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February 24, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Qualifying Offer Helps Orioles, Hurts Nelson Cruz

by Ben Lindbergh and R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to sign DH/OF-R Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract. [2/12]

When the offseason started, Nelson Cruz looked like a disaster deal waiting to happen. A below-average fielder and baserunner, Cruz’s power is his only asset of interest, and even that figures to decline as he heads into would be his age-34 season, had he been born a day earlier. (Baseball-Reference defines a player’s seasonal age as his age on June 30th; Cruz will turn 34 on July 1st.) In the past, teams have overpaid for free agents by failing to account properly for park effects, aging, and eroding ancillary skills, and Cruz stood to benefit from oversights in any or all of those areas. When PECOTA spit out Juan Gonzalez—who was done as a productive player after his age-33 season—as Cruz’s top comp, it seemed like a sign.

In November, Jim Bowden predicted that Cruz’s new contract would pay him $48 million over three years; Jon Heyman predicted $64 million over four years, and a GM whose estimate Heyman solicited said four and 60. Cruz himself started out asking for four years and $75 million, which suggests that he and agent Adam Katz had a Heyman-like figure in mind.

Maybe we all overestimated the number of contending clubs with a need for a right fielder/DH, or underestimated teams’ intelligence. Instead of cashing in, Cruz had to settle for $750K more than Chris Young—who didn’t appear on our top 50 free agents list—will make with the Mets. He got only half the guaranteed money that Marlon Byrd—an older, inferior player who like Cruz has a PED suspension in his past—received from the Phillies. The player who looked like a lock to make more than he should will earn less than anyone expected—and, frankly, less than someone with his skills deserved. Cruz turned out to be a bargain.

Those who like to see PED users punished repeatedly won’t cry for Cruz, but realistically, it’s a stretch to tie his contract to his Biogenesis suspension. General managers haven’t acted like moral police in the past, and it’s tough to square the idea that they would in Cruz’s case with the contracts Bartolo Colon and Jhonny Peralta signed this winter. Nor is it likely (one tweet aside) that most teams were worried about a post-PED decline or a second infraction—Cruz’s suspension, like Peralta’s, was for something he took in the spring of 2012, so either he was clean when he hit 27 homers in 109 games last season or he discovered a way to beat the test. It makes more sense to pin the blame on something Cruz didn’t have in common with Cruz and Peralta: the qualifying offer and accompanying draft pick compensation.

Other than Kendrys Morales, who’s still on the market, Cruz was the player most likely to be affected by receiving (and rejecting) the qualifying offer. He isn’t the first free agent who’s had to wait until spring training started to sign because of the draft pick compensation system, but he is the first to turn down a qualifying offer without ultimately making more than he would have if he’d accepted it. According to Heyman, the lack of precedent for the worst-case qualifying offer scenario absolves Katz of any blame:

It’s not necessarily true that no one could have foreseen it; in fact, an agent Heyman talked to for his own contract predictions piece said he expected Cruz to settle for the $14.1 million sum. The outfielder probably wishes he had. Or maybe he wishes he’d accepted another offer: Cruz reportedly turned down multiple multi-year deals—whether out of overconfidence or a belief that next winter would offer a more favorable market—and Winter Meetings scuttlebutt said that he’d rejected a five-year, $75 million offer from the Mariners. (While Cruz may have preferred to play in Baltimore, it’s hard to believe he preferred it to the tune of $67 million.) Given the way this winter worked out, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cruz decide to switch agents before entering free agency again at the end of the year. Or maybe he’ll represent himself, having learned a valuable lesson: If a qualifying offer comes along, accept it. (Of course, he’s less likely to get one next time around, now that teams know—and know Cruz knows—how he’s valued.)

For now, Baltimore benefits from a system that mostly punishes players and rewards rich teams. (If it’s any consolation to Cruz, his contract might help kill the qualifying offer after 2016.) The Orioles went into last season planning to platoon Nolan Reimold and Wilson Betemit at DH, and they got a .234/.289/.415 line from the position, with most of the power coming from the since-departed Danny Valencia. Rather than rely on Reimold again, the Orioles went for a one- to two-win upgrade from a lefty masher who can hold his own against same-side pitching. PECOTA projects Cruz (with a .282 TAv) to be Baltimore’s second-best hitter, a point ahead of Adam Jones. And with Nick Markakis in right, Cruz may mostly retire his glove, which would make him more valuable and less likely to miss time with one of his many leg muscle strains (the most recent of which, to be fair, came in 2011).

