What Does The MLB Market Look Like For Seattle Mariners’ Nelson Cruz?

The end of the MLB season for the Seattle Mariners also meant the end of their four-year, $58MM contract with Nelson Cruz. By today’s market, the $14.5MM annual salary for Cruz’s production over that period seems like a steal. Cruz has indicated he wishes to continue playing, even though he turned 38 in the past few months. The question for both Cruz, who wants to play, and for the Mariners, who probably would like to continue to employ him and his bat, is what kind of competition for Cruz’s services are out there in the free-agent market?

The National League

In 2015, the first year of his contract with the Mariners, Cruz played 80 games in right field and another 72 at DH. The next season in 2016, Cruz played 48 games in right and DH’d for 107 games. Last season, in GM Jerry Dipoto’s second season, but ostensibly his first with autonomy over the roster, Cruz only played 5 games in the field. Cruz essentially became the everyday DH, logging 147 games in that slot. The numbers this season are very similar; four games in the outfield, 136 at DH.

For all intents and purposes, Nelson Cruz is now a full-time DH and, as such, he has no value to a National League team. So, the market for Cruz’s services are cut in half from the get-go.

The American League East

The AL East produced two of the five playoff teams this year: the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees are in need of a DH.

This past offseason, the Red Sox signed J.D. Martinez to a five-year, $110MM contract. In year one, that contract may be a bargain. Martinez hit .330/.402/.629 with 43 HR, 130 RBI, and 111 runs. He even threw in six steals for fun. The 57 games he played in the outfield are a bonus, allowing the Sox to keep bats in the lineup while allowing for rest days in their loaded outfield.

The story in the Bronx is very similar. In the offseason, the Yankees acquired the then-reigning NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, from the Miami Marlins. Stanton played 72 games in the outfield and anchored the DH position during the balance of the 158 games he played this season. In a “down” year for Stanton, he hit .266/.343/.509 with 38 HR, 100 RBI, and 102 runs. The Yankees are expected to be in the market for Manny Machado, with Bryce Harper being a less likely signing. But, regardless, the Yankees, like the Sox, are loaded with big bats. So, just like their bitter rival, the Yankees don’t look to be in the DH market.

The Tampa Rays can be eliminated from the high-priced free-agent market on an annual basis without much hesitation. So, Florida isn’t a likely destination for Cruz, nor is north of the border. The Toronto Blue Jays finished the season at 73-89 and have far more issues to address in the offseason than just filling a roster spot at DH.

And speaking of ball clubs with lots of issues to address in the offseason. Where do you even begin with the Baltimore Orioles? The once-proud franchise won 47 games in 2018. As a team, the O’s hit .239/.298/.391 for a wRC+ of 87. And don’t forget that the Orioles will be weighted down by the albatross of Chris Davis’ seven-year /$161MM contract for the next four years. Davis was the worst offensive player in baseball this season, hitting .168/.243/.296 with a wRC+ of 46, contributing -3.1 fWAR to the Birds.

So, Nelson Cruz can effectively write off the AL East. That’s 20 clubs down, 10 to go.

The American League Central

The AL Central was the worst division in all of MLB in 2018, with a combined record of 358-457 that included two different 100-loss franchises. One could argue that the presence of such bad teams in the AL Central, combined with the Orioles, is the reason the AL saw three 100-win teams.

The Cleveland Indians were the only team in the division with a winning record and they have a DH, Edwin Encarnacion, signed through the 2019 campaign. All the other teams in the division—the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, and Kansas City Royals—are in some form of rebuild. According to Bleacher Report, the Tigers, Twins, and Sox all have top-10 farm systems, so a youth movement is coming for those franchises. The fourth of the sub-.500 clubs, the Royals are mired in the lower third of farm systems and will probably suffer a few more bad seasons before the boat stops taking on water.  

What this all means for Nelson Cruz is that none of the teams in the AL Central are likely to be suitors for his boom stick. The Indians have their aging DH and the rest of the division is in full on rebuild mode.

So, that now makes it 25 clubs down with 5 to go.

The American League West

The American League West is where Nellie has recently resided. The options here are the Houston Astros, the Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland A’s, the Texas Rangers, and the Mariners. And, much like the other two divisions in the AL, there are narratives of great teams, rebuilding teams, and small market teams.

The Houston Astros won 103 games and didn’t even have the best record in baseball. That honor belonged to the Red Sox. The Astros won the division by six games over the surprising A’s and, in all likelihood, will dominate the division for several more years. They are loaded with young talent and they still have a top ten farm system. Its safe to say the Astros aren’t hurting for talent and will soon need to start thinking about how to pay some of their homegrown talent, making Houston a very unlikely landing spot for Cruz.

The A’s are in a similar situation as the Rays, a small-market ballclub with relatively low payroll that relies on finding market inefficiencies to compete. And compete they did in 2018, roaring past the Mariners in the second half, winning 97 games and making the wildcard round, only to then lose to the Yankees. In the offseason, Billy Beane and the gang in Oakland will probably not be looking to make a big splash in free agency, but rather fine tune the ball club as is around the fringes.

LA made the flashiest move of last offseason by signing Japanese, two-way, phenom Shoei Ohtani. Unfortunately, the pitcher/hitter underwent Tommy John surgery the week after the season and will be unable to pitch in 2019. But, that doesn’t mean he might not hit. That fact, coupled with the shackles of the Albert Pujols contract and the Angels reluctance to bench or release the future Hall of Famer, all but eliminates the suburbs of the City of Lights as a Nelson Cruz destination.

That leaves two teams for whom Cruz has already played during his career: the Texas Ranger and the Seattle Mariners. The Rangers finished the season in the basement of the AL West with a 67-95 record. Given the makeup of their ball club—Adrian Beltre may choose to retire, Bartolo Colon is forty-five, the club must decide whether to commit $20MM+ to Cole Hammels by exercising an club option—it doesn’t seem logical that the Rangers would add  a 38-year-old DH, but logic doesn’t always apply in free agency, and that’s the case for all of the ball clubs.

Will Nelson Cruz be a Seattle Mariner in 2019?

So, after eliminating the National League and examining the possibilities of other destinations within the American League, it seems that a return to the Seattle Mariners in 2019 is the most likely scenario for Cruz.  

What would it take to sign him? Cruz will probably be asking for a multi-year deal worth more annually than his last contract. The price for premiere players does seem to keep going up. Cruz will want to test the market, but it’s not clear he will find many suitors outside of the confines of the soon to be renamed Safeco Field.

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About Brian Hight 105 Articles
Brian Hight lives in Seattle and writes primarily about MLB and the local Seattle Mariners, with a focus on advanced analytics. Occasionally, he delves into the NFL and the NBA, also with an emphasis on advanced statistics. He’s currently pursuing a Certificate in Data Analysis online from Microsoft, where he hopes to create a prediction model for baseball outcomes for his capstone project.

1 Comment

  1. Don’t know how the Rangers are going to exercise Cole Hammels option when he plays for the Cubs

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