-name starting pitching option.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Mariners are weighing a number of high-profile additions, including Nelson Cruz, Masahiro Tanaka and David Price, but the team needs to persuade ownership before pressing forward on those moves. That information meshes with another Rosenthal report from last month which indicated that the Mariners may be nearing their payroll limit for 2014.
Seattle's signing of Robinson Cano this offseason was clearly an ownership-level decision, and GM Jack Zduriencik made a nice followup signing by inking Corey Hart to a one-year deal to further bolster the club's offense. Zduriencik also bought low on Logan Morrison in a trade with the Marlins, hoping that the 26-year-old can still deliver on some of his top prospect hype from a few years ago. However, save for the re-signing of the oft-injured Franklin Gutierrez, it's been quiet for the Mariners since that time.
Cano is an elite bat, but it's hard to figure that his addition plus a pair of question marks is enough to turn the organization around. Hart did not play a game in 2013, and Morrison has batted .236/.321/.387 over his past 667 plate appearances after slashing .259/.351/.460 in his first 812 big league PAs. Seattle's shot at contention is further complicated by the fact that they share a division with the highly competitive Rangers and A's. The Angels, who finished third in each of the past two seasons, have added to their rotation and should see improved production out of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton as well.
New TV deals have made baseball richer than ever, and teams are passing on some of those riches to free agents. $240MM for Robinson Cano. $153MM for Jacoby Ellsbury. Possibly over $100MM for Masahiro Tanaka. Heck, $35MM for Tim Lincecum. $32MM for Jason Vargas. But it appears not everyone has been invited to the party. Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales seem to be on the outside looking in.
As a free agent, Cruz has four problems. First, he's no help defensively — he's below-average even when compared to other right fielders, posting negative UZR numbers in all of the past three seasons. Second, he's 33 and projects to age badly, as an offensively-minded player who doesn't actually hit all that well. Third, his ties to the Biogenesis scandal might raise questions about his immediate future. And fourth, the team that signs him will have to forfeit a draft pick.
There have been indications that Cruz wants a four-year, $75MM contract. That doesn't appear to be in the cards now — it's difficult to land huge deals this late in the offseason, and one report from December suggested that Cruz was willing to accept a three-year deal from the Rangers.
But one win above replacement is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $6MM or $7MM on the open market, so for Cruz to justify even the three-year, $39MM deal MLBTR projected he would get, he would have to produce about six wins over the life of the deal, even before considering the draft pick.
Even 6 WAR seems like an optimistic projection over the next three years. Cruz has produced WAR figures of 1.3, 1.1 and 1.5 the past three seasons. Even a three-year deal for Cruz looks unlikely at this point, and he may only get one if a team gets desperate, or determines that the escalating price of free agents and Cruz's counting stats make him worth that kind of money.
Morales is even more defensively limited than Cruz, having played 28 games in the field in 2012 and 31 in 2013 in the aftermath of significant injury troubles that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. This far removed from any serious injury, he might be able to handle more time in the field than that, but that's mostly a matter of speculation at this point.
On top of that, there's the matter of the qualifying offer. By declining it, Morales rejected a one-year, $14.1MM deal, despite the fact that he was arguably worth less than that last season, producing 1.2 WAR. Even leaving aside the draft pick, it would be ambitious for Morales to use an amount more than $14.1MM per season as a starting point for negotiations on a multi-year contract, or even on a one-year contract. Accepting the qualifying offer might have been a better path for him.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports recently wrote about the qualifying offer system "squeezing" certain free agents, and it is, as in the case of Kyle Lohse last year and Stephen Drew this year. But it's worth mentioning that, in the past two offseasons, no one has actually accepted a qualifying offer yet. Perhaps certain types of players, like Morales, should consider accepting qualifying offers if they receive them. A bigger problem than getting "squeezed" may turn out to be that the expectations of some free agents are out of step with the market. Morales is arguably not worth $14.1MM per season to begin with.
Then add in the draft pick. Unless Cruz or Morales re-sign with their old teams, the teams that sign them will have to give up a draft pick apiece, probably in the last two-thirds of the first round or shortly thereafter. A recent study found that the Nos. 16-30 picks in the June draft have surplus values of a little over $7MM. For players like Robinson Cano or Jacoby Ellsbury, whose value dwarfs the value of the pick, the qualifying offer is not a significant concern. But for a player like Morales, whose value is not so much greater than that of the draft pick anyway, this is a big problem.
A further issue for Cruz and Morales is the lack of teams available to sign them. Those problems were magnified when the Mariners, who like all-bat players more than most other clubs, acquired Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. Now there are few fits for Cruz, and even fewer for Morales. And purely as a practical matter, the market for Morales is limited, because it's not clear whether he can be an everyday player in the National League.
