Saying no to Nelson Cruz

Rob Carr

Considering all the instant "no" reactions to Nelson Cruz shared on this site, it's past time to explain why exactly adding him for anything but a cheap deal is a bad idea.

For all the discussion about Nelson Cruz and the Seattle Mariners, we really haven't talked about him in great depth. Perhaps this is because he's such an obviously overrated player among those that take a deep, advanced look to a player's worth. Maybe it's because I, and much of the community, have been so against him, especially at his initial demands. So much so that I didn't feel the need to continue talking about him as the rumors kept flying out on a weekly basis. Cruz is always mentioned in a "please don't do that" kind of passing around here, but with things coming to a head, it's time to lay out the case for why Nelson Cruz is a bad idea.

Last night saw Jim Bowden say on air that the Mariners were expected to make an offer to Cruz soon, but that's still a rumor. The same kind of rumor that had Cruz turning down $75 million from the Mariners at the winter meetings, something that now looks pretty obviously false. The Mariners and the Orioles (and maybe the Rangers) seem to be the only destinations left for Cruz, and now it seems like the Orioles are focusing their resources towards A.J. Burnett as opposed to Cruz. It's a standoff, with a player who doesn't seem to want to play here and a team that would like him to play here, but not at his asking price.

The case against Cruz is multifaceted, but it's also pretty simple.

Age:

Cruz is 33 and certainly into the decline phase of a normal career arc. While there hasn't been a sign of steep decline on offense yet, it's coming like it does for anyone with his skillset. A multi-year commitment is scary, and anything over two years makes my stomach drop. Guys with power with a bunch of strikeouts doesn't age well, and that's what Cruz brings to the table. He's made it past his prime years so far, but that may have been aided by...

PEDs:

Cruz was slapped with a 50-game ban for PEDs last year. Nobody knows exactly how much he used, for how long he used them, or how much they helped his game. Here's what we know. Nelson Cruz was a good, not great hitter for the last 3 years, and that may or may not have been aided by something he's probably not going to take again. If he does and gets caught, he'll be met with a 100 game ban. It's his ultimate question mark, and probably the primary reason he hasn't gotten the 3-4 year deal he desires.

He's not that great of a hitter:

This is another crucial factor to Nelson Cruz's value. Cruz is often seen as some elite power bat, and it's kind of a myth. He's managed to put up wRC+ of 116, 106, and 122 the last three years - his three year wRC+ is 113. Take a look at the hitters around him in the leaderboards during that time period.

2011-2013 wRC+
Kendrys Morales 117
Jonny Gomes 116
Alex Avila 115
Jonathan Lucroy 114
Shane Victorino 114
Nelson Cruz 114
Howie Kendrick 114
Jason Heyward 113
Will Venable 113
Chris Denorfia 113

There isn't any cherry picking going on here because there doesn't need to be. These are the hitters who surround Cruz with the park-adjusted wRC+, and Cruz has been very underwhelming outside of Arlington. So much so that he's barely been above a replacement-level player away from it, posting a .731 OPS from 2011-2013 compared to .886 at home. You can't simply look at how a player hits away from his home park and project it to his new team, but there's no doubt Cruz would be moving from a ballpark designed for hitters like him to one that has historically murdered hitters like him, even with the fences pulled in. All of this wouldn't be a dealbreaker, except...

He doesn't add value in other ways:

Cruz plays right field almost exclusively, and he's not very good out there. Including costing the Rangers a World Series with his misjudged series-ending ball, Cruz has seen his defense decline with age. After seeing very good defensive metrics until 2010, the last three seasons have all been negative according to both UZR and DRS.

Nelson Cruz, defensive metrics
UZR DRS
2011 -6.2 -5
2012 -3.7 -13
2013 -4.3 -3

No matter what happens, Cruz is not going to be a plus defender at this stage in his career, and it's only going to get worse as he ages. He also adds nothing on the basepaths, posting three straight years of negative baserunning metrics, and he plays a position that's easy to fill.

He's not a great fit:

The Mariners need another outfielder, but they don't need another one who does the same thing as ones they already have in Logan Morrison and Corey Hart - two guys who should be playing DH in 2013, same as Cruz. The Mariners fielded a disastrous defense last year and the results were predictable, and adding Cruz would be doubling down on that same mistake, only with new bodies as opposed to Ibanez and Morse. Adding him would cut into the playing time of Justin Smoak, likely leaving the Mariners with some sort of three players for two spots situation at 1B/DH, though Morrison is likely to see increased time in left. Taking some at-bats away from players and using platoon advantages isn't a bad thing, but it gives the Mariners four players who are severely limited on the diamond.

He costs a draft pick and he probably won't be cheap:

There's a place when signing Nelson Cruz makes some sense. If you look at things critically and project his value on the Mariners to a win or two a year for the next two seasons, handing Cruz a 2 year, $16 million deal is begrudgingly acceptable, even if my projections fall closer to 1 WAR than 2. Three years at $24 million is a bad idea, and four years is out of the question. These projections might not even be on the same planet of what the Mariners and Cruz are discussing. They probably aren't. Johnny Gomes got 2 years, $10 million from Boston in 2013. I'm having a hard time figuring how why Cruz is worth so much more.

It seems like signing Nelson Cruz is inevitable at this point. If there were teams willing to part with outfielders in exchange for Nick Franklin, Justin Smoak, or Dustin Ackley, they would have done so by now. The Mariners clearly aren't getting the kind of package they want in return for their surplus talent, which is probably why they're rumored to be shopping for a pitcher on the trade market as opposed to buying Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana. They haven't used their trade chips at all, but signing Nelson Cruz would be an indication that Franklin is likely to be dealt for pitching as opposed to offense.

If so, it's an understandable dilemma, and I wish that there were other, less dicey outfield options remaining. But there aren't many everyday-type guys remaining. The Mariners will probably end up with Nelson Cruz, and it will probably be for more money than anybody but Cruz wants. In isolation, the Mariners would be far better off spending their available cash on one of the good remaining starting pitchers. If Baltimore lands Burnett and one of Santana/Jimenez signs with Toronto, take a gulp because Cruz might be on his way.

It's a weird feeling. I don't really want Nelson Cruz on the Mariners at most costs for the reasons listed above, but I would understand if they did it anyways. The offseason hasn't gone perfectly, and they're running out of both time and options. Cruz is just kind of there, and he might be there at less than half the cost of his initial demand. At some point, the price to acquire him balances out all the potential downfalls of bringing him on. I suspect my break-even point is a lot lower than the Mariners, but as fans, we should be careful to react to the player and deal together instead of just the player.

That being said,

Please don't do it.

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