Some Thoughts on Nelson Cruz

The free agent signings just keep on coming for the Orioles, as yesterday they officially announced the signing of Nelson CruzCruz agreed to a 1 year, $8 million contract.  The deal has some easy incentives that, if reached, would bring the total to $8.75 million.  By signing Cruz, the Orioles give up their second round draft pick, #55 overall since Cruz rejected the qualifying offer from Texas earlier in the offseason (the Orioles first round draft pick was relinquished when they signed Ubaldo Jimenez).  Cruz is expected to mostly serve as the team’s designated hitter, while spending some occasional time in the outfield, most likely in left.

At least that’s what should happen.  As a pure DH, Cruz probably adds another win or 2 over what the Orioles currently have.  However, if he spends too much time in the outfield, he probably gives a lot of his offensive value back, and would probably end up closer to being replacement level.  Cruz actually used to be a decent outfielder, sporting UZR/150’s ranging anywhere between 7.7 to 12.8 from 2007 to 2010.  However a combination of advancing age and a multitude of leg injuries has basically turned him into a terrible defender who has accumulated -21 Defensive Runs Saved over the last 3 years.  With a plus defender like David Lough already on the roster, there is no reason for Nelson Cruz to step onto the outfield unless there’s an emergency.

As the DH, Cruz will be filling a much-needed weakness of the 2013 Orioles (and presumably the 2014 Orioles prior to his signing).  The table below shows Baltimore’s production from the DH position in 2013, Cruz’s production in 2013, and his projection, according to Zips over at Fangraphs.  It’s obvious that bringing Cruz into the mix in 2014 is a definite upgrade at a position that was in need of one.

Nelson  Cruz

In my opinion, the negatives outweigh the positives when it comes to Nelson Cruz, the baseball player.  He’ll produce runs with the bat, but will give some of them back on the bases and in the field. He has a history of health issues (never playing more than 128 games once since 2009) and is coming off a 50 game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis case.  He also gives the Orioles more of something they already have (power) and without providing something they need (higher OBP).  Additionally, Buster Olney dropped this tweet on us a few days ago…

…which could be an indication that Cruz is losing bat speed, cheating to catch up to fastballs, which leaves him susceptible to off-speed pitches (I thought that I saw somewhere that scouts were seeing decreased bat speed from Cruz, but can’t seem to find where…I’ll link to it later if I find it).

Despite the depressing information I just provided, the fact is that signing Nelson Cruz is a no doubt upgrade for the Orioles at DH in 2014.  That’s one of the good things about this signing.  The other?  Well, it’s only a one-year deal, and there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal.

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