Perhaps unsurprisingly, the remaining top free agents are ones with a rejected qualifying offer tag attached to them. But unlike Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and possibly even Stephen Drew, Nelson Cruz might have trouble convincing a team without an unprotected pick to sign him.
In part, the lack of interest in Cruz is unjust. The 33-year-old enjoyed a stellar 2013 season, posting a 7.6 percent walk rate, park-adjusted 123 OPS+ and 27 home runs over 456 plate appearances. Cruz also ranks within the top 25 in combined home runs from 2010 to 2013. His 102 home runs over that span are superior to Matt Holliday, Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez’s totals, while tying Evan Longoria’s.
But even with his accomplishments, Cruz might still be forced to take a disappointing contract from a bottom feeder like the Minnesota Twins instead of a contender like the Detroit Tigers. And despite 1500ESPN.com’s Darren Wolfson initially tabbing the Twins as a “long shot” for Cruz's services, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the veteran outfielder doesn’t have a ton of leverage in free agency.
Among teams with protected first-round picks, the Twins' need for a power-hitting outfielder is most glaring.
Twins' outfielders were among the worst, combined, in baseball last season. The Twins witnessed league-worst production in park-adjusted wRC+ (86), batting average (.227) and fWAR (-1.6) in 2013 from their outfielders. So with Josh Willingham, Alex Presley, Oswaldo Arcia and Jason Kubel currently occupying the outfield slots and designated hitter role, respectively, the addition of Cruz’s bat would be more than welcome.
But how would Cruz's home run power translate from Arlington to the comparatively lofty confines of Target Field? According to Hit Tracker Online from ESPN Stats & Information Group, all of Cruz’s 2013 home runs would have actually also left the park in Minnesota:
The weaknesses of Cruz's game are stark, however. Power numbers aside, the Dominican native has proved to be a liability in right field—with all mainstream defensive metrics generating negative production from 2011 to present.
Cruz has also missed significant time throughout his career due to injuries, having only played a full season once, in 2012.
Considering Cruz’s one-dimensional skill set and Scarlet Letter status in free agency, Wolfon projects that the Twins could likely net the veteran for around $10 million per season, over two years. If the market proves to be that slight for the nine-year major leaguer, Cruz and his agent's decision to reject the Texas Rangers’ $14.1 million qualifying offer would obviously be viewed as a grave misread.
With a Steamer-projected 25 home runs and 113 wRC+ for 2014, teams still looking to add offense—even at the expense of a first-round pick—could do a lot worse than Nelson Cruz. But unless a team like the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, or Pittsburgh Pirates become desperate, Cruz will likely end up in the Twin Cities.
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