It also might be that, as with the closer market, the market for all-bat players and 30-something sluggers is correcting itself to a degree. A team need look no further than Ryan Howard's five-year, $125MM deal with the Phillies to see why signing an aging slugger of limited athleticism might turn out to be a problem. Or Travis Hafner's four-year, $57MM deal with the Indians, or Albert Pujols' ten-year, $240MM contract with Angels. Sometimes, these sorts of players remain productive through their mid-30s — who would have thought David Ortiz would age so well? But often they don't, and that's even before considering Cruz and Morales are nowhere near as well-rounded offensively as Pujols or Ortiz.
In this market, the two players most comparable to Cruz and Morales were probably Mike Napoli and Carlos Beltran. Like Cruz and Morales, Napoli and Beltran are both sluggers confined to corner positions, although they're also better offensively than Cruz and Morales are (and Napoli is superior defensively as well). Napoli received two years and $32MM, getting fewer years than we expected, though at a higher average annual value. Beltran got three and $45MM. We projected Beltran would get two years and $30MM, which suggests that the market hasn't hurt every defensively-challenged slugger.
It's pretty late in the game for Cruz and Morales to cash in the way Beltran did, though. Earlier today, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo wrote that, in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal, Cruz might ultimately settle for a one-year deal, hoping to prove himself post-PEDs, and then hit the free-agent market again next year.
It's unclear what he'll find when he gets there. With free-agent salaries exploding, it's easy to imagine a world where teams see Cruz's 27 homers and 76 RBIs, or Morales' 23 and 80, and offer them big-money deals. But that does not appear to be the world in which we live, at least not this offseason. Cruz's and Morales' predicaments may primarily be the results of their individual circumstances (Cruz's Biogenesis ties, a lack of obvious fits for Morales) and not the start of a trend. But it may also be that defensively-challenged sluggers, especially ones with good-but-not-outstanding bats, may have trouble getting their usual slice of the free-agent pie, especially when qualifying offers are also a concern.
Nelson Cruz's market seems almost non-existent in the eyes of Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan, who goes through every team in baseball to try and find a home for the outfielder. Twenty-nine teams are "stretches" or "not a fit," while only the Orioles are a "decent" candidate, and Kendrys Morales might be a better fit for them. A return to the Rangers would be a "stretch," and GM Jon Daniels recently said that he expects Cruz to sign elsewhere now that Shin-Soo Choo is in the fold. MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth also took a crack at examining Cruz's market a few days ago — a reader poll pegged the Mariners as the best contender to sign Cruz, though they garnered just over 23% of the vote.
Here's the latest from around the AL West…
- Neftali Feliz wants to be a reliever for the rest of his career and he's intent on regaining his old job as the Rangers' closer, the righty tells MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan via a translator. Feliz said he is "finally" recovered from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for most of 2012 and 2013, cutting short his stint in the Texas rotation at the start of the 2012 season. Feliz has pitched well out of the bullpen in the Dominican Winter League and he'll compete with Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers for the closer's job in 2014.
- The Angels will bring Joe Blanton to Spring Training and if they can't find a trade for the veteran hurler, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez opines (via Twitter), Blanton will simply be released. Blanton posted a career-worst 6.04 ERA in 2013, though the advanced metrics (3.84 xFIP, 3.92 SIERA) indicate that ERA was inflated thanks to an ungainly 19.1% home run rate and a .346 BABIP. The Halos would eat $8.5MM if they released Blanton — his $7.5MM salary for 2014 and the $1MM buyout of his $8MM 2015 option.
- Gonzalez also tweets that he expects the Angels to sign another free agent pitcher to their rotation.
- Since the Astros have been in full-on rebuilding mode for virtually all of GM Jeff Luhnow's tenure, some player agents told Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle this offseason that they were simply weren't that familiar with Luhnow. “All of our current players have representatives, and I’ve dealt with a lot of the agents and agencies through the draft over the years…But yeah, it’s a different position that we’re in this year relative to last year. Remember, in 2011, I was hired in December, and at that point things were fairly far along and there was not a lot of flexibility of doing much except for trades we did," Luhnow said. "To a certain extent, having the position flexibility and financial flexibility to participate in the free-agent market has been a new experience for me as a general manager, and a good one.”
- With all the big moves in the AL West this offseason, Drellich opines that some of the would-be contenders in the division could have already peaked in a couple of seasons' time, when the Astros will be ready to step up and contend themselves.
- In AL West news from earlier today, Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson found a new agent and we got some updates on Mark Mulder's contract with the Angels.
