MLB: Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics

The path leading Nelson Cruz to the Baltimore Orioles was both long and winding. It took a series of very strange circumstances to arrive at this conclusions, with the slugger inking a one-year contract worth a mere $8 million, as reported by Enrique Rojas.

Mere is, of course, relative. But considering the $14MM qualifying offer Cruz received, and promptly turned down, from the Texas Rangers, it seems like Cruz misread the market.

Nelson Cruz represents the biggest wildcard on the free agent market. He boasts the rare right-handed power that many teams crave. But he’s older than you think (he turns 34 on July 1st) and offers little more than the power he produced at a ballpark in Arlington that helps greatly in power production.

Oh, he’s also coming off a 50-game PED suspension. And he costs the Orioles a draft pick due to the qualifying offer. The odds were stacked against him and his pursuit of a multi-year contract that would set him up for life. Nelson Cruz opted for a one-year pillow contract, a cheap deal that might provide a platform for a bigger payday next winter. The Orioles ended up getting a decent little deal, avoiding a long-term commitment to a player with red flags coming out his ears.

How much of payday he was due remains up for debate. Consider Josh Willingham, a player Cruz’s equal in just about every way. Even without all the PED scrutiny, Willingham only earned a three-year, $21 million contract from Minnesota when he tested free agency after the 2011 season. Like Cruz, Willingham’s age-32 provided the platform when he hit the market.

There is more money out there two years later but what does the 2014 version of that contract look like? Three years, $27MM? A far cry from what he got but also not far from the qualifying offer the Rangers slid across the hypothetical table. The reports of Cruz turning down two-and-three years deals makes it seem like the player and his agent are holding out for a payday that is unlikely to ever materialize.

Baltimore gets a player who can help them compete again this season, bolstering an already high-octane offense for a minimal salary and after sacrificing only their second round pick in the 2015 draft. Cruz makes them better, marginally, but his upgrade comes with little cost.

The Orioles designated hitters fared…poorly in 2013. A top five offense in all of baseball last season received just 21 home runs and a .245/.293/.405 line form their DH corps last season. Cruz will certainly help that, just as he could provide a lift in left field where O’s relied heavily on Nate McLouth. They won 85 games last year, I swear!

Of course, Cruz needs to spend minimal amounts of time in the outfield as his best fielding days are behind him. But going through Chris Davis/Adam Jones/Matt Wieters/Nelson Cruz/J.J. Hardy in order is no fun for any pitcher. Many balls will leave Camden Yard this summer. After signing Ubaldo Jimenez this week, the Birds hope the home side will be most responsible for the damage.

Nelson Cruz gets to spend 2014 in Baltimore paying the Qualifying Offer Tax. He also pays the PED Damaged Goods Tax and the Limited And/Or Not Very Good Player That Gets Hurt Often Tax. A perfect storm, really. He’s lucky to get out alive.