After an off-season that initially started off with lackluster deals and fan disappointment, the Orioles have shifted into high gear within the last couple of weeks. They have already inked Korean pitcher Suk-Min Yoon, added former Rockies sensation pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, and now they added the slugging bat they had been seeking all off season in Nelson Cruz.
Cruz gets a 1 year deal that could be worth up to $8,750,000 with incentives ($8 million base, $750k incentives). This move is not without potential issues though. After surrendering their 17th pick in the draft for Jimenez, the Orioles also lose their 2nd round pick to sign Cruz. For a team with a long history of having a fairly weak farm system, this move could set them back a few years. Cruz has also been linked to the Biogenesis scandal and was suspended for 50 games for an apparent PED violation. He has had a recent track record of injuries. He is also not known to be a very gifted defensive player when he does go out into the field. On the plus side Cruz has produced 20+HR and 75+RBI every season since 2009. He doesn’t offer much outside of power as he doesn’t bring speed to the table, and he also strikes out frequently while not walking. We’re not talking Mark Reynolds level strike outs, but he’s not too far behind him.
The alternative was Kendrys Morales who would also be tied to draft pick compensation, is two years younger, is a switch hitter, but also comes with some injury history and a shaky reputation as a 1B. At least with Cruz you could hide him in LF and it would make sense to play him there in NL games with no DH rule. The Orioles already have Chris Davis at 1B and I can’t envision a scenario where you sit Davis for Morales. So Cruz does offer a bit of flexibility.
It was a gamble that the Orioles felt they had to take given the window of opportunity this current core of players has to win a championship. Lots of key players are due to end their rookie contracts or are due to become free agents and their price tags are all going to go up. They can’t keep everyone, so they’ve done an “all in” type move. I would have been happier if Cruz was not tied to draft pick compensation because for me, the risks were too much to invest so much. On the other hand, how many draft picks pan out and even make it to the majors?