Stay away from Nelson Cruz

Dan Szymborski has an ESPN Insider piece today on five players to avoid this winter. I was a little surprised that Nelson Cruz didn't make his cut.

Yesterday, Jerry Crasnick tweeted that the Mariners would "like to find a way to add both Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran." That led to Dave Cameron on the U.S.S. Mariner blog to pretty much eviscerate the idea that this would be a good move for the Mariners:

We haven't talked too much about Cruz here, but it makes perfect sense that the Mariners would be interested in Nelson Cruz. Because we know that this front office places a very high value on this particular skillset. For your reference, below are Nelson Cruz's core offensive numbers over the last three seasons, compared to the same numbers that Michael Morse put up in the three seasons prior to be acquired by the Mariners last winter.

Dave then shows these numbers:


Morse 6% 22% .220

Cruz 7% 23% .226

Dave continues:

The similarities don't end there, of course. Both are physically built like linebackers. Both are right-handed power hitters, which the Mariners believe they need to add to their lineup for balance and to help against left-handed pitching. Both are injury-prone, spending parts of nearly every season of their career on the disabled list. Neither are particularly good defenders or baserunners, and accumulate almost all of their damage at the plate. Both have been suspended for using PEDs. Both are on the wrong side of 30 and are headed to the decline phase of their careers.

I absolutely agree. Cruz will turn 34 next July and is one of the most overrated players in baseball, as mediocre players on good teams often are. He had one monster season, hitting .318/.374/.576 in 108 games in 2010. He's come up big in the postseason, with 14 home runs and 27 RBIs in 34 games, enhancing his reputation. The things he does well -- hit some home runs, drive in some runs -- are the two skills most often overvalued. The things he doesn't do well -- get on base, play defense -- are still two traits too often overlooked.

Then factor in that he's played more than 128 games just once. And then factor in that over the past three seasons he's hit just .247/.299/.432 on the road -- yes, his road games do include a large percentage of games in Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim, but still, those are the numbers maybe acceptable from a second baseman not a slugging right fielder. Over the last three years he's hit .249/.299/.465 against right-handers, making him more Jonny Gomes than All-Star right fielder.

Cruz, leaving Texas and coming off a PED suspension while entering his age-33 season, is like the Triple Crown of red flags.

Somebody will overpay (Jim Bowden predicted a contract for three years and $48 million) and while that team won't necessarily be getting Michael Morse circa 2013, they're also unlikely to get the player they believe they're acquiring.