2014 Statistics: .271/.333/.525, 40 HR, 108 RBI, .370 wOBA, 137 wRC+
2015 Age: 34 (will turn 35 on July 1)
The Baltimore Orioles certainly snagged the bargain of the offseason when they signed Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract last offseason. Coming off a 50-game PED suspension, the slugging outfielder got far less interest from teams than as he expected, and so he agreed to go to Baltimore with the hopes of rebuilding his seemingly cratered value. And rebuild it he did. Cruz had a career year in many ways last season, leading the majors (and topping his own personal best) in homers and providing a big bat in the heart of the Orioles lineup. With the seasons of Manny Machado and Matt Wieters cut short, plus Chris Davis’s season from hell, Cruz’s ability to provide some serious pop in the middle of Baltimore’s batting order went a long way to bringing them back to the postseason.
Cruz has been one of the better hitters in the AL for the past few seasons, anchoring the Texas Rangers’ lineup during their recent run of good teams. He is a lifetime .268/.328/.501 hitter with a 122 wRC+ over nine seasons in the big leagues, so his bat will certainly add value to a team. While he is 35 and due for some decline, especially from his 2014 stats, he should be able to give a team 20-25 homers and something around a 110 wRC+ for the next couple seasons. The Yankees were one of the worst offensive teams in the league last year, and they especially lacked anything resembling a solid right-handed bat. At first glance, Cruz might seem like a perfect piece to bolster a weak lineup.
The only problem is that the Yankees are pretty much full up in the outfield. With Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran all under contract for next season, they’d really be adding Cruz to be a DH/fourth outfielder (or slotting Beltran into that role). With Alex Rodriguez coming back, Mark Teixeira’s health an increasingly large question, and Beltran’s own elbow issues, the Yankees already have a lot of people that peg to be DH’ing at least part time. Cruz would only add to that logjam.
There’s also the matter of the money he’s expected to be offered this offseason. After his 2014 season, Cruz will likely get at least a three year offer, and more than likely a four-year deal. MLB Trade Rumors predicts he’ll end up with a 4-year, $70 million contract, $10 million more than what Curtis Granderson got last offseason. He should at least be able to get something close to Granderson’s deal. If he was to take a shorter, more team-friendly contract, it would almost assuredly be to stay in Baltimore. Additionally, with Cruz turning 35 this season and looking for a four year deal, any team that signs him will probably have to endure a couple bad seasons at the end of that contract. The Yankees don’t really need to add any more aging players to big contracts in the hopes that they have a year or two of good play left in them.
While depth never hurts, the Yankees should be focusing on the left side of the infield and the starting rotation this offseason. Paying this much for a fourth outfielder/DH would probably hamper the Yankees’ ability to go after free agents who can fill the real holes the team still has. With the problems in the infield the Yankees have, plus the money and years Cruz will probably command, they would be wise to pass.
Do you think making a play for Cruz is what the Yankees offense needs? Could they sign him and still do enough to answer some of the questions currently filling the infield and rotation?