Where Could Nelson Cruz Even Fit?

A few things to know about Nelson Cruz:

  • Cruz is 33 years old
  • He’s coming off a PED suspension
  • The last three years, he’s been worth the same WAR as Sean Rodriguez and John Buck
  • He’s a free agent seeking four or five years and about $15 million per

Cruz’s contract wishes are memorable, in the same way that Ervin Santana‘s nine-figure contract wishes are memorable. Terms players want aren’t necessarily indicative of anything — ultimately, players have to play for what a team is willing to spend. Cruz might very well fall way short of what he came into the offseason seeking. It’s already January, and at least Santana has the excuse that his market has been held up by the Masahiro Tanaka situation. Cruz is just waiting to be bid on, and he doesn’t seem to have too broad a market. And, though we can’t know what his market actually is, we can attempt to determine it from the outside. Below, a quick review of all 30 teams as potential Nelson Cruz landing spots.

For the record, Steamer projects Cruz for more or less the same WAR as Derek Jeter, Nick Markakis, Jurickson Profar, and Alex Rodriguez. Another way of saying the same thing is that Steamer projects Cruz for more or less the same WAR as Gaby Sanchez, Ike Davis, Trevor Plouffe, and Jose Tabata. Steamer projects Cruz for a win and a half, and you hardly have to know anything about baseball to understand that a win and a half isn’t really all that valuable. It’s difficult to identify places where Cruz might be a real short-term upgrade. Let’s go over the teams now, in alphabetical order, and assign a subjective level of fitness. Where are the fits, really?

Angels

  • no real fit

The Angels seem to like Kole Calhoun, and he projects all right, and though Cruz could conceivably be an upgrade on Raul Ibanez at DH, Ibanez just got signed, and the Angels appear low on spending money. They wouldn’t be interested.

Astros

  • stretch

What the Astros don’t have in the outfield is a whole lot of instant quality. They picked up Dexter Fowler, and they were connected to Shin-Soo Choo. But while Cruz might be better than what they have in the corners, what they have in the corners is relatively young, and the Astros aren’t looking to win in 2014, nor are they looking to give up a draft pick for a mediocre veteran. Paying for an extra few dingers wouldn’t make sense.

Athletics

  • no real fit

There might not be a deeper team in baseball than the A’s, so while they were connected to Cruz early on in the offseason, that never made a lot of sense, and it would make even less sense today.

Blue Jays

  • no real fit

Jose Bautista is a good player.

Braves

  • no real fit

Totally full.

Brewers

  • stretch

Really, this is more like no real fit. Cruz might — might — be better than Khris Davis, for now, but the Brewers want to see Davis over a full season, which is why they traded Norichika Aoki. Not a contender.

Cardinals

  • no real fit

As evidenced by the Jhonny Peralta contract, the Cardinals aren’t concerned about PED suspensions, but they are concerned about ability, and they already have lots in the areas where Cruz might play.

Cubs

  • stretch

The Cubs are clearly thin in the outfield, but Nate Schierholtz is kind of underrated, and this isn’t a team looking to win right away. It’s a team that wants to spend wisely and hang on to draft picks, so going after Cruz would be well out of character.

Diamondbacks

  • no real fit

Nothing doing, especially with Cody Ross due back at some point early on. Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock are underrated outfield assets, and the team already traded youth for Mark Trumbo.

Dodgers

  • no real fit

lol

Giants

  • no real fit

Maybe before Michael Morse, but now there’s Michael Morse.

Indians

  • stretch

Cruz might be a step up from David Murphy, but then he might not, and Murphy was just acquired as an intended buy-low. So the Indians seem committed to that idea, and they’re not the kind of team that tends to spend big on players like this.

Mariners

  • stretch

There’s a belief out there that the Mariners signing Cruz is virtually inevitable. They’re definitely interested, but right now there’s Michael Saunders in right and Logan Morrison and Corey Hart in left, and Cruz isn’t really a better player than Saunders, and Morrison can’t move to first as long as Justin Smoak is around. Signing Cruz would require that the Mariners either drop a decent outfielder or move a first baseman. At present, there’s no hole.

Marlins

  • no real fit

Prospects and Giancarlo Stanton. Nowhere to put a new guy.

Mets

  • no real fit

The team’s already invested in Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, so now the outfield’s full. This could’ve worked a while ago, perhaps, but the Mets moved on.

Nationals

  • no real fit

No space.

