What a difference ten days can make. The Orioles certainly have delayed the gratification for their fans this off-season in terms of acquisitions. The latest in a bevy of recent multi-million dollar deals brings OF Nelson Cruz, who according to reports has agreed to a one year $8 million contract with some incentives. Cruz underwent his physical Sunday and the club should announce the signing shortly.
Cruz is not a player that particularly interested me earlier this off-season. He was reportedly seeking a multiyear contract with an average annual salary around $14 million, if not greater. Both numbers are too high for a player of Nelson Cruz’s ilk, especially considering the abandoning of a draft pick went right alongside the money. However, Cruz got one year and $8 million and the Orioles only had to relinquish a 2nd round pick in the transaction. There are essentially no bad one year deals. With the equation altered the balance needs to be reconsidered.
Nelson Cruz is not a great player. His defensive abilities, while never good, have diminished so greatly advanced statistics are not needed to describe it. If Cruz’s feet ever touch the outfield grass it will be a mistake. His speed, never great, has also reduced to such a large extent that it is a non-existent part of his game as well. The only baseball left in Nelson Cruz is contained wholly within his bat.
Cruz’s offensive game should seem very familiar to Orioles fans. Last season Cruz struck out 23.9% of the time good for 28th out of 170 batters with at least 450 plate appearances and he walked only a below average 7.7% of the time. These numbers are in line with his career numbers. He had a sky high HR/FB rate last season and a near career low line drive rate. Also, he has shown some heavy home/away splits—although that should be mitigated some by the right handed friendly Camden Yards. Cruz’s lone bright spot in his offensive game is his electric power numbers. He was 9th in the majors last season with a .240 ISO and has a career .495 slugging percentage. So Cruz strikes out a lot, walks a little, and hits for power. Is anything sounding familiar yet?
There are very clear negatives with Cruz. These negatives have been documented. However, Cruz’s power will play at Camden and in the Orioles lineup. He provides a decent full time DH candidate that will produce more value than any platoon combination that the Orioles were going to come up with. Furthermore, this gives Buck and Duquette more flexibility at the bottom end of the roster and allows some younger players some seasoning in the minors.
The most interesting aspect of this contract is the relinquishing of the second round pick. The signing of Ubaldo Jimenez, discussed here, created a situation in which Nelson Cruz had greater value to the Orioles than other teams. An interesting little consequence of the draft pick compensation system is that it makes teams that have already lost their first round pick a sort of secondary market for players with compensation looming over them. This is how Nelson Cruz fell into the Orioles lap on a cheap one year deal. If Cruz rakes next year, the Orioles can get a draft pick back, if not they can let him go at no cost. This move makes the team better today—and with a win-now mode fully engaged—that is what matters most.