TWO GUYS TALKING: Is Nelson Cruz a Realistic Target for RF?

Mike:

The big bat the Mets need? Just a piece of the sliding puzzle? Or none of the above?

The big bat the Mets need? Just a piece of the sliding puzzle? Or none of the above?

It was reported that the Texas Rangers will make a qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz, which means they will receive draft pick compensation if Nelson departs the team as a free agent. If Cruz elects the offer he is entitled to a one year $14.1 million deal from the Rangers. During the last week of 2013 the Mets were in a bizzaro standings battle to finish with a bottom ten record in order to have their pick protected from situations such as Cruz. They were, we now know, up to the task, and can bid on Cruz without that obstacle. We hear Choo’s name much more, but does that make sense? What do you think, Jimmy, should Nelson Cruz be a target?

Jimmy:

Just a quick word about the “qualifying offer,” for any readers who might be unclear. Essentially, after the last Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the requirements for free-agent compensation were overhauled because the old system — with Elias mysteriously slotting free agents into grades A, B, or C — was arcane and preposterous. Let me quote FanGraphs:

“If a team wants compensation for a lost free agent, it must extend to that free agent a qualifying offer. If the player subsequently declines the offer and/or signs with a new team, compensation will be received . . . The qualifying offer is a one-year contract worth the average of the top 125 salaries. This year, that average is $14/1 million . . . . If a player accepts the qualifying offer, that’s it, he’s signed. If a player doesn’t receive a qualifying offer, he’s free to sign anywhere and there’s no compensation to talk about. If a player declines the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, or if a player signs elsewhere within the Acceptance Period, then that’s where compensation becomes a thing.”

Well, to back up, my expectation is that the price for Choo will be too rich for Sandy’s blood. Whereas Cruz sort of fits. The last contract he signed was for two years, $16 million. During that time, he was suspended for PEDs. Sandy likes to shop at Target, not Tiffany’s, and Cruz fits the budget. The Ballpark at Arlington is well-known as a hitter’s park, and Cruz’s three-year home away splits are what you’d expect:

  • Home (2011-13): .279/.340/.546
  • Away (2011-13): .249/.299/.432

That is, at home he’s Edwin Encarnacion; while away he more or less becomes Mitch Moreland. There’s a tendency out there to put too much stock in home/away splits. My unscientific opinion is that the real player is somewhere in the middle. But it’s important to recognize the Mets would not be getting the production he enjoyed hitting in the Rangers’ bandbox. Adjust expectations accordingly. Citi Field is not kind to RH power hitters. However, Cruz crushes LHP (.951 OPS over past 3 seasons) and that’s a significant team need. He’s an authentic threat at the plate; a professional hitter.

Who would you rather have for the next two years? Nelson Cruz or Marlon Byrd?

Mike:

All things being equal, I’d rather have Cruz. They both have the PED background so that is the same either way. With Cruz he will be leaving Arlington and it would be naive to believe that would have no effect. But Byrd has just had a nutty season, he has never done anything like what we saw in 2013. Cruz has an injury history, he misses time every season, but he has put up some real numbers for years. That consistency is worth something.

But that is the rub. That consistency leads me to believe that Cruz will get a three year contract, at a minimum. He already has a qualifying offer for one year at $14.1 million, the bidding starts there. I’ll give my prediction for his contract at three years $40 million. If we want to improve our team by April, 2014, Sandy, Jeff, Fred, and Saul are going to have to be ready to deal with reality. It is not going to be cheap.

When it comes to Byrd, I hope we pass. He was outstanding, and better yet we flipped him for prospects. When you make a killing in the casino you have to be able to walk away or you just lose it all back. That is how I feel about Marlon.

Jimmy:

Because the $14.1 is a somewhat arbitrary number — yes, a team is willing to pay that for one year — I’m not convinced the bidding starts there. Three years at $30 might get it done. Also, we have not yet seen PED guys get much length in their contracts. That’s the real X-factor here. For reference, Melky Cabrera signed a two-year deal with the Blue Jays for $16 million just months after getting caught — and he badly under-performed. Maybe Cruz signs for 2/$24 with another organization. So I’m a little surprised by your 3 year/$40 million number. But you might be right, particularly when we consider the mad, mad, mad, mad world of baseball free agency. (Yeah, as a kid, I loved that movie.)

