BSL Roundtable: Nelson Cruz Edition

As Spring Training heads into week number two, most teams are getting their workouts in and starting to point towards the beginning of the spring exhibition schedule. The Orioles are no different other than signing their two biggest free agent acquisitions in the past couple of days. General Manager Dan Duquette spent most of the winter receiving some harsh criticism from both fans and analysts. He stayed the course and wound up being able to sign Ubaldo Jimenez to a four year, $50 million deal. It was a deal far below what Jimenez was expecting after a brilliant second half resurgence that led Cleveland Indians into the playoffs.

Duquette reeled in his second big name this weekend by agreeing to a deal with outfielder Nelson Cruz. This deal proved to be far more of a bargain as Cruz agreed to a one year, $8 million contract. The 34 year old is coming off of a 50 game suspension due to PED use. That fact as well as the fact that he would cost any signing team a draft pick dramatically reduced his market considering he is coming off of five consecutive seasons of at least 20 home runs, a career .353 wOBA, and a career wRC+ of 114.

{Discuss your thoughts on the Nelson Cruz signing on the BSL Boards}. 

Some of the Baltimore Sports and Life team shared their thoughts of the Cruz signing and where this leaves the Orioles as they head into the 2014 season.

What are your thoughts on the Cruz signing?

Lance Rinker: The fact that the team signed Cruz to just a one-year deal makes me like it overall. Had this deal been made for more than two years I would have disliked it very much. I do think Cruz brings a good bit of power to the table and should retain that power over the next two years, especially this year for the Orioles, but any contract lasting beyond two years for Cruz would have been a mistake.

Rob Shields: I would rather have Cruz for 1/8 vs a platoon of Young/Pierce/Reimold and Urritia.  Cruz is much more likely to give us positive and above average production than that group.  However, Cruz could see a sharp decline.  He is 33, is coming off the PED suspension and doesn’t have the profile of a guy you would expect to age well.  He has also had a lot of durability issues in his career.  I look at this as Cruz vs Johnson.  I think the pen is more vulnerable than the offense right now and I would rather have Johnson than Cruz.  I also think Johnson is more likely to decline a QO next offseason and net us a pick although I do think it’s close.  All of that being said, he is an upgrade over what we have and after the Ubaldo signing, they are trying to win now, so every “win” you can get does matter.

Patrick Dougherty: Among all QOFAs and even just all FAs this offseason, Cruz was probably the least attractive big name for me. This is already a lineup that smashes the ball and goes through cold streaks. I don’t know if Cruz is a streaky hitter because I haven’t watched him day in and day out, but I know he’s a power hitter and I doubt that we really needed any more of those. Like Rob, I have my doubts about his ability to play a full season. That being said, this is a very short term deal for not as much as I was expecting – and probably not as much as Cruz was expecting when he turned down his QO. Will he be an upgrade over a platoon DH? Probably. Will he be worth $8M more than that platoon? Probably not.

Gary Armida: Other than the salary and the one year commitment, I am not all that bullish on this deal in terms of what Cruz can bring to the Orioles. Aside from all of the typical PED questions, his performance outside of Texas is a big red flag to me. In 400 games in Texas, he is a career .294/.356/.555 hitter. That’s tremendous and a reason why any team would be excited to have him. Outside of Texas, it is a far different story. In 399 games away from Texas, he is a career .242/.299/.435 hitter. That is a huge split. Now, Orioles Park at Camden Yards is a nice hitter’s environment, but in terms of actual production, I don’t expect Cruz to be anywhere close to what we saw in Texas. I would’ve signed Kendrys Morales who has shown the ability to hit in even the worst hitters environments. Is Cruz an upgrade? He probably is. If this were Morales we were talking about, I’d say he was definitely an upgrade. Finally, if Cruz has to play left field much, he takes down one of the Orioles’ biggest strengths, team defense.

There has been some recent talk that the Orioles are still discussing Ervin Santana.  We don’t know if the Cruz signing would halt those talks or if those rumors are even true(some are saying yes, some are saying no).  At this point, would you advocate the signing of Santana?

Rinker: Absolutely. Having too much pitching is something that every major league team strives for and the signing of Ervin Santana would certainly qualify as the Orioles then having too much pitching. He would be a guy that could slot in towards the back-end of the rotation and push the likes of Bud Norris and Zach Britton to the bullpen, further solidifying a starting rotation that still has room for improvement.

Shields: I would sign him now.  He probably gets no more than Ubaldo got and I think there is a good chance he gets less.  He would only cost us a third round pick and signing him allows us to move Norris or Gonzalez to the pen, which right now is the weakest part of the team IMO.  I would like to stay away from guaranteeing that 4th year for him though.

Dougherty: Yes please! Starting pitching has always been the weak link for this group of players. Adding more very good pitchers is always the right thing to do. Jeff said that he looked at a Santana signing as doubling down on the Jimenez bet, since both are inconsistent (albeit in different ways) and that both have had very good and very bad seasons. I agree that Santana will produce similar long-term results, but saying it’s “doubling down” implies that if one goes belly-up, so does the other. Instead, Santana could be, a worst, a “thank goodness we signed this guy” player if Jimenez implodes, or vice versa. I think Rob’s right, that Santana’s cost is going to be similar to that of Jimenez, and don’t see any reason why that price would be too high for the quality of player the team would get.

Armida: If you can get him to sign for what Cruz signed for, great. But, Santana’s love for giving up the home run is scary. He’s a guy who has never posted an ERA near his FIP, meaning he always benefits from team defense. He gives up a little more than a home run per nine innings, and he’s a guy who tends to walk a bunch of hitters. Last season was, by far, his best season in terms of walks allowed. I’m not willing to believe that he can do it again. He is durable and can be a league average pitcher, but if the Orioles have to commit more than one season to him, they should pass.

