Nelson Cruz remains unsigned and it appears his market is particularly thin. Few teams seem interested in the ex Texas right fielder. Cruz is rumored to still have potential suitors. Texas, Baltimore and Seattle are all rumored to be interested in Cruz. Cruz has reportedly already turned down a sizable contract from Seattle, which leads us to conclude some interesting things about the market for the slugger.
One possibility is that Cruz and his agent badly misplayed his market by turning down a five year, seventy plus million dollar deal. This would be one of, if not the, the biggest errors ever in modern free agency. This could be because they expected more teams to jump in and drive the slugger’s market past the initial offer. This tactic certainly had its merit. Cruz is easily the most powerful hitter on the market and has offered reasonable power production for some time.
A second possibility is that the market for Cruz has shifted for some unknown reason. Perhaps some information about the outfielder, which we are not privy to, has caused teams to cool on Cruz.
Another scenario is that Cruz never truly had an offer from Seattle. The deal could have never existed or could have fallen through much earlier than has been reported. Hot stove rumors should always be treated with some suspicion; they are called rumors after all. The deal could have been a ploy by Cruz’s agent. This seems somewhat unlikely because the Mariners would be likely to deny these reports. This is true unless Seattle felt the Cruz rumors gave them an advantage in the Robinson Cano sweepstakes.
Regardless of which scenario seems most likely the truth is Cruz remains unsigned. There are myriad reasons for this; Cruz is set to decline rapidly at age 33, he is tied to a draft pick, he is a poor defender and strikes out far too much. Few teams are looking for a full time designated hitter. As a DH Cruz’s value would be severely diminished.
The most obvious reason, however, is that Cruz is coming off a suspension for performance enhancing drug use. Other players also suspended last season for drug use found themselves with healthy deals. Jhonny Peralta landed a healthy deal with St. Louis after the same suspension Cruz received. This probably has lead Cruz and his agent to hope for a similarly good deal, possibly even a better deal since Cruz is a better power hitter than Peralta.
The difference between these two players is enormous. Peralta has been a solid offensive player but his power not on Cruz’s level. What we may be observing this offseason is that GMs think Cruz’s success has been more a product of the PEDs than Peralta’s success has. Peralta is a solid power hitter for his position but he also has other offensive skills that may not be as affected by him ceasing to use PEDs. Cruz on the other hand may find that a majority of his power was derived from steroid use.
This would lead to Cruz being a big risk as an already declining player now off steroids. Add in the other factors mentioned early and it is not surprising that Cruz has struggled to find a contract.
Texas should take advantage of the situation. They do not have to pay the penalty of surrendering a draft pick to sign Cruz, although if they sign him they will forgo the draft they would have gotten from another team. Perhaps Texas values the draft pick more than a potentially diminished Cruz but there is an alternate solution.
Give Cruz a pillow contract.
Sign Cruz to a one year deal laden with incentives. This works for both parties. If Cruz flames out Texas only has to suffer one year with Cruz and if the incentives are proper they should minimize the cost. Texas is one of the few teams that could use a right handed DH. It also would give Cruz a chance to reestablish his value. Cruz is not likely to be happy settling for a 3-5 year contract and a limited average annual value. If Cruz believes in himself he is likely to be happy to show what he can do in Texas and look for a better, longer contract after next season. If Cruz is good and leaves then Texas can make a qualifying offer and get their draft pick one year later. It is a win-win situation.