As R.J. Anderson notes, 54 batters posted ISOs over .150 with walk rates under eight percent last season. In Jones, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, and now Cruz, the O’s have four of them. Three of those players are products of the Andy MacPhail era, so it’s not as if Dan Duquette has an obvious type, but the O’s—who led the majors in ISO and tied the White Sox with the second-lowest walk rate in in 2013—have committed to the same approach to scoring this season. Fortunately, Camden Yards should prove even more hospitable to Cruz’s power stroke than the Ballpark in Arlington did.

Duquette’s decision to sign Cruz got a lot easier last week, when he surrendered the 17th-overall pick to sign Ubaldo Jimenez. With Ubaldo in the fold, Cruz cost only the 55th pick, which is less than a third as valuable, and there’s at least some chance that the Orioles could get a higher pick out of him at the end of the year. The O’s took a lot of flak this winter for waiting as long as they did to do something, but Duquette did live up to his promise to spend, making a team that needs to contend now at least a little more likely to do so. And in the case of Cruz, waiting out the market proved to be a shrewd move. —Ben Lindbergh

Fantasy

Cruz is at the age and experience level where maintaining previous production levels is a win. The context surrounding him won’t have a huge impact on his counting stats, and he’s likely going to post a .260-ish AVG while producing 20-25 HRs if he plays all year. Cruz will still have high value in AL-only leagues and remain a very useable option in mixed leagues. —Mauricio Rubio

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Chris Capuano to a one-year deal worth $2.25 million. [2/20]

Ryan Dempster's abrupt retirement left vacant a spot on the Red Sox' roster and space within their budget. Capuano fills the former but not the latter. The veteran southpaw profiles best as a back-end starter these days, one whose struggles against right-handed batters make him exploitable when facing flexible rosters. Yet Capuano is unlikely to begin the season in Boston's rotation. Instead, he seems bound for the bullpen in a swingman capacity.

Should Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, or John Lackey spend time on the disabled list, as they did last season, then Capuano can slot in without forcing the Red Sox to rush a youngster or seek an external solution. A sound plan, though one that could be foiled by the Massachusetts native's own fragility: He spent time on the disabled list with leg and shoulder issues in 2013 (not to mention the three-week stretch he missed in September due to a strained groin). Factor in Capuano's lengthy medical history before last season—he's twice undergone Tommy John surgery and is a torn labrum survivor—and Boston might need a backup plan for its backup plan. Still, adding an extra layer of rotation depth at a low cost is always worthwhile. —R.J. Anderson

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Andrew Bailey to a minor-league deal. [2/22]


As Sam Miller observed earlier this month, the top story about the Yankees’ bullpen this spring shouldn’t be whether David Robertson can replace Mariano Rivera; the more pressing concern is whether any of the team’s setup options can replace Robertson. Bailey, a fragile former closer for the A’s and Red Sox whose last two seasons have been spoiled by thumb and should surgeries, adds another question mark to the mix.

Bailey’s labrum and capsule surgery ended his 2013 season in mid-July. Despite the damage to his arm, he threw hard, averaging 94 miles per hour with his four-seamer, and he missed bats, striking out a career-high 33.6 percent of opposing batters. However, his command and control suffered, as he walked 12 and surrendered seven homers in his 28 2/3 innings. Bailey hasn’t had a fully healthy season since his 2009 rookie year, and his fly ball tendencies make him a poor fit for Yankees Stadium, but he still might be better than some of the team's alternatives.

