Free Agent Pass or Play: Nelson Cruz – Phillies Nation
Analysis

Free Agent Pass or Play: Nelson Cruz

Each day until free agency begins, we at Phillies Nation will take a look at a player who will become a free agent five days from the conclusion of the World Series. We will explore potential performance, fit, cost, and feasibility. We continue today with right-handed outfielder Nelson Cruz. And a reminder: you can check out all the “Pass or Play” posts by clicking on the category hyperlink above.

Performance

In 2013, Cruz was in the middle of a year that seemed on pace to match his career years of 2009 and 2010, hitting .266/.327/.506 with 27 homers before being suspended as part of the Biogenesis scandal. Cruz had made the All-Star time for the second time in 2013. Even with the suspension, Cruz has averaged 27 homers and just under 12 steals in each of the last five seasons and has stable platoon splits over his career, .285/.356/.513 versus lefties and .262/.317/.489 against righties. Not too much variance, which is good: Cruz is a player you wouldn’t have to platoon. The downside here is that his career marks against lefties are, in some ways, not a whole lot better than John Mayberry Jr.’s (.274/.321/.526).

On defense, Cruz is primarily a right fielder and is remembered as the player that could have wrapped up the 2011 World Series for the Rangers but misplayed a relatively routine David Freese fly ball to right field with the Rangers leading the game and up 3-2 in the series with two outs in the ninth. For his career, Cruz may not be much better. FanGraphs, in each of the last three seasons, has him costing the Texas Rangers somewhere between one-half and three-quarters of a win per year due to his defense. Out of 89 outfielders who played 600 innings or more, Cruz ranked 68th defensively, but it should be noted that he finished higher than both Mayberry and Domonic Brown, although, not by much.

Fit

The Phillies played in the sixth easiest park to score runs in and the easiest to hit a home run in in 2013 yet they ranked 11th out of 15 in the National League in slugging percentage and ninth in home runs. The Phillies were tied for 12th with the Mets in on-base percentage in 2013. Cruz would be a good fit in terms of improving the team’s slugging percentage but, for comparison’s sake, his on-base percentage was only three points higher than Brown’s 2013 mark and only 23 points higher than Mayberry’s career mark. The line-up may need some balance by adding a righty, but that may be the only improvement Cruz would bring.

Cost

According to the awesome FanGraphs crowd-sourcing project, Cruz is likely in line for somewhere between $9-11 million per year for two to three years.

Feasibility

Ruben Amaro that he is not comfortable with his outfield situation on more than one occasion. If Amaro doesn’t play on Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, or Curtis Granderson, which he may not be able to due to cost or their current teams making strong plays to re-sign them, Cruz is the next best outfielder in a pretty shallow crop of free agent outfielders. Cruz is definitely a possibility in this scenario and at the anticipated contract of somewhere in the neighborhood of three years, $30 million.

Verdict: Pass, But…

I think Amaro will try to sign him if he doesn’t accept the Texas Rangers $14 million qualifying offer for 2014. Cruz is one of the names that jumps out at me that screams Amaro’s name, particularly in Amaro’s quest for a “right-handed power bat”. At $10 million, Amaro will parade the signing as a more reserved approach to free agency when in reality, Cruz is no more of an upgrade against lefties than Mayberry, is on a career trajectory to be the right-handed Raul Ibanez, and hasn’t been worth $10 million a season since 2010. Easy pass for me, but Cruz in Phillies pinstripes would not in the least surprise me and I think it may happen.

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