Offseason Chronicles: Should Texas Re-Sign Nelson Cruz?

ESPN Dallas’s Richard Durrett has a piece up asking the most curious question of Texas’s offseason: Should the Rangers re-sign Nelson Cruz?

In it, there’s a lot of rhetoric about home runs and runs batted in and OPS and oh my god he’s a PED user! How will that affect his stock?! There’s even this mystifying line:

And you could make the argument that Cruz’s value actually increased while he was suspended for 50 games because his team struggled to do much without him in the middle of the lineup in September. 

Wait, what?

2012 Heritage Nelson Cruz Clubhouse Collection jerseyI’ll never understand how — when the Rangers decided the beginning of September would be a good time to go in a dreadful slump — it was suddenly Nelson Cruz’s absence that made it so. That seems like convenient revisionist history.

Remember, when Cruz’s suspension began on July 29th, Texas went on to win 13 of its next 14 games, averaging 5.4 runs per contest in the process. It’s not like they were doomed from the outset. Also keep in mind that the Rangers went 4-11 between June 1st and June 16th, and 3-12 between July 10th and July 26th — and both times Nelson Cruz was healthy and in the middle of the lineup everyday.

In other words, was Cruz’s disappearance from the lineup the reason Texas went 2-12 to begin September, or was it because, quite frankly, the offense was just never all that good in the first place? That is the fundamental question.

I tend to believe in the vagaries of baseball, the ebb and flow of the season; the 2013 Rangers were a frustratingly streaky team, capable of going on extended winning streaks the same as prolonged slumps. That’s baseball. It happens.

But let’s get back to Durrett’s question: Does Cruz’s 50-game suspension actually help his free agent stock?

No. It doesn’t. It doesn’t change the fact that he’s entering into his age-34 season, and it doesn’t change that he’s a good, but not great hitter, whose skill set is fairly limited to offense and only offense at this juncture of his career. We aren’t talking about a DH like David Ortiz (.305/.395/.564, 152 wRC+), who despite being a base-clogger that can’t play defense, still provides an excessive amount of value at the plate; no. We’re talking about a guy who has the ability to hit home runs, but otherwise doesn’t do much of anything. His OBP in 2013 was meh (.327), at best, and his strikeout rates the last three years read: 22.6%, 21.8%, and 23.9%, respectively. Markedly higher than his 18% strikeout rate from 2010, statistically the best season of his career (+4.9 fWAR).

But, Eric, what about his power? That has to account for something, right? Right?!

Kinda, yeah, it does. But does it justify offering a $14 million qualifying offer? Is it possible that Nelson Cruz is a +2.5-win player — what he would have to mathematically produce to earn every cent of that $14 million — if he were to theoretically duplicate his 122 wRC+ campaign from 2013? Because that’s not nearly enough to get it done as a designated hitter.

One thing we know about Jon Daniels and the Rangers’ front office is this: Emotion will not come into play. Only the bottom line. It’s all about dollars and cents, so the fact that Nelson Cruz was suspended for alleged PED use means a helluva lot less than what he could provide offensively for the 2014 club.

The media bakes up a shitstorm about how terrible these PED users are as human beings and how they should never be allowed to step foot again on a major league diamond, but did it affect Bartolo Colon from starting Game 1 of the ALDS against Detroit? Has it stopped Marlon Byrd from driving in critical runs in the NLDS against St. Louis?

Of course not. In Game 163 when the Rangers played Tampa Bay, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington collectively gave Nellie Cruz a raucous standing ovation. If you can produce at the major league level, you will be celebrated. And one way or another, Nelson Cruz is going to get paid this offseason. If not by the Rangers, then somebody else.

The question, then, is not “Should the Rangers re-sign Nelson Cruz?”, but, rather, “Should the Rangers offer him a one-year qualifying offer?” Because we know that Texas would love to have Nellie back — on their terms — and, should they offer him the $14 million QO, it will be with the knowledge that they expect him to decline it so they can recoup a draft pick. And that’s what this comes down to.

If Jon Daniels can get Cruz back on a below-market, two-year deal — let’s say for $16 million — I imagine that would be the organization’s preference. The fear is that Nelson Cruz would actually accept the $14 million qualifying offer, because that would significantly hamstring the franchise’s ability to spend this offseason.

Either way, if Nellie for some reason does not return next year, it will not be the worst thing in the world. Power is a precious commodity in the modern-era, what with how pitching dominates the landscape and what not. However, a player (or, players) who can generate a better on-base percentage, more adept defense, and offer more skill running the bases can more than make up for the perceived hole Nelson Cruz would be leaving in the middle of the order.


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  • primi_timpano

    Not sold on Cruz’s age, fielding, and continued power. There will be a lot of clubs looking for a MOTOB, few FA candidates, and money to spare from the teams who are on the edge of the playoffs or want to stay in.

    • Eric Reining

      This is true, which is why I have a feeling this will be the offseason to ship prospects for a power-hitting outfielder. I have my eyes on Carlos Gonzalez, because the Rockies won’t be competitive any time soon, and the longer they wait to ship Tulo/CarGo, the more they are hurting themselves.

  • caseyabell

    I dunno, if Cruz leaves, Pierzynski leaves, and Moreland gets the heave-ho, that takes away 67 of the Rangers 176 homers this season (and three of their top four home run hitters). Maybe they get McCann or Abreu or somebody else to supply a little pop, maybe they don’t. But after a while, you’ve got to have a few guys who can hit the ball out of the park now and then. It seems like we’re designing a singles-hitting team here, and one that’s not particularly good at even hitting singles.

    By the way, I wouldn’t bet on an aging Beltre hitting thirty homers next year, either.

    • Eric Reining

      Mitch Moreland and A.J. Pierzynski aren’t very good. A.J. finished the year with a sub-.300 OBP, and Mitch Moreland checked in at .299. Home runs aren’t very valuable when you get on base at a .300 clip.

      • caseyabell

        The Rangers team OBP this season was a so-so .323 (seventh in the AL). This isn’t a team that gets on base particularly well, anyway. So now we take away all the power and we’re supposed to score runs?
        If the Rangers had a bunch of guys with .400 OBPs, yeah, you can live without homers. But the Rangers didn’t have anybody with a .400 OBP. They didn’t have anybody with a .380 OBP. There was only one regular player (Beltre) with better than a .350 OBP. And he’s not getting younger, as many have noted.
        Rios (with Texas), Martin and Profar all had OBPs below .320. Yep, it looks like a bunch of guys who don’t hit homers and who don’t get on base all that well. So how do they score runs?

  • P1_Stefen

    Give me a 7 year younger Abreu to build with. I highly doubt this team enters 2014 with roughly the same payroll like JD said. That’s nearly impossible if they want a legitimate World Series contending team. To make matters worse, other than Kershaw, Scherzer, and Bailey (and they’ll all most likely re-sign)… the 2015 free agent class is shit. There’s not 1 position player that would be an upgrade. This is the offseason to spend. I fully expect at least 1 big trade and 2 major FA signings. My preference would be to trade for Stanton/Cargo and sign McCann and Abreu. Like you said, our pitching is great as currently constructed. We need some offense. I’m tired of hearing Yu isn’t an ace when his offense sucks the big one.