Last we heard, Bailey was on track to return in May, which generated enough interest for him to have to keep his phone on vibrate when he went to fancy restaurants. If he makes the majors, Bailey will earn a prorated base salary of $1.975 million, plus incentives. The contract includes a team option for 2015, so if Bailey comes back strong, the Yankees could potentially lock up a late-inning arm at a below-market rate. *Update* Looks like May might've been optimistic. According to a report published Sunday, Bailey might not be back until August or September, if he returns at all this season. —Ben Lindbergh

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

19 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Dave Scott

It seems the reaction to a new collective bargaining agreement is almost as important as what it actually says. I doubt many people expected many players to eventually sign for below the qualifying offer, and it has only happened once so far. Still, this means some players and agents will need to do some soul searching next year without the benefit of knowing what the 29 other clubs think of the player. Also, some teams will consider making a qualifying offer while fearing the player will actually take it! Even with the rules staying the same for several years, the reactions might be different each offseason.

Feb 23, 2014 10:45 AM
rating: 3
 
Ogremace

In hindsight the trades Boston made for Bailey and Melancon really failed. Not that Lowrie or Reddick are lighting it up, but they have turned into valuable players. I guess this says something about the volatility of relief pitching etc. Etc.

Feb 23, 2014 11:07 AM
rating: 1
 
oloughla

Trading Melancon away for Hanrahan also turned out poorly. They need to stop trying to trade for proven closers. Both Bailey and Hanrahan had some pretty obvious bust potential, and they went ahead with those deals anyway. Thank god Uehara has performed so brilliantly. Perhaps he'll save them from themselves for the time being.

Feb 23, 2014 13:17 PM
rating: 1
 
pandroid

Just a point about Cruz either being clean or finding a way to beat the test: he DIDN'T fail a test; MLB purchased the Biogenesis evidence and all the players (save Colon, who tested positive in 2012 and had already served his suspension, and Braun, who, you know) accepted their fates without appeal in exchange for leniency, which as much as Selig wants to tout their program's stringency, most of the 2013 suspensions were based on secondary evidence, not positive tests, which seems to suggest that the users have simply adapted to MLB testing.

Feb 23, 2014 13:24 PM
rating: 7
 
hyprvypr

Wish my team signed Cruz to a 1 year, 8 million deal... It's almost absurdly cheap. He's still a 7 power, 5+ hitter at DH, and those aren't a dime a dozen.

Feb 23, 2014 16:35 PM
rating: 4
 
Johnston

Yes. He breaks even at less than 1.5 wins and becomes a steal at 2.

Feb 23, 2014 18:25 PM
rating: 1
 
ChicagoOriole

I think that the package of the two signings for the two picks leaves me wanting the picks. The salvation of the Orioles is pitchers coming from the farm, or not coming at all. Not Ubaldo Jiminez and one year of Nelson Cruz.

Feb 24, 2014 16:27 PM
rating: 1
 
DetroitDale

I still take the minority view on this site that PEDs are every bit the existential threat to the game that gambling is and PED users should be treated the same way Pete Rose was. Despite that, I agree the biggest factor depressing the value of Cruz's contract is not the specter of PED uses, but the compensation attached to the qualifying offer. Drafting and finding young, cheap talent is the only way to build a winning team long term, and losing those draft picks represent a loss of one of the few resources that money just can't buy.

For example, My Tigers badly need one more power hitter to fix the hole in their lineup that they've created this offseason, and Cruz would badly fill this need, but the Tigers system is so badly depleted that I would not advocate the signing of Cruz (even if he were clean) because they simply cannot afford to lose the draft pick no matter how "cheap" Cruz would come.

Feb 24, 2014 06:58 AM
rating: 1
 
John Carter

Side note to fellow Tigers fan: Victor Martinez is their DH. Nelson Cruz is now a DH. That's not a good fit. I would have preferred getting Curtis Granderson back for left field - or right if Dirks can manage to re-adjust to Major League pitchers and Torii Hunter plays his age.

I do agree their depth everywhere is frighteningly thin, but if all the regulars are healthy to the end, we remain contenders for a championship. Yes, that's a very big "if" and most teams have some "ifs" that would lead to the same conclusion.

