Around Where Does Nelson Cruz Start To Make Sense?

Jeff Sullivan · January 18, 2014 at 5:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Here’s a thing about Nelson Cruz: nobody really wants him. Mariners fans have been afraid of the Cruz possibility from the beginning of the offseason, and the rumors haven’t gone away, with Ken Rosenthal chiming in Friday. Nevermind the performance-enhancing drug suspension; Cruz, simply, is overrated by people paid to talk about the game. He turns 34 years old in July and he doesn’t really walk or play defense. People have been terrified that the Mariners would give Cruz the massive contract he entered the offseason looking for.

Here’s another thing about Nelson Cruz: nobody really wants him. It’s the middle of January and Cruz remains a free agent, and he’s a free agent without a strong market. The best fit, at this point, is probably Baltimore, but Baltimore hasn’t done anything. Seattle’s the only other fit, and they haven’t done anything. The Phillies looked obvious from the get-go, but they instead went with Marlon Byrd. Maybe, in the past, Cruz would’ve secured a major payday, but teams are smarter now, and one of the first things smart baseball people learn is that players like Cruz are overrated.

Used to be people talked about five years and $75 million, like Cruz was going to get it from somebody. That would make for a certain disaster. That’s what turned people off from Cruz in the first place, as they wanted to avoid stepping on a landmine. But in reality, the choice isn’t Nelson Cruz for five years, or something else. Cruz will have to play for his best offer, and his best offer is going to be quite a bit lower than the nightmare offer we imagined in November.

Certain players, you don’t want under any circumstances, because they don’t make sense under any circumstances. Yuniesky Betancourt, for one. Yuni sucks, and he’s not getting better, and if you’re in a position where you’re considering a job for Yuniesky Betancourt, you’d be better off giving it to somebody younger. I wouldn’t want the Mariners to sign Betancourt for the league minimum. Other players, you don’t want at high salaries, but you can tolerate for something more reasonable. Any player who makes a positive contribution makes sense at some kind of deal, and Nelson Cruz isn’t a replacement-level outfielder. He’s just overrated and aging.

So as much as we’ve all been afraid of Cruz, we’ve really been afraid of an expensive Cruz. There is a point at which the Mariners could be sensible in signing Cruz to a deal. Even with the lost draft pick. The thing to consider isn’t the player, but the value of the player relative to his contract. Cruz could sign a reasonable contract. And look at the Mariners’ outfield right now. I like Michael Saunders, but he isn’t a star. Dustin Ackley might be charitably referred to as “developing”. Franklin Gutierrez spends half his take-home on bubble wrap. Logan Morrison hasn’t actually been good for years. Corey Hart’s neat, but after surgeries he might be a DH. Abe Almonte is interesting, but unproven and in possession of options. The Mariners have one of the worse projected outfields in the major leagues.

So Cruz could actually be an improvement. Maybe that means you put him in left and you make Hart the regular DH, and Morrison’s around to give breaks to Hart and Justin Smoak. And Cruz, too, for when he’s day-to-day. I don’t know, I’m not worried about the alignment right now. Cruz would probably make the Mariners better. So what would it be worth paying him, in exchange for his making the Mariners better?

The last three years, by FanGraphs, Cruz has been worth about 3.9 WAR. Baseball-Reference says 3.7. Steamer projects Cruz to be worth 1.6 in the coming season. Let’s just call it an easy 1.5. That’s worth about $9 million, flat.

Maybe you bump it to $10 million, given how close the Mariners are to being competitive. Now, there’s the matter of the draft pick. Let’s assume Kendrys Morales does sign somewhere else before June. In that case, the Mariners lose that compensation pick for signing Robinson Cano, and then they’d lose a second-rounder for signing Cruz. The slot value of the pick last year was about $1.2 million. Let’s value that pick at, say, $2 million. That pick could turn into a pretty good prospect. Subtract $2 million from $10 million and you have Cruz making sense at a year and $8 million.

