A Nelson Cruz alternative

Jared Wickerham

Nelson Cruz has a lot of uncertainty attached to his name. Is there a safer and better player available?

Despite a 4th place finish and a 91 loss season, the Seattle Mariners have gone "all in" and believe themselves to be able to compete in the AL West in the upcoming season. After landing big fish free agent Robinson Cano, it's become no secret that the Seattle Mariners intend to contend this year. Since then they've continued to revamp their lineup with the additions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, as well as shore up their bullpen with signing Fernando Rodney the other day.

As we and the Mariners seem to know, this probably isn't enough. Even with these additions, and full seasons from Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, the M's are maybe a second wild card contender at best. Yet the offseason isn't over and there is plenty of time for the Mariners to add wins between now and Opening Day, namely on the offensive side things. Because of this the Mariners have been linked to Nelson Cruz for seemingly the entire offseason.

While Nelson Cruz would improve the Mariners, the gains he'd provide are likely marginal especially for the price tag associated for his services. Early reports had Cruz seeking around 4 years and $75 million, although that price has undoubtedly dropped by this point in the offseason. However, price isn't as much of an issue here as much as the draft pick compensation it would take to sign him. The Mariners, or whichever team does decide to sign Cruz, will be forfeiting a draft pick in order to so, this isn't anything new, which is likely reason Cruz is still a free agent this late into the offseason.

However, if the Mariners have money to spend, which they seemingly do, and are willing to spend it, there might be a superior alternative to Nelson Cruz in terms of age, talent, and cost. His name being Andre Ethier. Here are Cruz's and Ethier's stats stacked up against each other since 2009.

Name PA BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO Spd BABIP UBR wSB wRC wRAA wOBA wRC+ WAR
Andre Ethier 2992 10.00% 18.00% 0.56 0.282 0.361 0.464 0.824 0.182 2.7 0.320 -1.5 -4.2 430 87.7 0.356 126 13.1
Nelson Cruz 2571 7.90% 21.90% 0.36 0.272 0.331 0.511 0.842 0.239 4.3 0.302 -7.2 2.6 380 85.9 0.36 119 11.8

Cruz has more power, but Ethier has better plate discipline. Outside of those two caveats, they're not too different from each other in terms of overall value. As mentioned earlier, Ethier is also two years younger than Cruz. Furthermore, Ethier's performance has remained relatively steady, posting no lower than a 120 wRC+ and 1.9 fWAR over that time period. Conversely, Cruz has been hampered with injuries and riddled with a PED suspension, the latter being the more prominent. It was only two seasons ago we saw Melky Cabrera resurrect his career, only to get busted for PEDs, then flop in 2013. Could the same hold true for Nelson Cruz? That much is uncertain, but combined with entering the twilight of his career, there's a lot of uncertainty attached to Cruz. All the more reason Andre Ethier might be the smarter decision of the two.

Now I know what you're thinking, "Andre Ethier isn't exactly a bargain either" and yes, I don't disagree. Last offseason, the Dodgers signed him to a 5 year $85 million deal with $17.5 million option in 2018 or 2018 salary guaranteed with 550 plate appearances in 2017 or 1,100 PAs in 2017-18. Via Cot's Contracts. That leaves $71.5 over the next four years or $89 over five years with the option due. That is a lot of money and years, especially for a player who probably maximizes out as a 3 win player, but it might be justifiable for the Mariners.

It's no secret the Dodgers outfield is crowded with Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Carl Crawford coveting three spots. They also have young stud in the making, Joc Pederson waiting in the wings. Moving Kemp or Crawford is probably too much of a financial burden and trading Pederson could prove to be short sighted. The Dodgers also have some uncertainty at second base, a surplus the Mariners do have in Nick Franklin. While they signed Alex Guerrero, he's anything but a sure thing and might need some seasoning. The Dodgers probably wouldn't mind getting out from underneath the Ethier contract either. While alleviating themselves of the full amount is unlikely, it's not a stretch to think they'd be willing to eat around $20 million to get rid of the rest.

With the price of a win is around $6-7 million, Ethier would only need to maintain around 2 wins over the next 4 to 5 seasons to justify the contract. Given Ethier's track record it's not inconceivable, and it's entirely possible the Mariners could end up with surplus value.

One could argue if it's even in the Mariners best interest to spend this money on either player. But after the signing of Cano, Rodney, and Hart they've become pot committed, at this point it's in their best interest to go all in. While Cruz would be an means to that end, he might not be the best. Ethier doesn't come without his flaws, namely his huge platoon split; 142 wRC+ vs righties, 76 wRC+ vs lefties in his career. However, if given the choice between Ethier and Cruz, it's hard to deny Ethier is the superior option.

The odds are still staked against the Mariners. The AL West hasn't gotten any easier, but they're better than they were when the offseason began, which might be all that matters.

...

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Cot's Contracts.

Anthony Joshi-Pawlowic is a contributing writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AJP13237.

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