Nelson Cruz Rumors
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.
The Mariners are one of the winners of the Winter Meetings, John Harper of the New York Daily News writes. Many in baseball have predicted Robinson Cano's 10-year, $240MM deal will end poorly, but the contract will help the Mariners attract other stars and generate fan interest, Harper says. More Saturday night links from baseball's Western divisions:
- The Seattle Times' Ryan Divish has new quotes from Mariners GM Jack Zdurienick on the club's plans for the rest of the offseason. While the Mariners still aim to acquire a right-handed bat, bullpen arms and a back-up catcher, they may have to get creative to do so, Zdurienick says. Nelson Cruz would appear to fit the club's need for right-handed offense, but Divish says he's asking for a deal with a $16-17MM annual salary.
- Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times has high praise for Mark Trumbo's character following the trade that sent the slugger to the Diamondbacks. "I've been a lifelong Angels fan, and in many ways, it has been pretty much all I've known," Trumbo said of the deal. "It'll be a little tough."
- An unnamed Dodgers player told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal (via Twitter) that Juan Uribe is an "amazing teammate and defender who hit [the] organization's biggest [home run] since [Kirk] Gibson." The third baseman, who will reportedly re-up with the Dodgers for two years and $15MM, clubbed a dramatic go-ahead homer that helped the Dodgers clinch the National League Division Series over the Braves this year.
- The Rockies want to add a veteran to their bench, and Michael Young may be available now that the Dodgers have re-signed Uribe, Troy Renck of The Denver Post writes (Sulia link). Young is reporetedly looking for a starting role, however.
- Carlos Gonzalez says he's prepared for an upcoming move to center field, Thomas Harding of MLB.com reports. Gonzalez will shift to center from left following the Rockies' trade of Dexter Fowler to the Astros.
The Rangers made headlines today by selecting Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. Before going on to NFL stardom, Wilson was selected by the Rockies as a second baseman in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, and Colorado retained its rights to Wilson until this morning. Wilson will report to Spring Training and talk to the Rangers' minor leaguers in a motivational capacity. "We decided if he ever wanted to play again, he'd be a guy that we'd want with us," Texas assistant GM A.J. Preller told reporters, including MLB.com's Richard Justice. The Wilson selection isn't a gimmick, ESPN's Richard Durrett writes, and Jon Daniels is excited to have Wilson's winning qualities in the organization, though Daniels stressed that the club isn't trying to distract Wilson from his NFL goals. Here's more out of the AL West...
- Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz remain unsigned, which is good news for the Rangers, ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett writes. The Rangers like both players and are hoping that their asking prices drop the longer they stay on the market. Daniels said that his team's pursuit of Choo was "unchanged" from yesterday.
- There is a chance that Michael Young could rejoin the Rangers if both parties see a fit, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez tweets. Texas dealt its longtime franchise staple to the Phillies last offseason and Young was subsequently dealt to the Dodgers in August.
- Despite recent rumors linking the Angels to Matt Garza and Raul Ibanez, general manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters (including Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times) that his team doesn't have any outstanding offers to free agents.
- In a special piece for FOX Sports, new Mariners first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison wrote about the experience of being traded to a new team. Morrison's piece is particularly fascinating in that it was written prior to the trade that sent him to Seattle. LoMo says he doesn't have any ill feelings toward the Marlins organization, adding that contrary to public opinion, owner Jeffrey Loria was "great and generous" to Morrison and his family. Loria allowed Morrison and his family to use his personal plane to get to Kansas City for the funeral of Morrison's father.
- The Astros spoke to the Marlins about Morrison and also pursued Corey Hart and Mike Morse, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports. Jose Veras rejected the Astros' initial contract offer but the two sides still share a mutual interest in a reunion.
- The Yankees, Indians, Braves, Phillies, Blue Jays, Twins and Indians were all involved in trade talks for Brett Anderson before the Athletics sent the right-hander to the Rockies, writes Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
MLBTR's Mark Polishuk also contributed to this post
4:56pm: The Orioles aren't the team that has offered Balfour a vesting option, tweets Encina.
3:40pm: Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles are one of three teams that has made a two-year offer to Balfour. One team's offer contains a vesting option for a third season, he adds. Connolly isn't sure which team has offered the vesting option, but he gets the sense that it's not the Orioles (Twitter links).
1:45pm: The O's prefer Balfour on a two-year deal, and one other club is still in the mix at this time, tweets Heyman.
12:56pm: Years are the main sticking point in negotiations with Balfour, tweets Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun.