The mad, mad, mad, mad world of free agency.

The mad, mad, mad, mad world of free agency.

Last year the magic number was $13 million, which is the annual rate the Red Sox paid for Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli (before the medical issue forced new terms), and Ryan Dempster. The guy from that free agent period whom I wanted, by the way, was Jonny Gomes ($5 million). Because, like Cruz, Gomes is a gorilla against LHP.

Six experts over at CBS Sports made their predictions for the big free agents, and Mike Axisa — who? — picked the Mets for Nelson Cruz. Three experts picked the Phillies, with the other two teams listed as potential bidding rivals were the Mariners and the Royals. Times change, but I have a hard time picturing Sandy Alderson competing with any team for a free agent. Obviously, that has to change eventually.

Right?

Right?

Mike, you there?

Mike:

Well, we could also just continue to explore internal options. One thing we know, now, if Abreu played the outfield we would have been all over that like flies on shit. Jeff said so.

Jimmy:

Abreu at $11 million per is looking like a bargain. And if I’m Nelson Cruz, I’d rather hit in Philadelphia than in Flushing, though, I realize, money trumps all.

This sensational clip from “Mad Mad Mad Mad World” is for you, cool cats. Can you dig it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23 comments

  1. Eraff says:

    Interesting stuff….and a Sobering FACT: $14.1 MILLION is the Average of the Top 125…wow…think about THAT!

    When Pondering Player Valuation, there is a very powerful concept of MARKET RATE. The Mets will need to compete in that market to attract and retain actual MLB players.

    ‘m having some difficultly with the idea of RH Power Bats at Citi Field…. especially POWER ONLY Players. The field is specifically unfriendly to Fly Balls. ANY of the outfield spots is a large field to cover—thankfully, RF has shrunken a bit. As for Cruz….. Never more than 90 Ribs…..Played over 128 games ONCE…One Time! The fact is that he’s just NOT THAT good!

    I believe the Mets need to bring guys with CitiField Friendly talents. IF you want a pure power bat, it probably needs to be LH and LF/1b…otherwise, Choo’s 40 doubles and 15 HR’s with some speed and semi-plus Defense are a much better value….. even at the mind boggling $17-20 million per year.

    • Patrick Boegel says:

      Wouldn’t judge him by his RBIs, he mostly hit 5th and 6th on teams with plenty of fire power and the runs were largely dispersed throughout the lineup, he was there depth guy.

      But no argument on games played and whether he even fits Citi.

      I think the Mets have to be thinking more about gap to gap hitters. Guys who can accumulate 60-70 xbhs, maybe of which 15-20 are HRs.

      You have one in Wright. A few more in that mix with a guy like Murphy and hope to hell that you might get something out of Duda or Davis if given one more shot.

      They do need to get somebody RHd though.

      • Eraff says:

        Sure…agreed that we need some RH bats—hoping d’Arnaud is one of them….but I’m skittish of RH POWER ONLY guys at Citi…..admit I don’t know enough of Cruz’s game to know whether he fits the tag. The 90 RBI cap has alot to do with his health…..and the fact that he was not the centerpiece—those two facts say a good bit about him and his value.

        • Patrick Boegel says:

          I think the 90 rbis had more to do with sitting and batting 5th and 6th behind some big run producers ahead of him most years. To some extent yes it is health, but the reality is less about his RBI total and more about how his xbh potential would translate to Citifield. That I think we agree would go poorly.

          • Yes, I tend to look at the triple-slash line more than the counting stats, plus the “three true outcomes”: HR, K, BB.

            That said, I don’t love to see how some folks dismiss RBI completely as contingent. It’s a question of how much emphasis you put on it.

  2. Eraff says:

    This management team has provided scant evidence of an honest intention to operate a winning baseball franchise. They describe their perfect offensive player as “High OBP Rally Continuer”….. they spit on the market valuations of virtually every player who would be a prospective addition to their team. NOBODY is goo enough for them—EVERYBODY is over priced.

