Free Agent to Avoid: Nelson Cruz


Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals will have plenty of options available to sign in free agency that could help improve their roster. There are enough pitchers and position players on the market that the team could pursue several different guys as backup plans. Some of the players could be had at a bargain value, and obviously that is an appealing direction for Dayton Moore to go. Other players may cost a lot of money, but they could still provide enough value to make it a worthwhile signing. Then there are the players who will probably cost too much without bringing enough production to the table. Those are the kinds of players the Royals need to avoid like Alcides Escobar avoids walks. Nelson Cruz is one of those players.

I know what you’re thinking: “But he hits home runs!!” Yes, Cruz does hit home runs, and he hits a lot of them. However, what Cruz does well is likely not enough to outweigh the things he does poorly. Cruz is arguably the worst defensive right fielder in baseball (hilariously bad, in fact), posting a -21 DRS in the last 3 years combined. He also is a terrible baserunner. Fangraphs rates him at being worth 8.1 baserunning runs below average in the last 3 seasons. Those numbers wouldn’t be quite as bad if he accumulated them playing in 3 full years, but due to injuries and a PED suspension, he’s only played in 392 games in that span. That, of course, brings up even more red flags. Cruz has played more than 128 games just once in his 9 year career. He’s also 33 years old, meaning his health has to be questioned even more. Factor in the amount of money it will take to sign Cruz – MLB Trade Rumors predicts he’ll receive a 3 year, $39 million contract – and you can definitely see why the cost will be too steep. I should also mention that because the Rangers extended Cruz a qualifying offer, any team that signs him will be losing a draft pick in the 2014 draft.

And you want to hear the kicker? Cruz isn’t even that great of a hitter.

Cruz is known for his power, which again, he does possess. He hasn’t put up an ISO under .200 since 2007. However, Cruz doesn’t really do anything else offensively. His walk rate isn’t great, and when you combine that with below average contact skills, you end up with a player who doesn’t get on base all that frequently. Because of his shortcomings in that department, Cruz has posted the following wRC+ in his last 3 seasons: 116, 106, 122. While that is solid, look at what the much-maligned Billy Butler has done in the wRC+ during the same timeframe: 120, 138, 116. Then remember that Butler is younger and cheaper.

It should also be noted that an argument could be made that Cruz would be a much lesser hitter outside of the Ballpark in Arlington. For his career, Cruz is a below average hitter away from that hitter’s paradise (.299 OBP, 95 wRC+). And while Kauffman Stadium is a hitter’s park, it suppresses home runs – the one thing Cruz is really good at – so playing in Kansas City likely wouldn’t benefit him.

Add everything together, and you can see why the Royals should look elsewhere to add offensive firepower this winter.