As soon as the free agency market opened for the 2014 MLB season, Nelson Cruz and his representatives made it known that he wanted a contract in the ballpark of four years, $75 million.
Cruz has had troubles being offered a contract anywhere near his asking price and at this point in free agency, it seems virtually impossible he will receive one. The fact that a power-hitting outfielder like Cruz is still on the market in late January is most likely due to his refusal to lower his demands to make teams feel more comfortable in signing him. In fact, there are a few more factors hurting the outfielder’s cause as to why he hasn’t found a big-league team to call home for 2014.
Cruz, 33, is coming off a season in which he was suspended 50 games for his part in the Biogenesis scandal. He served his time and paid for his mistakes, but would you pay a guy $75 million fresh off a suspension like that? So far, it seems like the answer to that question from all Major League Baseball clubs is no.
Nelson Cruz’s reputation also seems like it may have taken a slight hit from the whole situation and he will have to earn it back in time. A player that was in a similar situation earlier this off-season much like the one Cruz is currently in is SS Jhonny Peralta. Peralta was also suspended 50 games last season for his involvement in Biogenesis. His value would take a hit, but would eventually receive a four year, $52 million deal from the St. Louis Cardinals this off-season, who were in dire need of a shortstop. The move is considered controversial by many, but if Peralta can prove himself as a productive player while staying clean, it will result in an excellent move in the long run. This shows that it is still plausible Cruz can receive a long-term deal and be given a chance to make an impact, just not in the $75 million range he initially pursued.
Another factor hurting Cruz’s cause is the draft-pick tied to him if signed. We have seen this tag hurt many non-superstar players recently in free agency. Kyle Lohse had the same problem last year, and guys like Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Stephen Drew are being hurt by it this year. Draft picks seem to have immense value for teams that are in rebuilding mode and that seems to hurt non-superstar players like Cruz with compensation tied to them.
Three of the top suitors for Nelson Cruz have made other moves and may not be able to bring him on. The Rangers, for whom Cruz has played his last eight years for, have already made their splash in free agency, signing outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to a seven year, $130 million deal and most likely do not have enough room left to sign Cruz. The Mariners have made a number of different moves, filling holes at first base/designated hitter with the signings of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. They could still make a splash with Cruz, but only for the right price. The Orioles, most likely the best fit left for Cruz, have signed outfielder Delmon Young to a minor-league deal, but that could go either way due to Young’s ineffective defense and lack of speed. Baltimore would be a great fit for Cruz, and if things do work out, Cruz could play outfield with Young at designated hitter.
At the end of the day, this could all come down to the money. Does Cruz give in and sign a three of four year deal in the $40-$50 million range, or does he continue to stand his ground in the $65-$75 million range? Does he sign a short-term one year deal to help a contender and re-establish his value to earn a lucrative deal in 2015? Time will tell as the free agency clock continues to tick on Nelson Cruz. Stay tuned.
Cruz is still one of the best power-hitting outfielders in the league, batting .266 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI in just 109 games last season.