Former Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz remains a free agent, though not necessarily one that could help the Tigers. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images)
Just say no to Nelson Cruz.
The Tigers just donít need to add him to the roster to compete for a title in 2014 ó not at any price.
Cruz, who was suspended for 50 games in 2013 for his ties to the Biogenesis scandal, reportedly sought a $75 million payday earlier in the offseason. Thatís not going to happen. Sure, Jhonny Peralta got a four-year, $53 million deal after coming off a similar 50-game suspension, but he was a few things Cruz was not: a shortstop who could hit the baseball and hold his own defensively. Those are rare.
Cruz, in turn, is a blooper-reel outfielder who can hit for power but do little else. Those are not so rare.
So heís not getting $75 million. At this point, he might not even get a multi-year deal.
That sounds pretty great to the bargain-hunters, right? Makes the team better, doesnít cost much. Whatís not to love?
Well, about that first point. He might not actually make the team better, because heís just such a one-dimensional player who now finds himself out of step with the rest of the Tigers roster.
Numbers don't add up
During the past three seasons, Cruz has been a .263 batter with a lowly .319 on-base percentage to go along with his .489 slugging percentage. His defense is so bad that one advanced defensive metric, Ultimate Zone Rating, has him among the five worst outfielders during the past three years. And his baserunning hardly is better than the fielding.
And about the second point: Being at best a minimal upgrade over platoon of Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis in the outfield, investing in bringing Cruz to Detroit just isnít going to be worth it.
Beyond that, Cruz costs a draft pick. For whatever reason, the Texas Rangers put forth a qualifying offer of about $14 million. And for even sillier reasons, Cruz let them off the hook by turning it down. Now the team that signs him forfeits an unprotected draft pick.
The Tigers have had no qualms in giving up draft picks in the past. They did it with regularity for a few years actually. And now they have one of the worst farm systems in the game because of it.
Giving up a draft pick is fine for the right player, a difference maker. Cruz is no difference maker.
WAR (wins above replacement) comes under a lot of fire from fans, and it does have a certain imprecision to be mindful of. However, two areas it has proven to be quite useful are comparing players with different strengths at a similar position, and in evaluating salary demands.
Cruz has been worth about 1 to 1.5 wins per season better than a replacement-level player each of the past three years, per Fangraphs. Based on what teams pay in the free agent market, that 1-1.5 WAR is valued at about $6 to $8 million yearly if he were to continue at that rate. He turns age 34 this year, so thereís a good chance heís going to get worse soon.
The thing to consider is that the Tigers arenít starting from a replacement level in left field. Dirks and Davis ó the latter who is being paid $5 million in each 2014 and 2015 ó already hold the position and bring multiple talents to the field.
Dirks alone has been worth 1.5 and 1.7 wins in the past two seasons, because of his .276 average, .332 on-base percentage and .413 slugging average, coupled with above-average fielding and baserunning.
Add to that the platoon leverage that Davis brings ó a career .294/.354/.425 against left-handed pitching ó along with his work on the basepaths, and youíve got the makings of a really nice pairing.
Power outage no big deal
True, Cruz could have a breakout similar to his 4.9 WAR season in 2010. Itís not beyond the realm of possibility. But in looking at the odds, thatís more wishful thinking than fact-based at this point. Adding Cruz would be quite a gamble.
The Tigers will see a bit of dip in their power in 2014, but thatís fine. Thereís no reason to concentrate on power. Power alone doesnít win games. We already saw that. The team has more flexibility in creating and saving runs now than it did for the past few years.
Itís the best balance weíve seen in years ó and it didnít happen by accident.
Thereís no reason to bring Cruz to Detroit and mess that plan up.