Nelson Cruz Rumors
The Athletics have reached a new lease agreement with O.Co Coliseum that runs through December of 2015, according to an Associated Press report (via ESPN). The A's will pay $1.75MM in each year of the lease. Here are some more links pertaining to baseball's western divisions...
- The Mariners are pursuing both Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran, tweets Buster Olney of ESPN. He wonders -- as many do -- whether or not Seattle will appeal to major free agents, as they've had difficulty luring top hitters there in previous years.
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports definitively writes that the Mariners are interested in Mike Napoli (he'd received conflicting information earlier in the month). Rosenthal also notes the difficulty that the Mariners have had in luring top free agents such as Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder but notes that Seattle could simply overpay to land their free agent targets. Two separate sources called the Mariners "desperate," and as Rosenthal notes: "Desperate teams spend money. Desperate teams are capable of just about anything." Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury are also on the team's wish list, says Rosenthal.
- Also from Rosenthal, the Angels learned that Peter Bourjos didn't have enough value to land them the controllable young starting pitcher they coveted on the trade market, and so they elected to use him to fill another hole -- third base. While many in the media have pegged the deal as a win for the Cardinals, Rosenthal writes that the common perception of Bourjos' value may not line up with the actual perception among teams.
- Lastly from Rosenthal, the Diamondbacks know what it would take to land Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs, but their fear is that if they pounce too soon on a deal, they could miss out on a bigger value later in the offseason. The Angels aren't a fit for Samardzija, Rosenthal adds, because the Cubs want young pitching in exchange for Samardzija.
- The Dodgers' biggest risk in weighing Matt Kemp trades isn't deciding to hang onto him and finding out he's no longer an MVP-caliber player, opines Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports. Rather, the biggest risk facing the Dodgers is learning that Kemp indeed still is that player, but finding out by seeing him prove it in a Mariners, Red Sox or Rangers uniform. Brown feels it's in the Dodgers' best interest to hang onto Kemp.
- Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times tweets that the Angels' acquisition of Fernando Salas and Joe Smith could make Kevin Jepsen a non-tender candidate.
The Mets have reached an agreement with outfielder Chris Young on a one-year deal, but that won't preclude the team from pursuing other outfield options, apparently. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Mets are still in the mix for Nelson Cruz (Twitter link).
Cruz, 33, slashed .266/.327/.506 with 27 homers in 109 games (456 plate appearances) but saw his season cut short by a 50-game suspension due to his involvement with the Biogenesis PED scandal. As I noted in his free agent profile, Cruz was candid about his mistake, admitting that prior to the 2012 season, he had lost nearly 40 pounds as a result of a bacterial infection that led to his usage of a banned substance. He accepted his punishment without appeal.
Cruz rejected a qualifying offer from the Rangers, so the Mets would have to forfeit their second-round pick in order to sign him (their first-round pick is protected). At last week's GM Meetings in Orlando, special assistant J.P. Ricciardi told me that the Mets would be willing to make such a sacrifice for the right player and that the team's highest priority was adding offense. As one of the most powerful bats on the market, Cruz would certainly provide a boost to a Mets team that finished 26th in the Majors in home runs and 29th in slugging percentage.
The latest out of Queens, New York, by way of Orlando, Florida..
- Owner Jeff Wilpon says the Mets have been busy and could have something working later this afternoon, tweets David Lennon of Newsday. He also added that the free agent prices in this market could be "scary."
- Andy Martino of the New York Daily News (on Twitter) says that if something is close with the Mets, it's not with Curtis Granderson since they have yet to meet with his agent.
- Meanwhile, the Mets' interest in Granderson and Nelson Cruz has been overstated, a team insider tells Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. Asked about the Mets enthusiastically being linked to Granderson and Cruz, a team insider said: "I would not believe everything you read."
Executives yesterday predicted a lot of interest in Mets first baseman Ike Davis and that is already taking shape today, according to Marc Carig of Newsday (via Twitter). The Mets and Brewers reportedly discussed a deal involving Davis and earlier today Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that the Astros, Orioles, Rays, and Rockies have also checked in on him.
