What is Nelson Cruz Worth to the Seattle Mariners?


Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

These Nelson Cruz to the Seattle Mariners rumors just won’t go away.  The rumor mill continues to churn out Cruz/Seattle buzz like an 1850s maid churns out butter.

The latest one is from the Latino Post, and indicates that the Mariners might be able to get Nelson Cruz at a bargain price, because pretty much everyone has said “no” to his 4 year – $75MM asking price. It’s not too surprising. After spending a quarter billion (over the next decade) on Robinson Cano, the Mariners may actually have some money issues…It’s been reported that the Mariners are already out of money, though I am hesitant to really believe it.

The additions of Logan Morrison and Corey Hart seemed to complicate the whole idea a bit, but there are still a lot of people who think that the Mariners are just waiting until the price of the slugger comes down a bit. The flexibility that Hart and Morrison add to the outfield means that the Mariners can afford to sit on Cruz.

If they can get him at the right price, a power bat like Cruz behind Cano would be beneficial, but there isn’t an extreme sense of urgency to find a bat to protect Cano anymore. The fact that pretty much every team has turned down his asking price definitely bodes well for Seattle, and they could end up as the winners in this waiting game.

The biggest question is how much is Cruz actually worth.

First and foremost, 75 Mil for Cruz is just way too much. I think the three months of waiting has proven that Cruz is just asking for an overpay that nobody will accommodate (although, it worked for Cano…). With that in mind, what would be a fair price to pay for Cruz? Lets face it, he’s still a very good player who will pump in a lot of runs, surely that’s worth something.

I compared Cruz to a few other players with ‘similar’ styles. Basically I looked for star caliber outfielders who hit for homers and only homers. Fielding ability matters too, and I considered that Cruz is a negative UZR player since 2010, ranging between -3.7 to -6.2.  Not atrocious, but certainly not a gold-glover.

Jose Bautista

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

One guy who is certainly reminiscent of Nelson Cruz might be Blue Jays’ slugger Jose Bautista. A power hitting corner outfielder, Bautista certainly found his stride in Toronto over the last few seasons, where he slapped 54 home runs in 2010, and 27+ homers in each of the last four seasons. Those numbers are impressive considering three of those were shortened considerably by injuries to the wrist and hip.

Nelson Cruz109.226.327.50627761.5
Jose Bautista118.259.358.49828734.2

Offensively these two have very similar numbers. As well, Oliver has Cruz at a 2014 WAR of 6.6 and Bautista at a 7.2, so they could end up being very similar in 2014.

Bautista’s current contract is a 5 year, $64MM deal that is set to expire in 2015 with a club option for 2016. Bautista earned $8MM in 2011, and $14MM annually until the contract expires.

Compare that to the $75MM Cruz is asking over 4 years. Almost $5MM more than Bautista per season. A quick comparison between their recent stats seems to indicate that this is a definite overpay. (Surprise!)

Carlos Beltran

Beltran was recently signed by the Yankees, and while I certainly would have liked to see him in Seattle, the precedent means a lot for any potential Cruz contracts.

Nelson Cruz109.226.327.50627761.5
Carlos Beltran145.296.339.49124842.0

Beltran and Cruz post similar batting stats, though Beltran certainly edges out Cruz in some very key areas. Obviously a team like the Mariners would like to see higher average and OBP. For this reason I would argue that Beltran and Cruz have similar stats, but Beltran is still quite a bit more valuable as a batter.

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Moreover, Beltran has posted similar numbers over the last seven seasons with both the Mets and the Cardinals (discounting his shortened 2010, where he played only 64 games). Consistency certainly counts for a lot.

Defensively, Beltran has posted worse fielding numbers than Cruz over the last few seasons (UZR between -15.3 and 1.6 since 2009). But nobody is trying to pretend that Beltran or Cruz are playing for their defensive abilities. They are around to bat in runs, and it’s something they both do very well.

Contractually, Beltran just signed a 3 year – $45MM contract with the Yankees, $15MM per season. This is in a very similar range to what Bautista is earning, and again, is millions less than what Cruz is looking for.

The Verdict

Taking a look at two comparable outfielders, it’s no wonder that Cruz is still waiting for an offer. I suspect he has been low-balled a few times so far this winter, but there is absolutely no way I would be able to justify paying Cruz $18 mil a season when it would have cost less to get Carlos Beltran.

The Mariners are truely trying to make moves in the AL-West, and for that reason I can understand if they want to bring in another big name guy after Cano. Not to mention the Mariners are consistently getting thrown into the rumor mill with Cruz anyways.

For the Mariners in particular, it may still be necessary to overpay (a little bit) to convince players to come play. The addition of Cano was intended to prove to baseball that Seattle was interested in winning, not being a retirement home for players. But Cano on his own is not enough, Cruz would certainly be an added sweetener to that pot for a few seasons.

But not at the asking price. Let’s pretend for a minute that Bautista and Beltran would have been offered contracts in Seattle, would we be happy offering them $18 per season? To me, it seems more palatable, but is still an overpay. If Cruz was offered Beltran-esque money ($15MM per season), would he take it, or is that still an overpay?

It just seems crazy to me for Cruz to be making more than Beltran is with the notoriously deep-pocketed Yankees.

This is my biggest hangup on Cruz, it’s not whether he would make the Mariners better or not, I certainly believe he would,  but it’s that I just have a hard time seeing the value in such a high price.