Saturday, February 22, 2014

Orioles Snag Cruz

Cruz settled for a one-year deal with Baltimore (CBS)
After landing Ubaldo Jimenez earlier this week, the Baltimore Orioles made another splash by inking outfielder Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal today. It's a far cry from the four years and $75 million Cruz was reportedly seeking at the offseason's outset, but it turned out few teams were interested in an aging, one-dimensional corner outfielder coming off a PED suspension.

I was down on Cruz earlier in the winter, but even at that price I have to admit he's an absolute steal. $8 million is a worthwhile gamble to take on a two-time All-Star who's averaged 27 dingers per year over the last five. All he has to do is provide little more than a win above replacement to earn his keep, which shouldn't be too difficult even at age 33. Moving to designated hitter full-time should help him stay healthy (a problem for Cruz in the past) and offset some decline.

What's funny about this move is that the Orioles already have plenty of power. Their 212 home runs were 24 more than any other team launched last year, and their .431 slugging percentage ranked third behind Boston and Detroit. They have the game's top slugger in Chris Davis, who blossomed into a modern-day Babe Ruth, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. They also have Adam Jones, who leads all centerfielders in home runs over the last two years., and J.J. Hardy, who has the most long balls of any shortstop since Opening Day 2011 (both of whom play Gold Glove defense, by the way). Discount the 23 taters Mike Napoli hit last year while manning first base for the Red Sox, and Matt Wieters becomes baseball's best catcher at clearing the fences dating back to the start of the 2011 season.

Baltimore didn't need Nelson Cruz, especially since his natural position of right field is already taken by Nick Markakis. But they got him, at a bargain bin price, no less. Even though they had to sacrifice a draft pick to acquire Cruz, I can't fault Dan Duquette for swinging for the fences and hoping Cruz can do better than past DHs like Luke Scott and Vladimir Guerrero.

The only loser in this deal is Cruz himself, who could have made 75% more money had he not declined the Rangers' qualifying offer of $14.1 million. But given that he's a proven cheater, nobody should feel sorry for him.

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