Orioles

  • decent

So, the Orioles already have Markakis in right. What they don’t have is much of anything in left or at DH, although there’s ability in David Lough and Nolan Reimold. Henry Urrutia doesn’t seem like he’s ready to deliver. The Orioles could make this work, but complicating factors is that they might be a better fit for Kendrys Morales, and he has an even smaller market than Cruz does. If Baltimore were to sign Morales, they’d probably be more likely to remain in-house for left field. And Cruz hasn’t really been a left fielder.

Padres

  • no real fit

Full. More than full, really.

Phillies

  • no real fit

A lot of people figured the Phillies would be the team crazy enough to give Cruz what he wanted, but they signed Marlon Byrd a while ago instead, and Domonic Brown is hanging around for the other corner. Brown’s been involved in trade rumors, but he’s every bit as capable as Cruz, and obviously far younger.

Pirates

  • stretch

Cruz might be a little more appealing than Tabata, but Gregory Polanco is lurking around, and when it comes to Cruz the team says it doesn’t have the money. That could change if Cruz’s price drops far enough, but the Pirates aren’t really a Nelson Cruz kind of team.

Rangers

  • stretch

The Rangers know Cruz better than anyone, but they just signed Choo for a super long time, and Alex Rios is in the other corner with Mitch Moreland at DH. It could be made to work, but there’s less pressure on the Rangers now, with Choo in the fold.

Rays

  • no real fit

The Rays are good and they’re actively trying to trade David Price because he costs too much.

Red Sox

  • no real fit

Team’s fond of Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes.

Reds

  • stretch

The Reds are set in right. They’re less set in left, with Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick, but again, Cruz hasn’t really been a left fielder, and the Reds aren’t flush with spending money. They’d make for a surprising destination.

Rockies

  • stretch

Drew Stubbs isn’t great. Neither is Brandon Barnes, or Charlie Blackmon, or Corey Dickerson. But they all have their selling points, and they’re all currently set to duke it out for left field. The rest of the outfield is blocked.

Royals

  • no real fit

There just isn’t the money left. Or the need. Both kind of critical for a Cruz pursuit.

Tigers

  • stretch

Torii Hunter‘s in right, and he’s locked in, but Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis are set to platoon in left and that’s more underwhelming. But Davis was just acquired, and what Dirks doesn’t provide at the plate, he makes up for in other ways. The Tigers also seem to be around their own spending cap. Cruz probably wouldn’t make this team better.

Twins

  • stretch

The team’s already invested in some veterans for the rotation, but the outfield’s got Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia in the corners, and Willingham’s established while Arcia’s a good young building block. Maybe something could be worked out at DH, but the Twins seem focused on arms. And players that don’t cost picks.

White Sox

  • stretch

Cruz might make the White Sox a little better, but the Sox aren’t thinking about 2014 so much as they’re thinking about 2016 and 2017. On paper, they’re a fit, but they’d be a weird kind of team to spend millions on a short-term power hitter with downside.

Yankees

  • no real fit

The Yankees wouldn’t sign Cruz to block Carlos Beltran or Alfonso Soriano. They also wouldn’t do that to their own luxury tax. So this is a no-go.

There is one team, out of all 30, that might be a decent fit for Nelson Cruz, and that’s Baltimore. The Orioles would like to win soon, and they have the holes on the roster. So far in the offseason, they’ve been remarkably quiet. Yet the in-house options realistically aren’t much worse than Cruz, and the Orioles are also perhaps the only remaining fit for free-agent DH Kendrys Morales. Probably, the Orioles wouldn’t sign both, although I guess it’s not out of the question. But Cruz’s best match is also the best match for another guy, and everybody else is either a stretch or a total no-go. Even the Mariners would have to shake some things up, for as much as they’re fans of Cruz’s kind of skillset.

It’s almost impossible to see Cruz getting his money. There’s simply no need for that sort of desperation. It’s also almost impossible to see Cruz signing as a significant upgrade to a team. The fact of the matter is that, right-handed power be damned, Cruz isn’t particularly valuable, and every team has guys projected to be worth at least about a win or so. So when Cruz does sign, it’ll either be for very little money, or it’ll be a questionable move for a modest upgrade or a non-upgrade. There’s not a single team in baseball right now that ought to see Nelson Cruz as a difference-maker. Because, quite simply, Nelson Cruz isn’t a difference-maker. He’s a half-decent aging outfielder who’s going to cost millions and a draft pick. You won’t find many bigger gaps between name value and real value.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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