THURSDAY, 11:54am: The Orioles are confident that they can sign Balfour, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
WEDNESDAY: The Orioles have an offer out to reliever Grant Balfour and others as they try to fill four holes in their lineup, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The O's also have an offer out to John Axford, a source tells Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Heyman also notes that Baltimore has talked to Nelson Cruz's agent, but a source tells Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun (via Twitter) that the club hasn't made an offer to him.
Heyman writes that the O's are also in on an unnamed starting pitcher. Baltimore also has to address holes at closer, left field, and at DH. Balfour is their top choice to replace Jim Johnson as a closer with Axford and Chris Perez believed to be secondary options.
As Day Three of the Winter Meetings in Orlando comes to a close, plenty of free agents are still seeking new teams. Here are the latest updates on a few of them:
- Rockies people tell Troy Renck of the Denver Post (Twitter link) that nothing has changed with Nelson Cruz. There's interest in the free agent outfielder, but it's not being characterized as serious at this point.
- The Mariners have been ardent Cruz pursuers from the start of the winter, and one baseball source tells Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com they'll continue to be in the mix for him even after adding Robinson Cano, Corey Hart, and Logan Morrison.
- Teams believe reliever Joaquin Benoit's likeliest destinations are the Indians, Padres, Mariners, Cubs, or Yankees, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
- Agent Scott Boras says client Jose Valverde, who turns 36 in March, intends to continue his big league career and has drawn interest from two big league teams, writes James Schmehl of MLive.com. The Tigers released their former closer in August after his Triple-A reboot didn't go as well as he hoped.
- Earlier in the evening, assistant GM Bobby Evans expressed optimism that San Francisco would find a left fielder by trade or free agency by the day's end, with Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com naming Franklin Gutierrez as a candidate. However, the Giants no longer expect resolution on their left field situation tonight, says Baggarly (via Twitter). The CSN Bay Area scribe also takes a more in-depth look at some of the club's options.
- Catcher Kurt Suzuki is talking with the Rockies, Cubs, and Twins, tweets Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
A look at the AL West..
- The Mariners' plan for Corey Hart is to see time in the outfield and at DH and he's not necessarily slotted for first base despite his knee troubles, tweets Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.
- Astros manager Bo Porter is pushing for Michael Morse in Houston, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Morse is said to be willing to do a one-year deal to re-establish his value.
- Rangers GM Jon Daniels says that he has had a few conversations with Nelson Cruz's agent and will continue to talk with him, tweets Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com.
- The Angels aren't close to any free agents signings, so if Matt Garza is nearing a deal somewhere, it's not with the Halos, tweets Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register.
By participating in the three-team Mark Trumbo trade with the Diamondbacks and Angels, the White Sox hindered their cross-town rivals' hopes of dealing Jeff Samardzija, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. The Diamondbacks have been interested in Samardzija since the summer, and one of the players they dealt in the Trumbo deal, pitcher Tyler Skaggs, would have been a key component of any package strong enough for the Cubs to send Samardzija to the desert. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Wittenmyer also reports that the Cubs haven't yet made an offer to Scott Baker, who worked through an elbow injury and made three late-season starts for the Cubs in 2013. They have, however, talked with his agency. Baker is represented by Octagon.
- The Blue Jays are still prefer not to sign players for more than five years, although, as Sportsnet.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith recently noted (via Twitter), there may be signs that could be softening somewhat. Still, their reluctance removes them from the market for top-tier free agents, who usually sign for longer, MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm points out. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos prefers to trading for high-profile players rather than signing them. "There are some players out there in trade that signed long-term contracts, and then a year or two later, they're already getting moved," he says. "That's pretty telling. I still think five years is a long period of time."
- Chisholm also reports that Anthopoulos says that prospects Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman "come up in every trade talk we probably have," due to their relatively close proximity to the Majors. "If you're trying to get a controllable starter, everyone would prefer to get the talent level that's closest," Anthopoulos says.
- Even though the the Royals didn't sign Carlos Beltran, they haven't ruled out the possibility of trading DH Billy Butler, ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets. If they do, they could end up signing Nelson Cruz.
- The Rangers, Mariners and Orioles still appear to have interest in Cruz, Stark tweets, noting that it could still be awhile before Cruz signs.
- The Orioles have also checked in on free agent starting pitcher Bartolo Colon, tweets FOX Sports' Jon Morosi.
- The Yankees, Mets and Padres have asked about Dustin Ackley of the Mariners, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets. Ackley, 25, hit .253/.319/.341 in 427 plate appearances in 2013, with his time split between second base and outfield.
- Ten teams are interested in infielder Justin Turner, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes writes (via Twitter). Turner hit .280/.319/.385 in 214 plate appearances and played all four infield position for the Mets in 2013.
- Astros outfielder L.J. Hoes is now represented by MVP Sports Group, Dierkes tweets.