MLB: Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics

The calendar turned to 2014 less than a week ago, which means we’re closer to the beginning of Spring Training than we are to the end of the World Series. It is a time to celebrate, sort of.

Unless you’re one of the remaining free agents, that is. If you’re a position player sitting by the phone, well, you know there isn’t a Tanaka Bump on its way to bail you out. Instead, you’re Kendrys Morales. You’re Stephen Drew. You’re Nelson GD Cruz. You struggle to breath under the qualifying offer yoke. And you’re doomed. DOOMED.

Poor Nelson Cruz. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe suggested this weekend that Cruz might be a candidate for a pillow contract – a one-year deal for far less than expected in an attempt to rebuild his value. Which would probably be bad for Cruz but might end up being good for the daring club willing to take a draft pick haircut in the exchange.

It feels a little bit like Nelson Cruz occupies a strange space – he’s a legit right-handed power bat who also might be terrible. Let’s say he’s in the middle. He’s a not-terrible right-handed power hitter who is also not particularly good. And he’s also coming off a PED suspension so he’s radioactive in that delightful PR manner.

If a team that already gave up an early draft pick or perhaps owns a protected draft pick wants to take a flyer on Nelson Cruz, they would receive a player with 80 home runs over the last three seasons. He’s also a 33-year old Mark Trumbo, in a way. His days of improvement are over and his price tag is high. The Trumbo comp doesn’t flatter Cruz in this situation.

On a cheapo deal, he might add something to team in need of his kind of power (provided they don’t mind coughing up a pick). So he might help if the contract terms are agreeable but he’s not really a good player – just an alright hitter who put up big numbers in a very favorable hitting environment.

The calculus gets pretty tough when trying to decide of Cruz fits into your plans for 2014. The cost is high even if the salary doesn’t end up that great. Like the Brewers acquisition of Kyle Lohse last winter, if the price falls far enough some GM will pull the trigger for a still-useful player, draft picks be damned.

And then there was Drew

Stephen Drew feels like the opposite of Nelson Cruz. Drew strikes me as a valuable player who will help most teams – but the number of potential landing places for him remains low. The Yankees are a good fit but they’ve already spent so much. The Mets cry poor and don’t want to commit to Drew’s years, not to mention the value of the draft pick to their new commitment to player development.

But just as a feeling that Stephen Drew’s skills are best suited to a certain type of team, a quick look at his career numbers paint the picture of a player who might not be the stalwart we saw in Boston in 2013.

Injuries all but destroyed both his 2011 and 2012 campaigns, but Drew’s track record remains solid. His defensive reputation is good and he compares favorably to a player like J.J. Hardy, playing time concerns notwithstanding.

Stephen Drew will help some team in 2014 and beyond. The Yankees have the need and the Mets have the opening and maybe the Red Sox have the inside track? The Mets seem like too good a fit, though the dollar figures might force them out of the running thanks to the unforgivably bad ownership situation. Mr. Drew instead sits by the phone, waiting for his call to come in.

Wayback Machine

Remember this? It wasn’t that long ago but MAN was it ever something to watch.

The Nats are now the NL’s most loathsome franchise. What a difference a few years make.

Mulder on the comeback trail

For whatever reason, I find the idea of Mark Mulder coming back to baseball after more than five years away to be a terrific story. Landing in Anaheim seems like a great fit for both player and club, as they need a lottery ticket to come home and he benefits from the Marine Layer that floats over Angels Stadium during night games.

Anaheim really put my “any four starters will do” idea to the test in 2013 because so many of their starters were so, so bad. Joe Blanton might have achieved 30 starts were he not so poor through the middle of the middle of the season that the Angels demoted him to the bullpen.

This the delicate balance of the innings eater – once the quality of the innings slips below a non-specific threshold, the returns diminish in a big way.

The expectations for Mulder must remain very low, though a left-hander touching 90 with a nice change up will always find work. But with very real concerns hovering over the future performance of Jered Weaver, it just this kind of break the Angels need if they want to overcome Texas and Oakland in an increasingly tough AL West. It’s isn’t as though the highest paid players on their team are getting any younger.

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