The Mariners have money to spend and a need for offense. Yesterday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote that the team could be aggressive on free agents Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz, and Mike Napoli. The latest:
- The Mariners' reported interest in Jacoby Ellsbury may be overblown, hears ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. Crasnick wrote earlier than the Ms are more immersed in the Carlos Beltran/Peralta/Kendrys Morales market than in Ellsbury's. The Mariners would like to find a way to add Cruz and Beltran, tweets Crasnick. If they are to pull that off, it could be another offseason of disregarding defense, in my opinion. Signing Cruz and Beltran requires the forfeiture of draft picks, but the Mariners' first rounder is protected. They would lose their second round pick as well as their Competitive Balance Round B pick (similar to the Indians last winter).
A quick look at the latest from the AL and NL West..
- The Mariners have interest in free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, sources tell Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter link). The M's have been expected to be in the hunt for right-handed hitting this winter and one possible target, Marlon Byrd, came off the board earlier today.
The Rockies continue to tell teams that stars Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Michael Cuddyer are unavailable, but they did talk to a couple teams about center fielder Dexter Fowler, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The Cardinals are said to have been one of the teams to call on Fowler, but people close to the situation say there wasn't an apparent match.
- A's pitcher Brett Anderson could hit the trade block and the odds will only increase if Bartolo Colon is retained, writes Heyman. The A's also have starters Sonny Gray. Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, and Tommy Milone. in the fold.
"The expectation is" that the Mariners will target right-handed hitters such as Jhonny Peralta, Marlon Byrd, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz this offseason, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. The M's were particularly weak from the right side of the plate last season and will look to upgrade their right-handed bats, though really, Seattle will look to add hitting in any form. Ken Rosenthal also noted that the Mariners were looking at right-handed hitters earlier this week, though he noted that the M's were in on Napoli. Here's some more news from around the AL West...
- Cruz declined his qualifying offer from the Rangers today and Adam Katz, Cruz's agent, told ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett that he will continue to talk with the team about his client's possible return to Texas. "We've always been engaged with the Rangers and continue to be," Katz said. Durrett notes, the draft pick compensation tied to Cruz may hurt him in free agency, though MLBTR's Steve Adams recently predicted Cruz would find a three-year, $39MM deal on the open market.
- Brian Grieper, Napoli's agent, is scheduled to meet with Rangers GM Jon Daniels during the GM Meetings, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. The Rangers are known to be looking for an upgrade at first base and Napoli, a former Ranger, would definitely fit the bill.
- The Rangers have promoted A.J. Preller to assistant general manager, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports (Twitter link). Preller had previously worked as the team's senior director of player personnel. Texas also named Mike Daly, formerly their director of international scouting, as the franchise's new senior director of minor league operations.
- The Angels have been opposed to going over the luxury tax limit under Arte Moreno's ownership and that's not likely to change, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez writes. Gonzalez also looks at Mark Trumbo trade rumors and a possible Mike Trout extension as part of his all-Angels mailbag.
- In another item from Gonzalez, he speculates about what the Angels might have to give up (and what the Rays might want) in order to facilitate a David Price trade.
- Earlier today on MLBTR we collected another set of AL West notes earlier today on MLBTR, a set of Astros-related notes and learned that the Angels signed Wade LeBlanc to a minor league deal.
Representatives for Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz have informed the club that he will not accept the qualifying offer, a source tells Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram (via Twitter). Cruz had until the 4pm CT deadline to make a decision, but it sounds like he won't be taking things to the wire. The rejection of the QO was widely expected.
The outfielder batted .266/.327/.506 with 27 homers in just 456 plate appearances in 2013. Of course, Cruz missed 50 games thanks to his involvement in the Biogenesis PED scandal. While there are many teams in need of a big bat, Cruz's market could be limited by his defensive shortcomings and age (33). Cruz comes in as the 17th best free agent on Tim Dierkes' top 50 list.
With Cruz off the board, there are now a dozen players with qualifying offers remaining: Carlos Beltran, Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Hiroki Kuroda, Brian McCann, Kendrys Morales, Mike Napoli, and Ervin Santana.
In a special piece for Gammons Daily, Jamey Newberg examines the Rangers disappearance from the international free agent market from 2000 to 2005 and explains how re-entering that market in the middle of the last decade has saved the franchise. Martin Perez signed in 2007 for more money ($580K) than any Rangers international signee had received since 2000. Yesterday, he signed a four-year extension that could total seven years and $32.55MM based on a trio of club options. Here's more on the Rangers...
