A busy off-season for the Baltimore Orioles became complete on Saturday with the acquisition of outfielder Nelson Cruz. The team signed the former Texas Ranger to a one-year, $8 million dollar contract with up to $750,000 in incentives.
The Cruz signing comes just days after the O’s locked right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year contract worth $50 million. In addition to Jimenez and Cruz, the Orioles off-season also included the signing of South Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon and relief pitcher Ryan Webb, who spent the last three seasons with the Miami Marlins. The Webb signing became even more pertinent for the team after they traded relief pitcher Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for second baseman Jemile Weeks.
Cruz, 33, became a free-agent following the 2013 season after he turned down a reported $14 million dollar qualifying offer to stay in Texas. By turning down this offer from the Rangers, Cruz significantly hurt his free-agent stock because by forfeiting the deal this meant that any team who hoped to sign Cruz would have to give up a top draft pick. However, when the team brought in Jimenez this week they forfeited their first-round pick to the Cleveland Indians. When the team officially signs Cruz, the Orioles will have to give up the 52th overall pick, or a mid second round selection, in the 2014 draft.
The two-time All-Star and 2011 American League Championship MVP spent the past eight seasons in Texas after debuting with the Milwaukee Brewers back in 2005. He is a career .268 hitter with 157 home runs, 489 RBI, an OPS of .823, and over 750 hits. He is also one of seven right-handed hitters to hit at least 20 home runs in each of the past five seasons joining Miguel Cabrera, Matt Holliday, Alfonso Soriano, Mike Napoli, Hunter Pence, and Mark Reynolds (stat courtesy of ESPN.com)
Cruz was the subject of scandal this past season after it was reported that he was linked to a Biogenesis clinic in Miami that provided performance enhancing drugs to several major league players. In August of last season, Cruz accepted a 50 game suspension that held him out of baseball for the remainder of the 2013 season. New Orioles teammates Nick Markakis and Chris Davis have been among the league’s most vocal players about their opposition to the use of performance enhancing drugs. However the right fielder appears as if he will support his new teammate going forward, despite his questionable past.
“It doesn’t change my opinion toward anything,” Markakis said when asked about the acquisition. “But he’s my teammate now, so I have to be a teammate. He’s still going to be welcome here, and we’re going to play as one.”
Even with the PED scandal fresh in everyone’s mind, this signing might prove to be the most important of any player acquisition this off-season.
Even with his offensive numbers likely to resemble those of last season, the Orioles are able to position Cruz in a very dangerous offensive lineup that possess multiple options. With Markakis in right field, the Orioles have All-Star Adam Jones in centerfield and will likely play Cruz as their everyday left fielder with the option of having him at the designated hitter position.
The signing of Cruz greatly benefits first baseman Chris Davis, who hit a club record of 53 home runs last season. Davis is likely to hit between either Cruz and Jones or their All-Star third baseman Manny Machado, making the option to pitch around Davis a difficult decision for their opponents. Baltimore also has J.J Hardy at shortstop and Matt Wieters at catcher making them one of the most versatile offenses in the American League.
Even if Cruz is a shell of his 2010-2011 self, the Orioles greatly benefit from his presence as both an offensive weapon and a veteran leader in their relatively young clubhouse. With the Yankees making significant moves this off-season and the Red Sox coming off a championship year, the Orioles needed to bring Cruz in to stay in contention in a very competitive American League East. The Orioles might not be the favorite to win the AL East by opening day, but you can be assured that Buck Showalter and Crew will contend for the full 162 game season with one of the most intriguing offensive lineups in all of major league baseball.