    Mr. Choo is by their own definition THEIR MODEL PLAYER. I won’t argue about their concepts, but I’d like to hold them to task on their own words. CHOO is their “perfect player”—– they should step up and get him. He’s young enough with a wide range of skills—he’s a professional hitter, a good fielder and he has some speed. His power and Gap Power fit the park. He’s versatile.

    There is no PERFECT Player—this guy is the LH complement to David Wright—a Professional Ball Player with Gap Power who plays the complete game.

    If there is any “meat” to this Management team, they will step up and get Choo.

    • Patrick Boegel says:

      Agreed, their intentions currently can be described as follows, wagging their finger at other organizations for not being fiscally responsible in the Mets favor.

      But just the very average salary for the top 125 players says it all. I get wanting to be financially savvy and balancing the price structure of your roster, but the Mets are playing the slippery slope game of backing themselves into the prospects or bust zone, much like they did in the mid 1990s.

  3. Alan K. says:

    Great clip of Dick Shawn who I will always remember for his role as LSD in the 1968 film version of the Producers and for literally dying on stage while doing a stand up performance. BTW, agree on Byrd, we should quit while we’re ahead.

    • Thanks, Alan. But I saw it as a clip of Barrie Chase! Seriously, when I think of the mass culture that shaped me, I can imagine a box with four sides: The movies “Great Escape” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” and the television shows, “Batman” and “Star Trek.” If you know those four things — and have a good working knowledge of the Rolling Stones, Beatles, and Bob Dylan — then you pretty much get where I’m coming from.

      One of the weird things about this offseason is that I keep thinking of it as a sliding box puzzle — you know the ones — and yet we don’t know the final picture. Each move effects the next move, and sometimes you go sideways in order to move up.

      Life was simpler when, if you recall, it was the winter of Vladimir Guerrero. Folks just had to line up on one side of that debate (I wanted him, desperately). This year, while it can be argued that Choo is the man, or that Ellsbury is the guy, I don’t feel that way. It’s not a year that hinges on one move, but on a variety of moves. Right now, I think 3 everyday positions are filled: Wright, D’Arnaud, and to a lesser extent, Lagares. Everything else is up in the air. That’s a lot of plates spinning.

  4. RAFF says:

    I could accept Cruz, but I like his late season Roids-Replacement, Alex Rios, better. (I know- he’s a RH bat). I wonder what Texas’ plan is- are they going to put RIOS in Right Field and permanently put Cruz at DH? Maybe they’d like to swing a deal. As far as other BIG lefty Bats- I guess Hunter Pence qualifies- although I think we might be begging for blindfolds (possibly even in front of a firing squad) if we had to watch him get swallowed up in that big outfield. One guy who may be flying under the Radar with a good all around Game is Nate McLouth. I wonder whether Baltimore is actually going to give him a one year offer. He won’t be anybody’s big-sexy-splash. But he’s a good ball-player. He has speed, can steal bases…

  5. RAFF says:

    DUH — Pence is a RH Bat— >>> Anyway…… ;-)

    • Pence signed a big contract, he’s not available. The Rangers can’t trade Cruz, he’s a free agent. If we are going Rios or McLouth, that’s like punting on 3rd down. A quick kick.

      Personally, I can’t at all get into the conversation about “under the radar” guys and “reclamation projects,” though it’s easy to sense that’s where this winter is headed. I just can’t muster the enthusiasm to get into finding the guy who sucked the past two years and maybe could be decent for the Mets in 2014.

      That said: Roy Halladay is an interesting name. I’d kick the tires on that one.

  6. While Cruz would certainly be an upgrade over some of the characters the Mets ran out there last year, I don’t think he’d be worth more than an extra two or three wins over the course of a season. He’s often injured, he’s not a very good defensive outfielder, he’s not much of a base-runner, and he’ll be entering his age 33 season. Also, despite hitting in one of the best hitter’s ballparks in America for his home games over the past several seasons, he’s a career .268 / .327 / .495 guy. If that power should largely disappear at Citi Field, he’s a one-dimensional platoon player. The Mets already have several of those.
    Either take the plunge and go get Choo, or become creative and try to make a deal somewhere else. Cruz is not going to help us win a championship.