- Newberg's piece above was inspired by an observation made by Nick J. Faleris of Baseball Prospectus (No. 11 on the list to which I've linked). Faleris points out the savvy nature of the Rangers' 2013-14 international spending spree. The Rangers blew past the new CBA's imposed cap for international free agents on the first day and will face harsh penalties that prevent them from spending more than $250K on a single international free agent next summer. However, starting in next year's international signing period, the penalty for the type of overages the Rangers took on this year doubles. In other words, any team that copies Texas' strategy will have its spending limit handcuffed in the summer of 2015 and the summer of 2016. The Cubs, of course, employed a similarly aggressive method in July.
- Rangers GM Jon Daniels addressed reporters, including MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, earlier today on a number of topics. Daniels said the team is receiving a number of calls on Mitch Moreland from teams that consider him a buy-low candidate. However as Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweeted, Daniels doesn't feel Moreland's power is something he can give up on (Twitter link).
- Also from Sullivan's piece, Daniels said the team has made an offer to right-hander Colby Lewis (presumably a minor league deal), and they've been in contact with Nelson Cruz's agent, Adam Katz. The Rangers fully expect Cruz to decline his qualifying offer.
- Daniels says the Rangers are willing to disucss their middle infield depth with other clubs. Other teams still have high regard for Jurickson Profar, he added.
- ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett also has some intel from Daniels' morning comments. Durrett reports that the team has internally discussed position switches for some of their infielders but has yet to approach any players with the idea.
- Regarding the team's budget, Durrett quotes Daniels: "We have the ability to make the club better. I don’t know that we’re going to be the biggest spenders, but I don’t really want to be. I don’t think that’s the way to build it anyway."
Nelson Cruz was on his way to perhaps the finest offensive season of his career until his connection to the Biogenesis PED scandal resulted in a 50-game suspension that effectively ended his regular season (he did play in the Game 163 tiebreaker against the Rays). While he's served his punishment and isn't at risk of further suspension in 2014, he'll still be somewhat of an uncertainty on the free agent market.
Right-handed power is in short supply, and Cruz has it in spades. He didn't have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title this season, but among free agents with at least 200 plate appearances, Cruz's .240 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) trails only Raul Ibanez's .244. Mike Napoli is often cited as the best source of right-handed pop on the free agent market, but Cruz belongs in the conversation right alongside his former teammate.
Cruz's 27 homers in 2013 are tied with Robinson Cano for second among free agents despite the fact that Cruz totaled just 477 plate appearances this season. Cruz hit 80 homers from 2011-13 -- good for fourth overall among free agents -- despite ranking 30th in plate appearances among qualified free agent hitters in that time.
Cruz has a platoon split for his career but still owns a lifetime .806 OPS against right-handed pitching. In 2013, he actually hit right-handers slightly better than he hit lefties. He also was more effective on the road this season, showing that he has the ability to produce outside of Rangers Ballpark.
This season may have shown that he's capable of hitting on the road, but Cruz's .734 career road OPS is dwarfed by his .912 mark at home. Like many hitters before him, he's thrived at Rangers Ballpark, slashing .294/.356/.555 in 1,589 plate appearances. That .911 OPS in Arlington is 87 points higher than his career mark.
Walks have never been a strong point for Cruz. His 7.6 percent walk rate from 2012-13 is a near mirror image of his 7.9 percent career clip. Coupled with a rising strikeout rate (23.9 percent in 2013) and a 12.5 percent swinging-strike rate (9.3 was league average in 2013), it's safe to say that plate discipline is not an area in which Cruz excels.
It can be argued that a great deal of the value Cruz provides at the plate is given back by shaky work in the outfield. Speed used to be one of Cruz's assets earlier in his career (37 stolen bases and +3.6 runs on the basepaths from 2009-10, per Fangraphs), but his defensive ratings have plummeted with his stolen base totals. Cruz has cost his team between 14 and 21 runs from 2011-13, per Ultimate Zone Rating and The Fielding Bible, respectively. There's likely some correlation between the decline in speed and defensive skills and the four separate DL stints Cruz has had for hamstring-related injuries since 2010.