But Cruz would probably like more security. Give him two years. Bump him down to roughly 1 WAR in 2015, because he is getting older, and if his skills don’t decline, he might still become more fragile. There’s, say, $6.5 million of value for a year from now. So we’re up to $14.5 million over two years.

Maybe Cruz wants three? You give him 0.5 WAR in the last year, and that’d be worth something in the neighborhood of $3.5 million. Which would take you up to $18 million over three years. John Buck, as it happens, is coming off a three-year deal worth $18 million. He signed when he was 30, and he’d been worth three or four wins over the previous three years. This offseason, Carlos Ruiz signed for three and $26 million. Scott Feldman signed for three and $30 million. Phil Hughes signed for three and $24 million. James Loney and Jarrod Saltalamacchia signed for three and $21 million. Javier Lopez, Boone Logan, and Joe Smith earned three-year contracts as relievers somehow. Cruz might not love the idea of $18 million over three years, or about $15 million over two, but he isn’t really the guy with the leverage here. He doesn’t have a market, and while he’d fit with the Orioles, the Orioles might prefer Morales, who also doesn’t have a market.

So all that — that would be reasonable. Cruz would make sense around:

  • one year, $8 million
  • two years, $14.5 million
  • three years, $18 million

And these are estimates, so while three years and $20 million would be more than three years and $18 million, that still wouldn’t be terrible. Things start getting messy around three years and $30 million, and you definitely want to avoid a fourth guaranteed year, but even $30 million wouldn’t be a catastrophe, relative to what we expected a few months ago. That might be overpaying by about $4 million a year, but that’s a somewhat small fraction of the budget. Overpaying is seldom a good idea, but there are shades, there are degrees, and Cruz could be an awful lot more overpaid. We thought he would be. It’s not the end of the world to be a little bit off.

Look — gun to my head, I think Abe Almonte might actually be better than Nelson Cruz right now, given their respective overall packages. If that were true, then signing Cruz would be almost a complete waste. But Almonte could be put in Tacoma, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having depth. Depth allows you to re-visit things down the line. I’d love for Almonte to be good — I’d love for all the players to be good — but Almonte doesn’t need to be on the Opening Day roster. He’s not going to start to suck a lot if he isn’t in Seattle in April.

I don’t think I’m ever going to love the idea of the Mariners signing Nelson Cruz. It’s hard to love the idea of a team signing anyone who doesn’t even project to be overall league-average. The last three years, Cruz has been about as valuable as Joe Saunders, and nobody really wants him back. But Cruz could probably improve this team, and this team could absolutely use some improvements. So there’s a price at which Cruz would actually, really, genuinely make sense. With that in mind, I’m not totally opposed to the Mariners going the predictable route. I’m just opposed to them paying too high a toll.

Comments

27 Responses to “Around Where Does Nelson Cruz Start To Make Sense?”

  1. henryv on January 18th, 2014 6:33 pm

    But, dingers!

    Seriously, though, the M’s already have a team of aging, not good defensive players that we might have to put in the OF.

    Seems like there are better places to spend the money. Like a starting pitcher. Or, hell Andres Torres for a few million.

  2. Westside guy on January 18th, 2014 6:51 pm

    With Cruz, I’m at where I was last year as Jack kept bringing on still more bricks – one brick is fine, two bricks can maybe be managed if you’re careful, but three and four bricks are a huge mistake. Five bricks is just out and out stupid.

    Right now, by my count the team already has three bricks. We already know that one of those bricks is going to be playing outfield far too often. Sure, this year’s bricks are a slightly higher quality than last year’s bricks… tell me that matters when you see yet another easy fly make it to the wall for a double.

    Nelson Cruz would be brick number four. He’d also be an indication that Jack Zduriencik hasn’t learned a thing from the stupid moves he made last off-season. I don’t want him here at ANY price.

