Earlier today, the Baltimore Orioles signed free agent slugger Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract with $750K in incentives. While the Orioles have been heavily linked to Cruz in recent days, the length and value of the deal comes as a surprise to many, especially considering his previous asking price in the $75 million range.
Thus far, reactions towards the deal have been positive in the Orioles' direction, as he represents a clear upgrade at a relatively cheap price. However, many have also pointed out how the deal represents a clear fault in MLB's qualifying offer system.
ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reports that Cruz declined multiple multi-year offers earlier this offseason:
Execs from rival clubs say Nelson Cruz turned down multiple 2 and 3 yr offers before signing 1-yr deal with #orioles.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) February 22, 2014
In retrospect, Cruz certainly should've taken the Ranger's $14.1 million qualifying offer back in November. A combination of profile question marks and a relative lateness in the offseason have likely cost Cruz tens of millions of dollars.
source says #mariners won't say aloud but were concerned about ballpark switch, PED effect w/ cruz. they like morales more— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) February 22, 2014
Seattle's concerns about Cruz hitting at Safeco Field are well-founded considering he has hit just .239/.299/.442 in a 187 plate appearance sample. While the sample is clearly lacking in size, Cruz appears to have benefitted greatly from the hitter-friendly confines of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, where he is a career .911 OPS hitter. Cruz has struggled in less hitter-friendly environments in his career, with his line at Safeco representing his best performance at any ballpark in which he has played at least 30 career games at. He has been quite successful in a 21 game sample at Camden Yards, where he has hit .333/.368/.481 in 87 plate appearances.
Alderson fine signing Young ($7.25M) rather than wait for Cruz ($8M): "This is not a 'gee whiz if-we-just-waited moment for us.' (cont ..)— David Lennon (@DPLennon) February 22, 2014
More Alderson on Cruz: "He brings power to the table … Doesn’t bring the defense. Doesn’t really have our approach, necessarily."— David Lennon (@DPLennon) February 22, 2014
Alderson is right when it comes to Cruz's one-dimensional approach. The outfielder has cost the Rangers roughly 21 runs on defense over the past three seasons. He's also been incredibly strikeout-prone with a career 22.3% strikeout rate including a 140-strikeout season in 2012.
Our own Chris Cotillo notes Cruz's likely role in Baltimore:
Cruz will likely split time at designated hitter and left field for the Orioles, who brought in a ton of depth options for their outfield this offseason. With Nick Markakis locked into right field for the O's, Nolan Reimold is the leading candidate to see the most time in left field while Cruz is used as the designated hitter.
As it stands right now, Cruz will likely hit 5th in the Orioles' lineup between centerfielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Weiters. The Orioles left field and DH spots should be a rotation consisting of Cruz, Reimold, and the recently acquired David Lough. As Camden Chat points out, Orioles' DH's hit just .245/.293/.405 in 2013, so Cruz should represent a significant upgrade at the position.
ESPN's Keith Law (insider only) saw the deal as a clear win for Baltimore, but a loss for the player's association:
Cruz’s experience also reveals one of the absurdities of the current system of tying certain free agents to draft-pick compensation. MLB is among the best entities in the world at crafting policies that create unintended consequences, and what this silly system has done is given teams that sign one major free agent in an offseason incentive to sign another.
Law points out the incentive for teams to sign multiple draft pick-attached free agents in a single offseason, a strategy that has been used by numerous teams the past two years, including the Yankees (Ellsbury, McCann, and Beltran this year) and Indians (Bourn and Swisher last year). Having signed Ubaldo Jimenez and now Cruz, Baltimore will have to forfeit their first and second round picks in this year's draft. The Orioles essentially punt on one draft to add two above-average big league veterans, who are likely to produce more than an average team's draft class over the course of their deals. The current draft bonus pool system places an emphasis on the value of first round picks, so once they give up that selection, teams are more likely to give up further picks since the compensation cost of a free agent significantly decreases following that first forfeiture.
In response to the signing, MLBPA head Tony Clark expressed his concerns with the current qualifying offer system, stating that the issue will be a "topic of discussion" when the current CBA expires in 2016.
CBS Sports' Dayn Perry believes that Cruz could be "an asset" for the Orioles. He notes that Cruz's damage caused by his glove should be "kept to a spare minimum" if Baltimore follows through on their plans to use him primarily at DH. Perry also adds that Cruz's offensive production could actually see a boost in Baltimore, considering that Camden Yards has recently played as a slightly better environment for right-handed home runs than the Rangers' ballpark.
Finally, Fox Sports' Jon Morosi has an interesting tidbit regarding the Rangers' relatively quiet roster overhaul:
With Nelson Cruz’s departure, Rangers have only 4 players who played in Game 7 of ’11 WS: Andrus, Beltre, Harrison, Ogando. @FOXSports1— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) February 22, 2014