Besides a potential Santana signing, are there any other upgrades you would like to see before OD starts?

Rinker: Stephen Drew is the last player on the free agent market that I think it would make sense for the Orioles to pursue, as long as he were willing to play second base. I think Ryan Flaherty could certainly break out offensively this season, but I wouldn’t mind having Flaherty get his semi-regular playing time by moving around multiple positions (including DH) and having more of a veteran presence at second base.

Shields: The Orioles have brought in a lot lot cheap arms this off-season.  As I said, I have some worries about the pen, so I would look to upgrade there if guys like Aceves don’t look good.  This is something we have some time to do before Opening Day but I do hope it can be addressed..unless of course, we see some guys really step up (Britton would be an example here).  Also, Yoon and how he looks will obviously be a situation to watch for the pen as well.

Dougherty: Not particularly. They’ve addressed holes in LF and 2B with players that will replicate or better (in my opinion) the performance of the guys they’re replacing. They went out and signed a potentially great starter in Jimenez plus made a low-risk/high-reward play in Yoon. The best young players aren’t being blocked by major contracts at SP or 2B, but the most important positions are pretty well locked down. The bullpen may feel like Russian Roulette, but I bet it falls into place pretty quickly. There are enough good arms to fill in for guys that just don’t perform. This is a solid team on paper.

Armida: At this point, I think Duquette is pretty much done other than maybe some cheap relief pitcher signings like an Oliver Perez (his best overall season was under the guidance of Rick Peterson) or someone like that. Other than that, it’s time to wait for the roster crunch guys who become available later in camp. Despite all the criticism, Dan Duquette waited out the market and did address needs.

What have these recent additions done for the Orioles and their chances for contention?

Rinker: With the additions of Jimenez and Cruz, even if the Orioles are done shopping – which some reports say they are not, the Orioles shot at the postseason went way up. The Jimenez signing helps stabilize a rotation that lacked another top of the rotation type starter to pair with Chris Tillman and the signing of Nelson Cruz turns the Orioles top-10 offense into easily one of the best six or seven offenses in all of baseball.

Shields: I think this is a team, before the recent additions, that was a 500ish team.  Now, I think they are a mid 80s win team and they have some guys with good upside that could propel them into the playoffs.  These signings have certainly increased the chances of playing meaningful baseball in September and October.

Dougherty: I’m going to put the Orioles down for 88 wins in 2014, whereas I had them at .500 before the Jimenez and Cruz signings. Enough to be exciting and meaningful in September but probably on the outside looking in for the playoffs. Our division is just too good to think that fewer than 90 wins would give a team a realistic shot at extra games.

Armida: I’m not sure the Cruz deal has much of an impact, but the Jimenez signing put them back into the pack of possible wild card contenders. Every team in the AL East has questions. The Orioles are no different and I can argue that the Orioles every day starting eight are just as good as the rest of the division, if not better than most. They’ll be in the mix and Duquette will have to show that he can once again add to the team as the season goes along.

 If you had to rank the AL East teams right now, how do you rank them?

Rinker: I still believe that the Rays and Red Sox are the top two teams in the division, but the Red Sox suddenly have a lack of depth in their starting rotation so I believe the Orioles could certainly give them a run for their money and potentially finish second (and earn a wild-card berth). The Yankees are a team on the decline and I would be genuinely surprised if they won more than 84 games this season while the Blue Jays could do about the same or be a sub-.500 team again.

Shields: I still have Tampa #1 but I think Baltimore, NY and Boston are bunched tightly right now.  I give the edge to Boston right now out of that group but I do think it’s pretty close.

Dougherty: Tampa and Boston compete for the top spot, the Yankees and the Orioles fight for third place. The Blue Jays are a distant fifth after the lineup that failed to compete in Miami surprisingly continues to fail to compete in the best division in baseball.

Armida: To me, there’s Tampa and then everyone else. Tampa is my current World Series pick  based on their pitching depth and under the radar offensive additions. Every other team has questions. I don’t see Boston repeating anything they did last year. Their pitching depth is short and questionable. They are starting a couple of rookies and are placing way too much on Jackie Bradley Jr. The Yankees have age concerns. If they stay healthy, they will be dangerous. But, that “if” is awfully big. The Blue Jays are the big question. They loaded up last season, were everyone’s pre-season darlings (not mine) and fell flat. There is talent on that roster. But, they probably fall into that category of being annoying to play, but just fall short of contending. The Orioles are with the Yankees and Red Sox. And, of the three teams, they project to stay the healthiest. It’s a matter of the pitching staff delivering and some rebound years from Markakis, Wieters, and Nelson Cruz. That’s also predicated on guys like Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and JJ Hardy repeating what they did last season.

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About the author


Gary Armida  

Gary Armida is a Father to the best little girl in the world. After that, he is a writer who has been covering Major League Baseball since 2007. During that time, Gary operated FullCountpitch.com, one of the first independent online sites that gained Major League Baseball media credentials. Over the years, he has covered two Winter Meetings and has written feature articles for a variety of outlets while interviewing Major League personnel such as Rick Peterson, Jason Giambi, Zack Wheeler, Jeff Luhnow, Jack Zduriencik, Michael Bourn, and many others. In addition to his work at BSL, Gary contributes to USA Today Sports Weekly and maintains his personal site, garyarmida.com, that serves as his portfolio as well as a place for additional content.


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