As of this moment, reports are swirling that the Baltimore Orioles are going to sign Nelson Cruz for a one year, 8 million dollar deal. A steep decline from a qualifying offer he turned down from the Texas Rangers of $14.1 million and a far cry of a rumored $75 million, 4 year deal earlier this offseason. Also, earlier this week, the Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez for a 4 years 50 million dollars contract. As a result two signings they also forfeit their 1st and 2nd round pick for the 2014 First Year Player Draft. So the questions that remain are, "are the Orioles better after these signings?" and "were these the right moves to make"?
The first question is pretty simple. Undoubtedly, the Orioles are better with Jimenez and Cruz than without. Combined they should add around 4-6 wins to the O's, barring the unforeseen. With this addition, the Orioles are around the magic 40 fWAR total as a team, which keeps them in the playoff contention picture. Overcoming the Red Sox, Rays, and possibly the Yankees won't be easy, but they'll definitely be in the picture for a wild card spot.
The addition of Ubaldo Jimenez provides stability and value in an area that the Orioles badly need it. Last year, the Orioles rotation ranked 24th in all of baseball with 7.4 fWAR and led the league with a 1.39 HR/9. To say the least, not that great. While there are concerns about which Ubaldo the Orioles are getting, there is evidence to suggest the "good" Ubaldo is the pick.
As for Cruz, he too will be an upgrade for the Orioles in a place of need. Last year, the Orioles DH spot combined for a paltry 87 +wRC, which tied for dead last with the Yankees. However Cruz too, doesn't come without some issues. Fresh off a 50 game suspension for PEDs, we don't know for certain how long Cruz had been using performance enhancing drugs, nor how much they actually enhanced his performance. With this in mind, the team and fans alike have good reason to be leery about which Nelson Cruz they'll actually be getting. Be that as it may, chances are he's able to improve the Oriole's DH situation.
But were Jimenez and Cruz the right moves to make? Combined the Orioles gets Jimenez and Cruz for 5 years and $58 million. However, I'm not convinced these moves were in the Orioles' best interest. Mainly due to the fact that there were plenty of other alternatives to be had for similar dollar values without the draft pick association. If we assume Jimenez and Cruz will produce around 4-6 fWAR combined, that's not terrible shoes to fill given the past free agent market.
For instance, Matt Garza and Corey Hart combine for 5 years, 56 million dollars. They should be around the same value as Jimenez and Cruz. They fill the same needs, save the picks, and are a little bit cheaper to boot. Perhaps that's too much of an injury risk for you, as fellow contributor Jeff Long points out. If that's the case try Omar Infante and Scott Feldman for 7 years and $60.25 million. Again, similar value and saving the picks for only a tad more than what Jimenez and Cruz were paid. Plus as an added bonus of two more years of team friendly control. While Infante isn't a DH, he'd provide an upgrade at second base and wins are wins, doesn't matter where you get them from. Yes, the Orioles have Johnathon Schoop waiting in the wings, but by signing Infante the Orioles would enhance their win now window as opposed to betting on Schoop.
These are but two examples of how the Orioles could have gotten the same value but for less investment. To name a few more without going in depth that could have worked; Infante/Kazmir, Infante/Burnett, Nolasco/Hart, Kazmir/Hudson/Hart, etc etc. I could keep going on but you get the point. All these combinations are at or around 60 million dollars with no picks attached.
For a mid-market team such as the Orioles, draft picks are that more precious. There's already talk about how much of an impact losing Matt Wieters in 2016 will have on the Orioles outlook. While Wieters isn't amazing, he's a solid everyday player. Now imagine if the Orioles struck gold with either of or maybe even both of the aforementioned picks. They could be losing a ton of value for a short term window that could have been achieved by similar means without the picks. Prospects are far from a guarantee of a sure thing, but they present the greatest opportunity for surplus value. Surplus value is useful to any team, but more so to a mid-market team such as the Orioles. It is essential to fielding a competitive team year in, and out and the Orioles just punted an opportunity away.
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.