    • Well, you are correct about Cruz, but I have trouble with that last sentence. Some stopgap players are necessary, and frankly I think that’s all that’s on Sandy’s mind. As an aside, it’s funny to read everybody fall all over themselves talking about the Red Sox model and signing guys with “character” and doing it without superstars. Comical. Every World Series winner begets a host of imitators; it’s never been a better time to be a mediocre player looking for a 2-3 year deal. They are the new over-valued commodity.

      • Patrick Boegel says:

        The Red Sox model criers completely neglect willingly that they had in hand Ortiz, Ellsbury, Pedroia, Buchholz, Lester, Saltalawhatever, good role players in Nava, even Middlebrooks who had to be sent down. Guys who had achieved good to very good things in the majors.

        For the Mets to even make the leap to a wild cardish playoff team in the way the Red Sox went worst to first, they would need another all-star year from Wright, 150+ games though, growth from Lagares to be at least a competent bat and continued top defense at his position, d’Arnaud would have to somewhat unexpectedly leap to near all-star level and be a top tier offensive catcher. If Murphy stays his numbers need to be closer to 2011 in terms of offensive production pre injury that year, and then if they improved both corners and SS plus got something out of Davis or Duda it is conceivable they could net 85-87 wins.

        From a Mets perspective, here is a scenario worth considering. Sign Drew. Take a stab at Choo see what it costs, maybe it is why to rich for Sandy Alderson’s don’t feed the beast mind set. Perhaps then you can get Granderson as plan B. Then for a righty bat, perhaps the Dodgers can be motivated to move Matt Kemp and eat some of the money he is owed in the process?

        Kemp is a risk with his recent injury history, but perhaps by way of some financial relief the Mets make a risk reward move and can slide Kemp to RF. I’ll leave it to ever holds Sandy’s calculator to cost configure the move.

        The Dodgers are going to need a 2B, also they would likely want a pitcher who is not going to earn 8 figure land salaries.

        • Didn’t follow it closely, but Dodgers recently signed a Cuban 2B, think it was around $28 million for X number of years. I didn’t read up on it.

          • Patrick Boegel says:

            Guerrero has been oddly touted to be 2B given he was a SS in Cuba. I suppose that could be where he plays, but I would think there is just as much likelihood that Ramirez is shifted again to 3B or even Guerrero could be shifted there.

  7. RAFF says:

    Jimmy – I’m with you on the whole “Red Sox Model” farce. It makes for good copy, and a bit of a self-serving self-congratulatory narrative, but it just doesn’t stand up to the facts. They have a payroll in the $150 million range, and they added about $60 million in New Salaries, prior to the Start of the 2013 season. That, coupled with a whole range of Health related and Performance issues in which turned to the positive in 2013 versus 2012 really tells a more accurate story of their turn-around>>-Lester, Lackey, Ortiz, etc… We’ll have a somewhat better picture at day’s-end, when all the Qualifying offers have been tendered, and then we’ll get a much clearer view when the acceptance period reveals who’s actually available in Free Agency. I think that’s Nov 11, yes?

  8. IB says:

    Some real good points here on the Red Sox Model. It does smack of hyper-reality.

    Someone mentioned going after Granderson. I think that would be a fantastic move. A winner, a good guy and a fine ballplayer. Add a quality SS and you’re starting to put a real team together. If only…if only.

  9. IB says:

    And, re. Granderson, he can handle the pressure of NY.
    That’s big.

    • I’m not entirely sure what went wrong for Granderson the last couple of years. Too much power? It used to be that he was terrible against LHP, as I recall, but his 3-year profile shows good overall numbers, though he does K at around a 35% rate against LHP. At the same time, he hangs in, gets his cuts, and goes deep against them, too.

      I think with Sandy we’re going to see him make a choice between what he hates more: paying guys big annual salaries or length of contract. I’m fairly sure that he dislikes long contracts on principle much more than he hates spending money.

  10. IB says:

    You’re right of course. If anyone is willing to give Granderson or Choo or whoever 5-6 years, Alderson folds from that hand. I’m just praying these guys fool everybody and take some expensive long term chances. Who knows.

  11. Eraff says:

    At 17-19 million—-how about Brian McCann for 1b?

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