  3. coreyjro on January 18th, 2014 7:14 pm

    Cruz would definitely help against left handed pitching. Over the last three years he’s tied for 22nd in wRC+ amongst hitters with 200+ PA against left handers. Corey Hart is tied for 7th.

    While his defense is below average, it’s not in the same realm as Ibanez or even Morse.

  4. nathaniel dawson on January 18th, 2014 7:30 pm

    Well said, Jeff.

    I’ve been kind of amazed at how many fans have just said “no way” to the idea of signing Cruz. If a player can help the team, there’s going to be a price at which it makes sense to sign him.

  5. sp_da_man on January 18th, 2014 7:37 pm

    Cruz definitely has his warts but if the price is right then why not explore it? Let’s say he hits .270 with 25 HR’s & 80 RBI’s which he’s capable of. Those #’s would look pretty nice compared to our current projected outfield.

    Ideally one or two years. Three would be pushing it but again, if the price is right then the M’s could deal with it.

  6. GhostofMarinersPast on January 18th, 2014 7:38 pm

    -henryvs

    Just out of curiosity, who exactly are our aged defensively challenged outfielders?

  7. GhostofMarinersPast on January 18th, 2014 7:38 pm

    -henryvs

    Just out of curiosity, who exactly are our aged defensively challenged outfielders?

  8. henryv on January 18th, 2014 9:42 pm

    Corey Hart, Guti (who probably can no longer play center very often), and WFB. On top of that, we’ve got Morrison, who may not be old, but plays in the field like it.

    So, of the the OF’ers almost all of them are at or below average defensively.

  9. ripperlv on January 18th, 2014 10:40 pm

    Exactly. I would hope there are some much better trade options for a real outfielder. Cruz makes no sense even on a discount.

  10. roosevelt on January 18th, 2014 10:53 pm

    Did the M’s lose their first round draft pick (#6)for signing Cano? I thought their first round pick was protected????

  11. ppl on January 19th, 2014 12:40 am

    OF could be a problem in 2014 but I sure do not view Cruz as a solution.

    I would rather see Romero get a chance, Franklin move to the OF or even Avery be in the mix.

    If none of them work out they do not cost very much. If Almonte is a fail also it is better than another lackluster veteran good for very little more than home runs.

    If they are going to add it might as well be a more athletic player who is good defensively.
    Unless they can make a trade for a good front line guy.

  12. Adam S on January 19th, 2014 12:59 am

    I don’t see how Cruz really helps this team enough to pay him more than a couple million, which he won’t take. As noted the OF sucks because we have a bunch of 1.5 WAR players. You can mix and match a bit better with another righty but adding a 1.5 WAR LF so two 1.5 players play half time doesn’t help.

    Given the numbers you’re throwing out, like 2/$14.5, is there any way Cruz doesn’t fire his agent for having him turn down 1/$14?

  13. Milendriel on January 19th, 2014 1:52 am

    Even if Cruz could be had for those prices, there’s still the opportunity cost of not instead signing or trading for a guy who is a better fit for the roster or has actual upside.

  14. maqman on January 19th, 2014 2:18 am

    No way, just say no!

  15. miscreant on January 19th, 2014 10:27 am

    I’d prefer Reed Johnson at a fraction of the price Cruz would demand.

  16. Paul B on January 19th, 2014 3:07 pm

    Anything over 2 years and I will continue to hate on this front office.

    I would rather keep the draft pick.

  17. Westside guy on January 19th, 2014 7:34 pm

    Woo hoo! Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl!!!

    - Sorry. As you were.

  18. TumwaterMike on January 19th, 2014 9:21 pm

    …and the 49ers are going home…whoot, whoot.

  19. californiamariner on January 19th, 2014 9:52 pm

    I agree with the brick analogy Westside guy used. I don’t want to watch another year with 5 guys that should be at 1B/DH. I agree though that Cruz could make the team better at the right price given the injuries/abilities of Hart, Morrison, Smoak. Hart is the only one I’m excited about but there are definite injury questions there.

