Monday, December 1, 2014

Nelson Cruz Massive Mistake for Seattle

Cruz rode a career year with the Orioles to a massive payday (NBCDFW)
The Seattle Mariners added some much-needed righthanded thump to their lefty-heavy lineup, signing Nelson Cruz to a four-year deal worth $57 million. Cruz, 34, led the major leagues with 40 home runs last year, 13 of which qualified as "just enough" according to ESPN's home run tracker. He also knocked in 108 runs and was worth 4.7 bWAR en route to a seventh-place MVP finish, the first time in his career he drew MVP votes.

That's way too much for an aging, injury-prone slugger who hardly walks, can't run, and plays abysmal defense. Last year, coming off a PED suspension, Cruz settled for a one-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles. No question he was undervalued at the time. But now, another year older, and he gets four years and almost $60 million? In the same neighborhood as Victor Martinez, a far superior hitter in every sense (but also two years older)? Sounds like an overpay to me.

Cruz re-established his value with a tremendous 2014, but Seattle would be foolish to expect another season like that from the three-time All-Star. He is, after all, past his prime and only once played more than 130 games before suiting up for 159 last year, though that number will be more attainable if he abandons playing the outfield altogether and settles in as Seattle's everyday DH (a likely scenario given Safeco's spacious outfield). His 2014 bWAR total exceeded his total from 2011-2013 combined (4.3 bWAR), reflecting just how much of a fluke last year was for him.

It's going to look even flukier after moving into the hitter's nightmare that is Safeco Field. Cruz has benefitted enormously from friendly home parks in Texas and Baltimore throughout his career, posting an .890 OPS at home compared to .769 on the road. Playing half his games in Seattle, plus more in LA and Oakland, is probably going to push his OPS down to that road figure or possibly below, making him a league average bat with decent power (20-25 homer upside).

Basically, I hate this deal for Seattle because Cruz can only provide value with his bat at this stage in his career, and he's going to a place that suffocates offense. He'll improve Seattle's lineup some, but won't provide an impact worthy of his lavish contract, especially given his durability issues. I think the Mariners will be luck to get 20 bombs and one WAR out of Cruz next year, which would be very valuable given their current position on the win curve. But a few years from now, Cruz won't even be able to give them that, and they're going to regret committing so many years and dollars to an injury-prone, one-dimensional corner outfielder/DH in his mid-thirties.

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