Feb 24, 2014 16:00 PM
rating: -1
 
PeterCollery

It's only a tangential comment, but I don't get the assertion that the QO system principally "rewards rich teams". Unless I'm mistaken, players signed under a QO are freely tradeable, so why couldn't poor teams make qualifying offers to their FAs who are worth more than the threshold, even if they can't afford to retain them? If the offer is rejected, the team gets the pick. If accepted the player can be traded for value to the team that would have given up a pick to sign him for more money than they they now have to pay.

Feb 24, 2014 07:47 AM
rating: 0
 
eliyahu

Why are we so quick to assume that the PED concerns aren't relevant to Cruz's discounted price? If we assume that teams are reasonably sophisticated in how they evaluate players, perhaps they think PED use affects certain players in a more pronounced fashion than others and, rightly or wrongly, think Cruz was a disproportionate beneficiary?

Another possibility is that some teams may have intelligence that certain players are going to keep cheating, while others will stop, which could speak to contracts given to certain players.

(Ducking over extreme contrarian stance but its never mentioned and deserves to be considered.)

Feb 24, 2014 08:27 AM
rating: 0
 
David Coonce

Except PED use wasn't established with Cruz - not a single player connected with BioGenesis failed a test. They were suspended because of their link to PEDs, not a posi test. We can assume Cruz used, but considering he was a strictly average player in 2013, there is substantial debate to be had about any benefit these PEDs had on his performance.

Feb 24, 2014 09:04 AM
rating: -1
 
BrewersTT

First, if (**IF**) PEDs affect performance, they might have been buoying Cruz where instead he might have been terrible. Mediocre performance does not disprove use.

Secondly, there's still the other matter that eliyahu mentioned, which is the possibility that the Orioles will suddenly lose Cruz for 50 games. One would have to set the odds higher for him than for a random non-implicated player, I'd think. How much higher, I have no idea, but maybe insiders do have some clue.

Feb 24, 2014 16:19 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Hard to say, right? You have to figure that Cruz will be tested more often than the typical player, and that the penalty he'd face if caught again would be steep. He's aware of both of those things, so he might be less likely to try to get away with it again. On the other hand, he's already demonstrated that he has no moral qualms when it comes to PEDs (not enough to prevent him from taking them, anyway), which would seem to make another offense more likely. I'm not totally sure which way the arrow points.

Feb 24, 2014 16:32 PM
 
eliyahu

Ben and Brewers,

None of the biogenesis-implicated players failed any tests, and I have to believe that, with the advent of science, players are more concerned with the paper trails than actually getting caught by testing.

I know it's wrong to accuse w/o evidence, but I'm fascinated by the human behavior element. If a player is sufficiently convinced that PEDs help him enough to risk millions of dollars (if caught), is he suddenly going to stop after being caught once when it wasn't a failed test? Perhaps some players will and others won't, and if the teams are sufficiently on top of who is still using and who isn't, perhaps that is informing these contracts?

Feb 24, 2014 17:10 PM
rating: 0
 
eliyahu

First of all, of course these are assumptions. But if you read enough Russel Carlton, you know that we can infer a lot from human behavior.

With regards to whether PEDs don't help much because a user was an average MLB player, I think that even the steroid advocates recognize that you need to compare to an individual baseline, that not everyone benefits equally, etc.

Feb 24, 2014 09:18 AM
rating: 1
 
ragerd

Is it possible that the players (and agents) who are blaming qualifying offers are just not worth what they think they are?

Feb 24, 2014 13:55 PM
rating: 0
 
marshaja

Is there any reason the O's shouldn't try to sign Stephen Drew to fix their Flaherty sized hole since the cost will only be a third rounder?

If Schoop proves ready Drew could slide to third next year with Machado going to short.

Feb 24, 2014 16:45 PM
rating: 1
 
sbnirish77

"General managers haven’t acted like moral police in the past, and it’s tough to square the idea that they would in Cruz’s case with the contracts Bartolo Colon and Jhonny Peralta signed this winter. Nor is it likely (one tweet aside) that most teams were worried about a post-PED decline or a second infraction—"

Why shouldn't the value of these guys go up?

They have all shown they can BEAT the testing system and only need to find a better source to continue to use PEDs to fuel their performance.

That is the real lesson of Biogenesis.

Feb 24, 2014 17:39 PM
rating: 2
 
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