Cruz was suspended 50 games this season and accepted full responsibiity for his mistake in an interview with reporters, including Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times. Cruz said that he was diagnosed with helicobacter pylori, resulting in a weight loss of nearly 40 pounds, prior to the 2012 season: "Just weeks before I was to report to Spring Training in 2012, I was unsure whether I would be physically able to play. Faced with this situation, I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error."
The Rangers made a qualifying offer to Cruz, meaning he'll be tied to draft pick compensation.The thought of sacrificing a first- or secound-round pick for a 33-year-old outfielder with a slipping defensive reputation is likely somewhat of a deterrent to teams that may show interest.
Cruz is an accomplished two-sport athlete, having played basketball for the Dominican Republic Junior National Team earlier in life. His father played professional baseball in the Dominican Republic, so athleticism is clearly in his genes. He's done quite a bit of charity work, including recent donations to aid in the purchase of fire trucks and ambulances in the city of Las Matas Santa Cruz near his hometown in the Dominican Republic. Cruz and his wife have two children.
Cruz has always been well-liked and well-regarded in the clubhouse, and the Rangers clearly didn't sour on him even after his 50-game suspension. He was welcomed back to the team, and manager Ron Washington offered high praise for Cruz: "When you think about a Nelson Cruz, who wouldn't want a Nelson Cruz? Big heart, great teammate."
Within that same article, Washington voiced a strong desire for Cruz to return in 2014. A midseason acquisition of Alex Rios likely means the Rangers are set in right field; unlike Cruz, Rios is a defensive asset in right. However, the Rangers still have a need in left field and at DH, so a new contract for Cruz could definitely be in the cards.
Outside of the Rangers, the Royals have a clear hole in right field and no prospects to fill it following the trade of Wil Myers. The Pirates could also use a right field upgrade as well after posting a wRC+ of just 99 that was boosted largely by the efforts of the departing Marlon Byrd. The Phillies are known to be looking for a right-handed bat after GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said he doesn't consider Darin Ruf an everyday player, and the Rockies could also look to install Cruz in right field and transition Michael Cuddyer to first base. MLBTR's Zach Links pointed out the slight irony of the D-Backs' need for a power-hitting outfielder recently, and Cruz could fit the bill for them as well. The Mariners, Yankees, Orioles, Mets and Giants, each with corner outfield/DH vacancies and a need for more offense, strike me as fits as well.
Cruz's admitted PED usage was prior to the 2012 season, so while some may question the validity of his monstrous 2013 numbers, it doesn't appear that there's any PED link to this year's performance. Cruz has always shown plus power, and power pays handsomely on the open market. He may be below average defensively, but he's far from the worst outfielder in the league. He should have no problem landing a multiyear deal.
Cruz is among the best right-handed power bats on the market along with Napoli, who Tim Dierkes projected to receive three years and $42MM. Hunter Pence received a five-year, $90MM contract from the Giants, but he's three years younger, a better defender and that was top of the market value. I imagine that agent Adam Katz of the Wasserman Media Group will seek a four-year deal. Given his age, questionable defense and Biogenesis connection, I'm skeptical that four guaranteed years is realistic, though I won't be completely shocked if it happens.
Ultimately, as a reliable source of 25 home runs (at least) from the right side of the dish, my expectation is that Cruz can overcome any perceived warts to find a three-year, $39MM contract.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
MONDAY: The Rangers officially announced that they have issued a qualifying offer to Cruz.
WEDNESDAY: The Rangers will extend a one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offer to free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. General manager Jon Daniels said earlier this month that such a move was likely to happen and now tells Grant that the qualifying offer is "a relatively easy decision" for the team.
"We’d be happy to have him back on a one-year deal. And we’re not prohibited from continuing to talk to him while he sees what the market is. If he signs elsewhere, we get a draft pick that helps us as well," Daniels said.
Cruz is expected to reject the qualifying offer in search of a multiyear commitment after hitting .266/.327/.506 with 27 homers in 456 PA in 2013, roughly matching his average numbers since the start of the 2009 season. His free agent market could be limited by the fact that Cruz is 33 years old, a defensive liability in right field and was suspended for 50 games for his connection to the Biogenesis PED scandal. The draft pick compensation attached to his rejection of a qualifying offer will further limit Cruz's list of suitors, though that could potentially help the Rangers if they make an effort to re-sign him.