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Could the Cleveland Indians Still Make a Big Splash By Signing Nelson Cruz?
The Cleveland Indians have made a couple of very nice under-the-radar moves this offseason with the signings of David Murphy, Shaun Marcum and John Axford, but there is one big name still left unsigned that the Indians might have a shot at landing.
Formerly of the Texas Rangers, Nelson Cruz is one of the best power bats in baseball and as each passing day goes by, the Indians’ chances of signing him go up.
According to Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer, the Indians opened last season with a payroll of $80.6 million and the budget for general manager Chris Antonetti will be around the same as last season. If the Indians made no more major moves, their payroll would again be in the $80 million range.
But can the Indians pass up the opportunity to land a big-time power bat like Cruz if he is forced to drop his asking price like Michael Bourn had to last year?
The Indians, under the ownership of the Dolan family, haven’t had a $90 million payroll let alone one of $100 million. But, they did show last year that they can be flexible if Antonetti can convince them they are getting a steal as he was able to do last offseason with Bourn.
There are very good reasons though as to why Cruz remains unsigned and teams are wary of giving him any more than a two-year contract when he is reportedly asking for $15 million a year.
For one, he is 33-years old and while his numbers have stayed relatively consistent during his past five years in Texas, one might safely assume that PED use had something to do with him keeping up that consistency. Last season’s PED suspension is his only career blemish though, as he has a track record of being a good teammate and playing clean (or not getting caught). Cruz has also never been a good contact/on-base guy and by all defensive metrics, he is well below-average defensively. Also, the team who signs Cruz will also have to forfeit their first-round draft pick to the Rangers.
Cruz’s power numbers can make up for all of his shortcomings though.
In 2013, Cruz hit 27 homers with 76 RBI and a .506 slugging percentage; and he missed 50 games. One could argue that those numbers are inflated because he plays in one of the most hitter-friendly parks at Arlington Stadium, but if he can stay relatively healthy, (which has been a struggle with him in recent years) he is a lock for at least 25 homers and 70 plus RBI.
As Cruz’s options begin to dwindle as teams begin to lock-in their rosters, he might have to settle for a one-year deal for around $8-9 million and wait until next year to get the large contract he is looking for. That would put the Indians payroll right around the $90 million mark. That is a stretch for a team like the Indians, but not impossible in order to land one of the best power hitters in baseball who has shown no signs of a considerable drop-off in production.
If the Indians signed Cruz, the only way for him to get consistent at-bats would be if Carlos Santana played third base quite a bit and so far, that experiment is on shaky ground. But, if they were able to land a guy like Cruz, manager Terry Francona should be able to make it work somehow.
Every team that makes it far into the postseason has a legitimate RBI guy in the middle of their lineup. Maybe this is the year that Santana finally becomes that legitimate clean-up hitter, but if they were able to add a guy like Cruz, their lineup instantly becomes one of the best in the American League.
If the Indians are willing to take on another major contract, this writer would rather have it be to a starting pitcher like Ubaldo Jimenez or Masahiro Tanaka (the Indians are reportedly willing to make a bid in the $20 million range), but if not, a right-handed power bat like Cruz would fill just as big a need.
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