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Nelson Cruz would bring a resume that includes 20-plus homers in each of the past five seasons. (USATSI)
Nelson Cruz is a .192 career hitter at the Coliseum. (USATSI)
A decade or so ago, Nelson Cruz appeared part of the Oakland A’s future plans.
Could that be the case again? The A’s reportedly are interested in the free agent outfielder, who they traded to Milwaukee back in 2004 before he reached the majors and eventually became a two-time All-Star.
Here are the pros and cons of signing Cruz:
After the failed Chris Young experiment of 2013, the A’s are looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder. The 33-year-old Cruz fits the bill, and he brings a resume that includes 20-plus homers in each of the past five seasons with Texas, including a career-high 33 in 2009.
Why would the A’s be looking for power after they finished third in the majors with 186 home runs last season? Because there’s no guarantee that they get the same pop next season. Or do you feel confident penciling Coco Crisp in for 22 homers again? Teams look to corner outfielders for substantial offensive production, and the A’s didn’t get it from Josh Reddick last season (.226, 12 homers, 56 RBI). The A’s could plug Cruz in at right field or make him the designated hitter.
Cruz attracted the wrong kind of headlines last season when he received a 50-game suspension for getting caught up in MLB’s Biogenesis investigation involving performance-enhancing drugs. That took him out of Texas’ lineup for critical games down the stretch, as the Rangers were overtaken by the A’s for the AL West title and wound up losing a tiebreaker game to Tampa Bay with a wild-card berth at stake. Any kind of PED suspension raises questions about how artificially inflated a player’s numbers might have been.
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Also consider that Cruz has been much more productive at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark than he has on the road. Eight of his nine big league seasons have been spent with Texas, and Cruz owns a career home OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .912. That figure drops to .734 on the road.
He’s a .192 career hitter at the Coliseum, by the way.
Cruz’s PED use reportedly took place during the 2012 season, meaning his 2013 numbers theoretically are clean. And the slugger put together an excellent 2013 season before his suspension kicked in. He hit .266 and was leading the Rangers with 27 home runs and 76 RBI in 109 games. He’s hit 80 homers over the past three seasons, showing no signs at age 33 that his power is declining.
Cruz’s misplay of David Freese’s deep fly ball in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series is burned into the memory of Rangers’ fans, but it’s not the only example of his adventures with the glove. His defense has regressed over the years, and that’s a serious factor for the A’s to consider before signing him. Outfield defense was a strength of this team -- and a huge benefit to the pitching staff -- in 2013 with Reddick in right, Crisp in center and Yoenis Cespedes in left. Plug in Cruz in right field and the dynamic changes.
And if Cruz were used as DH, there’s no telling how he would adjust because he’s been used there sparingly over his career. Cruz has served just 31 career games at DH over nine big league seasons.
Inserting Cruz in the A’s lineup would take pressure off other power hitters such as Cespedes, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss. Oakland was a dangerous offensive team last year, especially in the second half, but it’s hardly a batting order that couldn’t stand a boost from another big bat. Where would Cruz hit? That can be sorted out. There are lots of moving pieces in this batting order anyway.
It will take a whole lot of cash to get Cruz in an A’s uniform. He figures to cost $10 million-plus annually and was initially seeking a five-year deal, though he seems unlikely to get that. How much would the A’s be willing to invest in a multi-year deal for a 33-year-old with limited to no defensive value? How much should they be willing to invest? Let’s also remember that signing Cruz would cost the A’s their 2014 first-round draft pick since the Rangers made him a qualifying offer that he rejected.
Signing Cruz would instantly make the A’s offense more potent. But he’s a one-dimensional player, and this is a team that places a premium on outfield defense. It may not be as easy as just plugging Cruz in at DH either. The A’s like to shuttle players through that spot to keep them fresh and give them a sort of half-day off. No doubt the thought of a 25-homer, 80-RBI player is enticing, especially if Cruz delivers that production beyond 2014. But it’s tough to imagine the A’s engaging in a bidding war for this guy, and it’s tough to imagine Cruz being happy in the pitcher-friendly Coliseum.
The New York Mets like Cruz and the Seattle Mariners in particular seem hot on his trail. Texas is interested in bringing him back too. He’s enjoyed such good success in a Rangers uniform that it’s easy to picture a deal getting hammered out for Cruz to remain in Arlington.