Nelson Cruz, free-agent mistake


Over at CBS, Jon Heyman talked to an agent and a GM and asked what they thought various free agents were going to get. It was an interesting approach, and sometimes the agent and GM guesses were wildly different.

Here's the one that stuck out to me:

Nelson Cruz: Interestingly, our agent thinks he grabs the qualifying offer and starts over. The GM and I see some teams looking past his PED suspension to see a consistent power producer. Agent: 1 year, $14.1M (takes qualifying offer). GM: 4 years, $60M. Me: 4 years, $64M.

Those are some substantial differences. I would like to think the agent is right. I'm terrified the market will prove the GM right. If you're looking for free-agent quicksand, you can't do any worse in this market than Nelson Cruz. Let's count the ways Cruz is a bad idea at anything other than the qualifying offer.

1. He's not as good of a hitter as you think

Three simple stats pulled out of context:

2011 513 .263 .312
2012 642 .260 .319
2013 456 .266 .327

The plate appearances tell you he has trouble staying healthy, but that's something for another bullet point. He doesn't hit for contact, and he doesn't have a lot of patience. It takes a ton of power to make up for that. Decent power makes him Jose Guillen at the end of his career. He can't have decent power. Teams would be paying for good-to-excellent power.

He did manage 27 homers and a .506 slugging percentage last year, but here's where the context comes in: He's played in Arlington almost his entire career. What might his career numbers look like with a hitting environment like 2013 Dodger Stadium?

That hitter doesn't get four years and $60 million. That hitter might not get the qualifying offer. If you take anyone's stats and look at them through the prism of a pitcher's park, they look worse. But his power makes up for his OBP and other shortcomings only if you ignore where he plays. Seems like a bad idea to do that.

2. He's not good in the field

I'm not going to embed the video because there are Rangers fans reading this. His non-play at the end of Game 6 is something of a career-defining play, even if that's unfair in some ways.

Beyond that one play, though, he doesn't pass the eyeball test. His marks at the Fans' Scouting Report are poor. UZR doesn't like him. DRS isn't impressed. He doesn't have the arm to make up for even part of the shortcomings.

No, his defense hurts his overall value. So apart from the contact and OBP problems up there, now you have to hope his power will make up for his defense, too.

3. He'll be 33 next year

And you'll have to hope that the health, defense, contact, and OBP problems don't get markedly worse in his age-33, -34, -35, and -36 seasons. You're already hoping for power so prodigious that it makes up for all that, but you'll have to hope that he'll defy the normal aging curve, too.

Here's a list of players younger than 32 who had 25-homer seasons with an OBP below .330. It's a list with a lot of players who didn't age well. Here are the players who maintained that kind of low-OBP success after turning 33. Even the ones who did it multiple times (Joe Carter, Dave Kingman) weren't very valuable.

If you think, "Well, maybe is different," note that this is a five-part list. This is just one of the reasons teams should stay away.

4. His performance might be ... less enhanced, now

Cruz says he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs because he wanted to return from an injury quicker. But what if he needs PEDs to achieve the same numbers that we've been pooh-poohing for the last few paragraphs? What if he needs them to rebound from the little aches and pains better, to feel like a May ballplayer in September, or to add an extra 10 feet to his fly balls?

It's fair to be agnostic about how much PEDs help a player. But it's also fair to be skeptical about Cruz's future production considering his association with PEDs.

5. He'll cost a draft pick

The rock on top of the slurry sundae. You give up the draft pick for the right player. The odds are still good that even Cruz will produce more over the next three years than a first-round pick will ever produce.

Considering the first four points … why? Cruz has been worth four wins combined over the last three years according to both and FanGraphs. There 71 outfielders who were worth more, including Gregor Blanco, Andy Dirks, and Alejandro De Aza. You could probably get those guys cheaper than $60 million.

Again, I'm thinking the four-year guesstimates are wrong. But it's the offseason, and there isn't a lot of power out there. The GM up there might be right. And that's terrifying.

Stay away.

(I hope the GM is Ned Colletti.)

For more on the Rangers and Cruz, please visit Lone Star Ball

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The biggest bargain of the offseason (maybe)

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