The Full Nelson Plan
Now that the Mariners have officially admitted that this season is toast and are looking towards putting a competitive team on the field for the rest of the season while realizing that the playoffs aren’t a reality they can aspire to, I have a pair of suggestions for interim GM Lee Pelekoudas.
The main silver lining in the cloud of a season gone wrong is that you get months to evaluate players at the big league level that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to give full time jobs to. You basically get to use the rest of the year like an extended tryout, and you can take some flyers on guys that may turn out to be useful pieces down the line while other teams focus on squeezing every last win out of their rosters. Now, because the M’s did a pretty terrible job of stocking the Tacoma team with useful minor league veterans, the M’s don’t really have anyone down in Triple-A that they can look at in this way, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have that opportunity.
So, here are a couple of players that you could acquire without giving up the farm, and you could see whether they were pieces that might fit into your plans for 2009.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas
If there’s one thing the Texas Rangers don’t need, it’s an outfielder. With Josh Hamilton, David Murphy, Marlon Byrd, Brandon Boggs, and Frank Catalanatto, they have a crowded group already. They’ve passed over Cruz each time they needed to call up a hitter from Triple-A, and he’s pretty clearly out of their plans. However, he really deserves another look in the big leagues, and he’s doing all he can to make sure that teams take notice while he’s down in the PCL.
He’s currently hitting .356/.459/.712 and owning the title of best hitter in the Pacific Coast League. He’s gotten more selective (16.1% BB%) while maintaining his contact and power, and right now, he’s basically a more polished version of Wladimir Balentien’s skillset. Cruz is, right now, what we want Balentien to become. He turns 28 in a few weeks, so he’s not going to get any better and will likely only have a couple of years to offer a major league club that gives him a real shot, but the M’s shouldn’t walk away from the chance to pick a legitimate power hitting outfielder for nothing and pay him the league minimum for several years.
The A’s and Brewers have hit gold by pulling AAAA sluggers Jack Cust and Russ Branyan out of the minors, and the Mariners have the chance to do the same thing here with Cruz. This is a team that could use outfield depth and real power, and Cruz offers both.
Brad Nelson, 1B, Milwaukee
If there’s a worse organization on earth to be a minor league first baseman in than the Brewers, I’m not sure what it would be. With Prince Fielder entrenched at the major league level, Matt LaPorta coming up behind him, and no DH in the National League, Nelson doesn’t have any real future in Milwaukee. And, at age 25, he has to establish himself as a major league player pretty soon before he gets tagged with the dreaded AAAA player label.
A former top prospect, Nelson has struggled with injuries and inconsistency before re-establishing himself this year as a potential big league hitter. He’s dramatically cut his strikeout rate from 22.1% last year to 14.3% this year, and he’s now drawn more bases on balls than he’s accumulated whiffs. His .312/.423/.514 line shows a player with some real ability, though next to no star potential. As a left-handed hitter with knowledge of the strike zone and some pull power, he’s the kind of first baseman that they should be looking at for the rest of 2008. If he can put together a .270/.350/.450 mark, he’d make himself an option at first base for 2009 and give the team another lefty power bat in the organization.
To acquire Nelson Squared, the team wouldn’t have to part with more than a couple of mid-level prospects, and they have the playing time available to give both looks as everyday players the rest of the season. Cruz and Nelson could easily replace Sexson and Vidro on the roster, with Ibanez shifting to DH, and make the team both better and more interesting for the rest of the year.
You’ve got a chance to take some steps forward, Lee. Bring us a pair of Nelsons and give us a reason to watch this team on a daily basis.