2013 is about to become 2014, and free agent slugger Nelson Cruz still hasn't found a home. Today, Rangers GM Jon Daniels said he does not expect Cruz to return to his club. Cruz's reported desire for a $75MM contract could be an impediment for many teams. With that in mind, let's look at Cruz's market.
Mariners. A report two weeks ago indicated the Mariners still had interest in Cruz despite having already acquired Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. In light of a more recent report that the Mariners were approaching their payroll limit, one might think that another defensively-challenged corner player, particularly an expensive one, might be a luxury the Mariners could do without. But the Mariners have seemed unusually interested in such players in recent years.
Orioles. The Orioles have made contact with Cruz's agent, but there have been few indications that negotiations have progressed much. The O's would have to forfeit the No. 17 overall pick in next year's draft to sign Cruz, who declined the Rangers' qualifying offer, and they might not want to. Nonetheless, there's plenty of space for Cruz in Baltimore's lineup.
Rockies. Colorado has had some interest in Cruz, although it does not appear to be serious.
Royals. Kansas City tried to sign Carlos Beltran. They could still look to Cruz as a possible replacement, particularly if they're able to trade Billy Butler. That seems unlikely now, however, with the signing of Omar Infante taking up much of the money they had available.
Those are that teams that have been most closely connected to Cruz in the past month. Cruz would be a tricky fit with many NL teams, due to his defensive limitations, and many of them don't have an obvious spot for Cruz to play anyway. One team, the Pirates, that would make at least superficial sense for Cruz has ruled out signing him. Many remaining AL teams either appear to be mostly done making moves (Indians), don't want to lose the draft pick (Twins), don't generally make huge free-agent splashes (Athletics, Rays) or wouldn't be great fits for Cruz (Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox, Blue Jays).
Here are a few possibilities that are more speculative:
Tigers. Cruz would be a good fit in Detroit's lineup, which currently has Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis in left field and Victor Martinez as DH. The Tigers just signed Davis and therefore might not be likely to add another outfielder, but Davis would also be helpful in a reserve role. The Tigers' seeming disinterest in re-signing Jhonny Peralta, who was suspended last year for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, might also suggest a lack of interest in Cruz, who was also implicated. That might be a red herring, however, since Jose Iglesias' emergence was certainly a factor in Peralta's departure.
Astros. Houston could use help at the corner spots and DH and was connected to Choo, but they would likely be reluctant to part with a draft pick to sign Cruz, and would probably only be interested if he were a bargain.
Reds. The Reds tried to trade Brandon Phillips for Brett Gardner, and they showed interest in Carlos Beltran, indicating that they aren't completely satisfied with their outfield in the wake of Choo's departure. That they never appeared to be serious players for Choo and that they've tried, unsuccessfully, to clear Phillips' salary might indicate that they won't be able and/or willing to spend on Cruz, however.
Cubs. The Cubs should have money to spend and don't have much outfield talent (at least not currently in the big leagues), but as with the Astros, draft pick forfeiture could be an issue, and it doesn't seem like them to sign an expensive, win-now player like Cruz in the midst of a rebuilding project.
At today's press conference to introduce Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told reporters, including Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com, that he expects Nelson Cruz to sign elsewhere (Twitter link). Daniels said that he called Cruz personally to express his thanks.
Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest does note that Daniels didn't completely shut the door on a return (Twitter link). In theory, the Rangers could still fit Cruz into their lineup as a DH and part-time corner outfielder if they were to move Mitch Moreland in a trade, but Daniels' comments make that situation sound unlikely. The outfield appears to be set, with Alex Rios locked up through 2014 with a 2015 club option and Leonys Martin slotting in as the everyday center fielder.
If the Choo signing does spell the end of Cruz's time as a Ranger, his Texas career will come to a close with a .268/.327/.495 batting line and 157 home runs in 3175 plate appearances (barring a reunion down the road, of course). Cruz has also been linked to teams such as the Mariners and Orioles, both of whom could use additional thump in their lineups. Each is said to have financial constraints at this point, however, so agent Adam Katz of the Wasserman Media Group may need to drum up interest from a team to which Cruz has not been heavily linked. Earlier in this month, reports indicated that Cruz was seeking an annual salary in the range of $16MM.
Starlin Castro claims that stress related to an ongoing legal dispute in the Dominican Republic has affected his on-field performance for the Cubs, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports. A coach at a baseball school in the Dominican is suing Castro, contending that a contract the shortstop's father signed when Castro was an amateur entitles the academy to a portion of his Major League earnings. The affair has had a "direct impact on his duties as a professional ballplayer, leading to one of his worst-ever statistical performances," Castro's countersuit states. While the 23-year-old played in 161 games last season, 2013 saw him slump to a .245/.284/.347 line. The 2014 season will be the second of the seven-year, $60MM deal Castro signed inked with the Cubs in 2012. Here's more from around baseball's Central divisions:
- Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer thinks the Indians can still add a couple of players to their roster, but they'll come via trades or minor league signings.