  20. SeattleSlew on January 20th, 2014 5:38 am

    I would much rather they spend that money on Scott Baker and the bullpen. You can never have too much pitching.

    Hernandez
    Iwakuma
    Scott Baker
    Paxton/Ramirez/Maurer
    Walker

    That would be a really solid rotation.

  21. LongDistance on January 20th, 2014 6:49 am

    SeattleSlew.

    Every day that passes, I’m more and more in agreement with your comment. I’m getting a real feeling they’ve gone to ground for defensive improvement, and we’re now just going into a status quo for 2014.

    At this point, the only thing that can now do more than just crossing fingers or fig leafing the inadequacies and questions concerning the OF (whether looking at the OF either defensively or offensively…argggggh), is pitching.

    Seahawks. Makes you dream. Playoffs 8 of the last 11 seasons. Second time to the Superbowl in ten years. McLoughlin, Schneider and Carroll.

    Evidently, SOMEONE in Seattle knows what they’re doing.

  22. Badbadger on January 20th, 2014 6:51 am

    The thing is, I’m not sure you can just value the second round pick at 2 million. Looking at the history of the M’s second round picks there’s been a lot of busts, but also Brad Miller, Mark Langston, Dave Valle, Eric Hanson, and so on. Last year we got Austin Wilson and I’m not sure I would trade him for Nelson straight up.

    What I’d really like is for the M’s to trade Nick Franklin for a player of similar youth and promise who plays outfield.

  23. Mekias on January 20th, 2014 8:52 am

    Just because Cruz hasn’t signed yet doesn’t mean that baseball people have gotten smarter. It mostly just means that he wanted WAY too much and has had to slowly re-adjust his goals.

    While I completely agree that Cruz isn’t worth more, Cruz (and his agent) would be a laughing stock if he signed for any of the contracts Jeff mentions. My guess is he’ll either take a 1yr/12-14 million deal or a 3yr/30 million deal. I don’t want the Mariners to pay him that much but I’m guessing they would. Someone certainly would. Some GMs are smart but there’s a lot of idiots still out there who “dig the long ball”. Sluggers almost always get paid more than they’re worth.

  24. downwarddog on January 20th, 2014 5:09 pm

    Paying premium dollars to a known cheater whose upside is league average is silly. The moronic construction of this M’s team makes them hard enough to root for, adding a dolt like Cruz will only make matters worse. Meanwhile, I fail to see the logic of comparing Cruz to other sacks of rotten ham who got three year deals – deals that if signed by the M’s would be mocked here.

  25. bookbook on January 20th, 2014 8:23 pm

    I find Jeff’s logic compelling. But then I recall my strong preference that, if we’re punting defense in the outfield, we use that puntage to work Franklin into the mix (either by playing Morrison/Hart in the OF more, or by letting Franklin himself put on a rightfielder’s glove–the man has the arm for SS, just not the range.)

    I really wanted a strong defensive CF as we worked Walker and Paxton into the rotation, but it seems that ship has sailed.

  26. Mariner.lovechild on January 24th, 2014 10:41 am

    My boss at work thinks Cano is a huge improvement solely because he hits home runs, which he insists is what Seattle really needs.

    No, I’m not working for Jack Z, but I can understand the confusion…

    NOW SIGN A DANG STARTING PITCHER!

  27. rightwingrick on January 31st, 2014 1:05 pm

    Uh, the answer is NEVER. Cruz is old, he can’t play defense, he doesn’t hit for power in bigger parks (see statistical data), he doesn’t hit well in SAFECO (.238 career, see statistical data), he has no position flexibility (and the M’s already have a number of these guys)…AND he has a 50-day PED suspension, making his stats even more suspect.

    Why would you even consider signing a guy like that when you could get a much better, more consistent, and younger player, and a switch hitter, in Kendrys Morales???????? WHY ???

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