In an article I once wrote for Camden Depot not long after Nelson Cruz started his time in Seattle, I cited ZiPS projections for Cruz’s four-year deal. The 50 percent regression point for Cruz’s four-year deal was 4.3 WAR. Not per year. Total. Not only did he clear that in one year, per Baseball Reference, he accumulated 16.8 WAR with the Mariners. He nearly quadrupled his projection! If 4.3 WAR was the 50th percentile outcome, 16.8 WAR had to be at least the 99th percentile outcome. That’s baseball for you.
Cruz was quietly one of the best hitters in baseball during his time in Seattle. He hit .284/.362/.546 with 163 HR. Among players with at least 2,000 PA from 2014-2018, Cruz’s 145 wRC+ is tied with Josh Donaldson and Bryce Harper for the fifth-best in baseball.
Cruz certainly has a very desirable offensive profile that will interest teams. It is arguably the best power bat available in free agency that will not cost a team hundreds of millions of dollars, especially of the right-handed variety.
The problem is that Cruz is 38 years old, and though he can spot start in the outfield, he is DH-only. He has only played a total of nine games in right field over the past two seasons. An NL team could try converting him to first base, but it is a high risk move. If it does not work out, the team will have an expensive pinch-hitter on the bench. Once upon a time that would not be so bad, but with today’s ludicrously large bullpens, a team can’t afford to use a roster spot on a bench player that can’t play multiple positions besides catcher.
If Cruz is forced to play the outfield with any kind of regularity, his bat would have to stay close to its 2018 level to withstand the ~10 runs he is likely to give back in the field. Short of that he probably would not be even an average player overall, similar to what Kyle Schwarber is right now. He has been very durable as a DH, but you would have to wonder how that would hold up for a player in his late thirties playing the field regularly.
Honestly, I can’t imagine him landing anywhere that can’t DH him full time, where he can provide some serious thump in the lineup. The problem is that it severely limits his market. Obviously any NL team would be excluded. Furthermore, teams tend to like to use the DH spot to rotate players in and out if they do not already have a full-time DH.
If they are willing to cut Yonder Alonso, this move actually makes a lot of sense. The team would take a hit defensively from having to play Edwin Encarnación everyday at first base.
I can’t imagine this actually happening. This team is way too cheap. Remember, this is the team that is reportedly looking into trading Corey Kluber, one of the best pitchers in baseball, because he is starting to get expensive, even though it is still a very team friendly deal. They are not going to eat the $9 million left on Alonso’s deal and then commit tens of millions of dollars to Cruz.
This could work if Tyler White is the everyday first baseman. The Astros are all in right now, so I can see them bringing in Cruz even if they have to overpay.
Most other teams with this exact roster would seriously consider Cruz, but as with the A’s, the Rays just don’t spend money. It is pretty unlikely that Ji-Man Choi repeats his .269/.370/.506 batting line with the Rays, but they are the kind of team that prefers to take a chance with a high risk, high reward player.
When the Mariners traded Mike Zunino to Tampa Bay for Mallex Smith, it indicated that they had no intention of rebuilding. Unless the team believes Dan Vogelbach to be a much better hitter than he has been so far, Cruz’s departure leaves a big hole at DH. Cruz would have fulfilled a serious need for a team that hopes to break the league’s longest playoff drought is an easy decision for me. Alas, it is too late for that.
This might still be the best landing spot for Cruz. He fills a need in a place where he seems to have been happy.
All the other AL teams are not close enough to contending to seriously consider Cruz. However, if Cruz’s salary demands are too high, I could see him landing somewhere besides the four teams listed above, albeit on a cheap one-year deal.
Cruz’s bat is legit, but his age and position limitations seriously limit his possible destinations. I would offer a two-year, $30 million deal, but I could be persuaded to go as high as $40 million depending on the need. I would be firm on no more than two years due to his age. I think he gets something closer to $30 million. If he is expecting something close to his last contract, he is going to be disappointed.
A previous version of this article speculated as to why Nelson Cruz did not receive a qualifying offer. It turns out he was not eligible to receive one because he had once gotten one from the Rangers, and a player can’t receive a qualifying offer more than once. We regret this error.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.