- A Twins official tells Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (via Twitter) that he doesn't see the club getting in on free agent bats Stephen Drew and Nelson Cruz. Minnesota has money to spend but the draft pick compensation that is required to sign them is an issue.
- Longtime Brewer Corey Hart took out a full-page ad in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to thank the city for its support, Big League Stew's Mark Townsend notes. Hart is headed to Seattle after agreeing to a one-year deal with the Mariners that reportedly guarantees him $6MM.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
Now that the Winter Meetings are over, here are the top ten remaining free agents from Tim Dierkes' Top 50 list, with updates on each.
3. Shin-Soo Choo. The acquisitions of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran by the Yankees, Curtis Granderson by the Mets and Corey Hart and Logan Morrison by the Mariners have helped define the market for Choo. One report recently indicated he Rangers had a seven-year offer on the table. Not everyone agreed, but in any case, the Rangers remain interested. The Astros, Diamondbacks and Reds do not appear to be in the mix. The Tigers could be another possibility, although ESPN's Jerry Crasnick recently wrote that their acquisition of Rajai Davis ruled them out.
5. Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka's status will likely become clearer once an agreement on the posting system is ratified tomorrow. If Rakuten decides to post Tanaka, the Diamondbacks could be serious suitors, as could the Cubs. Tanaka is also the Yankees' "top choice." The Dodgers might also be a possibility, but their interest doesn't appear to be as strong as expected.
6. Ervin Santana. The Tigers are reportedly interested in Santana, and the Diamondbacks have met with his agent. The Mets probably dropped out of the race when they agreed to terms with Bartolo Colon. The Yankees do not appear to be interested.
7. Matt Garza. Unlike Santana, Garza didn't receive a qualifying offer, which may improve his market, since teams won't have to worry about losing a draft pick. The Angels and Twins have been connected to Garza, although Angels GM Jerry Dipoto says his team doesn't have an offer out for Garza, and the Twins don't want to give Garza a four- or five-year deal. The Diamondbacks have repeatedly been connected to Garza, and Arizona could be a good landing spot, particularly if the D'Backs don't come up with Tanaka or Santana.
9. A.J. Burnett. The Pirates still believe Burnett is deciding between re-signing with them or retiring, although the Orioles have shown interest, and Burnett's offseason home is in Maryland. It's been almost two months since Burnett said he would take "a week or so" to decide whether to continue playing or retire.
11. Ubaldo Jimenez. The Indians want Jimenez to return, but it's unclear whether they'll make a big enough commitment to re-sign him. The Orioles might also be a possibility. Note that the last five names on this list are pitchers — with Tanaka unable to sign, Burnett a question mark, and David Price and Jeff Samardzija looming on the trade market, the free-agent market for pitching has been slow to develop.
14. Stephen Drew. Drew and Jhonny Peralta were the only big names on the shortstop market, and Peralta has already signed with the Cardinals, so Drew is a huge fish in a tiny pond. The Yankees need a second baseman after Robinson Cano and Omar Infante signed elsewhere, and a return to the Red Sox would still make sense, with Drew at shortstop and Xander Bogaerts at third. The Mets don't seem to be serious contenders.
17. Nelson Cruz. Cruz rejected a qualifying offer and is reportedly looking for a deal that pays $16MM or more a year, which may be a lot to player with limited defensive ability and scary offensive indicators. Cruz wants the Rangers to offer a three-year deal, but so far, they're only offering two. The Mariners continue to be connected to Cruz, even after adding Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.
23. Bronson Arroyo. Four teams have reportedly offered Arroyo two-year deals, but Arroyo, like Cruz, seems to be holding out for three. The Twins are still a possibility even after their signings of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and their re-signing of Mike Pelfrey. The Mets and Reds are contenders as well.
25. Grant Balfour. The Indians just agreed to terms with John Axford, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports noted (via Twitter) that one likely scenario for the rest of the bullpen market had Joaquin Benoit going to the Padres and Balfour heading to the Orioles. The Boston Herald's Jen Royle, meanwhile, reports that the Orioles have offered Balfour a three-year deal, but Balfour wants three years with a vesting option (Twitter links). In any case, the Orioles look like Balfour's most serious suitors by far right now, although Royle suggests the Mariners could also come into play.