Mariners Can Afford Risks, But Should Have High Upside


Up until this point, all Mariner-centric speculation has pretty much revolved around Jacoby Ellsbury, with some other names thrown into the mix here and there. Ken Rosenthal made multiple statements suggesting the M’s would be big into the Ellsbury sweepstakes, and that he was the one they wanted above all — even going as far as to predict Seattle would land him at $21 million per for 6 or 7 years.

But now, things seem to be changing on that front. The buzz surrounding the Mariners Tuesday had been around a few lesser bats that are available this winter. While the M’s have an obvious need for a righty-power stick or two, the lack of value among those types of players has detracted from the speculation potential.

That all changed today when Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweeted the following:

Well, that certainly took a turn from what we had expected.

Now obviously this doesn’t mean they are out on Ellsbury, or even that they are less interested in acquiring his talents. Being a highly sought after client of Scott Boras, he will wait a while to sign, hoping to maximize the interest and price tag.

So knowing that, it is possible that Jack wants to bring in one of the players mentioned above, followed by Ellsbury later in the offseason when he is ready to sign and really try to make a run at this thing.

But that really isn’t the main focus of this piece. No one can really know what the Mariner’s front office is thinking, or what they will do. The point is, the guys they are now said to be in on, are guys they shouldn’t really be in on.

Nelson Cruz has been expounded on the most since then, with mutual interest said to be present between the two parties. And honestly, it makes perfect sense. I mean, it doesn’t make sense that anyone would be all that interested in Cruz at his likely price. But he is exactly the kind of player this current Mariner group likes.

Take Michael Morse for example. He is pretty much exactly the same player as Cruz. A power-only right handed outfielder, with decent offensive production, but little value overall. Take a look at a quick comparison of the two players since 2011.

1Michael Morse– – –625.4 %23.1 %.2051191.5
2Nelson CruzRangers807.2 %22.7 %.2261143.9

As you can see, there are a lot of statistical similarities as well, so the comparisons go beyond age, position, and handedness. Cruz has the edge in WAR because he plays close to average defense, rather than being a black hole like Morse. He also has a slight edge in power and walks, but still falls slightly short of Morse in offensive production.

Essentially though, at least moving forward, you can pretty much say Cruz and Morse are the same players.

Now, Morse had his worst year in a while last year (partially why his WAR is so low over the last three seasons) and Cruz probably won’t be that bad. But anything that reminds us of Morse is sketchy at best.

Is Nelson Cruz just another Michael Morse? Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

On top of this is the fact that Cruz’s splits away from Texas over his career have been anything but inspiring. He has a career .734 OPS on the road.

And while he actually hit better on the road than at home last year, some of that power production is likely to fade should he play half of his games at Safeco. Its hard to envision Cruz being more than a 1.5 WAR player for the next year or two.

So all that brings me to the real point of this post. The Mariners need help, and have money to spend. Enough that they can probably afford to overspend if needed. But if they do so, it should be done for productive players.

While overpaying should never be the goal, a team like the Mariners will probably need to do it to entice free agents. And having accepted that fact, I am fine with paying Ellsbury more than he is worth. Same with Masahiro Tanaka, and even Mike Napoli or Shin-Soo Choo. If I am forced to overpay, I am going all out.

But Nelson Cruz is not worth an overpay. If he came on a two-year, $16 million deal, then by all means. Unfortunately, he will probably cost somewhere in the three-year, $40 million range.

To be efficient nowadays, teams should aim to pay roughly $6 million per win or less. At his current rate, Cruz will be lucky to amass 3.5 wins over the next three years, meaning he should be worth about $21 million over that time. Half of what he will probably be payed.

For context, to be worth the 3/$40M contract, he would need to put up over 6.5 wins in three years, aka over 2 wins a year, aka more than he was able to do over the last three years.

With that information, it is all but guaranteed that Cruz will not live up to his deal.

And again, Ellsbury probably won’t live up to his either. But the difference here is that you are getting 4+ wins a year in the meantime, rather than 1 or 2. If you are going to overpay, at least get as much value out of it as you can.

Take risks. Spend some money. Play baseball good. But please Jack, don’t sign Nelson Cruz. It will be a waste of money that could be used elsewhere.