Shin-Soo Choo is now a Texas Ranger ... the baseball variety, of course -- he hasn't been issued a rifle or a palomino yet or anything. The Rangers recently held a press conference at the Ballpark in Arlington to introduce Choo, touting him as the club's new leadoff hitter and starting left fielder.
The stitches in Choo's new uniform aren't even taut yet, but his jersey is already expelling wardrobe-related tremors throughout the baseball community. If that number on the back looks familiar, that's because it used to belong to Nelson Cruz.
About nine minutes after tweeting that photo from the presser, ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett chirped out another useful little bit of information:
#Rangers GM Jon Daniels said he called Nelson Cruz and agent and expressed club's thanks, but expects him to sign elsewhere.— Richard Durrett (@espn_durrett) December 27, 2013
That's not an expectation. That's a guarantee.
Nelson Cruz will not be a Ranger in 2014.
So, what will he be?
A vagrant? A crime-fighting Shaolin monk? A Seattle Mariner?
It might be easier to start with what he will not be. There's almost no way Cruz will be worth the 4-year, $75 million deal he's reportedly seeking. He might not even be worth half that amount. FanGraphs has a handy scale they use to convert wins above replacement to dollars figures based on what a player would be worth as a free agent. According to their estimations, Cruz' contribution of 3.9 wins over the last three years was worth $18.3 million -- total. That works out to just over $6 million per season, or about a third of what he asking for on the open market.
It's not surprising that the Rangers have decided to move on from Cruz. Under general manager Jon Daniels, the club has consistently benefited from an impeccable ability to anticipate peaks in player performance. They've seen guys like Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and Joe Nathan explode in Texas -- and they've also been pretty good at finding the right time to say goodbye.
While there might be some sunken costs at the tail end of their commitments to Choo and Fielder, both of those players have performed well above replacement level over the last several seasons.
Cruz has not.
As if his disproportionate demands weren't enough, signing Cruz will also require teams to forfeit a draft pick. The Rangers extended a qualifying offer to Cruz in November. Since he declined, Texas will receive a first round pick as compensation if he signs elsewhere. Being tethered to the loss of a pick has already subdued his market significantly.
Several teams have been rumored to have interest in the 33-year-old this winter.
The Mariners could continue to kick the tires since their first-rounder is protected, but they're flush with bat-only, DH-types after adding Corey Hart and Logan Morrison -- though, that might not stop them.
The Yankees already gave up their first-round pick, but they've already got their fair share of heirloom defensive liabilities in the outfield.
The Rockies, Royals, and Orioles have all popped up on the grapevine, but a variety of complications stand in the way of the Cruz camp fielding serious offers from those clubs. Strangely enough, Oakland showed brief interest -- thanks to Billy Beane's recent infatuation with flyable hitters. Cruz is one of the best hitter's in baseball when it comes to simply putting the ball into the sky (career flyable rate of 43%), but his price tag probably crushed that notion in the end.
Teams in search of a one-dimensional home run threat probably have Cruz at the top of their queue. He's put up a .495 slugging percentage, which is certainly a valuable skill. However, his .327 career on-base percentage and his subpar defense in the outfield limit his overall value considerably.
Not to mention the fact that players like Cruz tend to age poorly.
At his peak, Cruz was a special player. From 2009 to 2010, he was worth nearly eight wins to the Rangers. He hit 55 home runs, drove in over 150 runs, and stole almost 40 bases over that span. But every facet of his game has declined since -- other than the .506 slugging percentage he put up in 2013.
The effect performance-enhancing drugs have on baseball players is a heated polemic, but there's no need to take this outside. Five very simple statements can be applied to Nelson Cruz' involvement with PEDS:
- He admitted to using PEDs after being suspended
- HGH increases muscle mass in human beings
- His slugging and isolated power numbers improved in 2013 despite a decline in almost every other statistical category
- 2013 was a contract year
- He's still adorable
No one really knows whether to not Cruz' boosted slugging was the result of his PED use, but it will be interesting to see if his apparent PED boost results in a lofty payday.
The Rangers have given Cruz a chance to walk the earth in search of that mega-deal elsewhere, but it might take him a while.
Even if he finds a team misguided enough to give it to him, he'll probably still end up looking like a bum.