Nelson Cruz Rumors
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...
- 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.
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:
- Other comments from Dombrowski at TigerFest implied that the Tigers won't pursue Nelson Cruz, Beck reports. While smaller, depth-oriented signings are possible, Dombrowski said he'd be "surprised if we made any major moves."
- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki says he's ready to step into a leadership role for the club now that Todd Helton has retired, Thomas Harding of MLB.com reports.
- Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune offers an early look at how new Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller will go about addressing the team's offensive struggles.
- Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego rounded up scouts' comments on the seven-player trade that saw Padres utilityman Logan Forsythe shipped to the Rays. "I would say San Diego gave up some fringe quantity that Tampa has probably liked a lot in the past for better quality," one scout offered. Another labeled minor-leaguers Matt Andriese and Jesse Hahn as "the two biggest X-factors in the trade."
- U-T San Diego's Bill Center grades the Padres' offseason moves, assigning an "A" to the Joaquin Benoit signing.
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.