As often is the case, this offseason has been about the rumor mill and the Orioles, with nearly every free agent attached to the club.
That’s kind of the drill this time of year – especially for the Orioles, who always have holes that need to be filled and, at the least, are perceived as having money to spend.
That perception ratcheted upward after Monday’s deal of closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland A’s that put roughly $10 million back into the Orioles’ 2014 budget.
With the news came more reports of players the Orioles may be targeting. One Fox Sports report named outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz and starter Ubaldo Jimenez as players the Orioles would have interest in.
Several members of the organization love Choo and, as I wrote at the beginning of the offseason, he probably best fits their needs: A good defensive outfielder with a great on-base percentage, power, speed and prior success leading off.
But as I said back then, the Scott Boras client will get more money than the Orioles are comfortable doling out. Unless there has been a sea change since the Johnson move – and my sense is there hasn’t been – Choo is still expected to be too costly.
Jimenez is an interesting guy and the Orioles need an upgrade in the rotation. But the Orioles have never given a four-year deal to a free-agent pitcher, Jimenez is in line for that and I don’t expect that Orioles’ philosophy to change there, either.
But the one that really sticks with me is Cruz. Yes, he is a power-hitting outfielder and a former Texas Ranger under current Orioles manager Buck Showalter. He is right-handed and has hit 20 or more homers in five straight seasons. And, on the surface, that’s a fit. That’s probably why multiple reports on Wednesday mentioned him as an Orioles’ target.
Yet in the two-plus months since this process started, I have not found anyone in the organization that endorses Cruz as a viable option. Perhaps I am asking in the wrong places. But a marriage between Cruz and the Orioles just doesn’t pass the smell test.
There are plenty of reasons:
First, the Orioles put a premium on defense and Cruz is a below-average outfielder. If he came to the Orioles, it would be primarily as a designated hitter, which at 33, he probably doesn’t want to settle for yet.
Conversely, Showalter has never been a fan of having a DH-only player. It limits what he can do as a manager and ways he can rest his core players without removing their bats from the lineup. Yes, he dealt with it with two potential Hall of Famers in Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero, but his preference has always been position flexibility whenever possible. Plus, Cruz has played only 59 games in left field in his career and the Orioles have an established right fielder in Nick Markakis.
Then there’s his offensive game. More than anything, the Orioles need guys who can get on base at a solid clip, their biggest offensive weakness in 2013. Well, Cruz is a free-swinger (he fanned 109 times in 413 at-bats in 2013 and walked just 35 times). He has a lifetime on-base percentage of .327 and only once in his five full seasons has he had an OBP above .332 (an impressive .374 in 2010).
He hasn’t been particularly durable in his career, and then last season was suspended 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal. That certainly isn’t a plus.
Also, because he rejected a qualifying offer from the Rangers, signing Cruz would mean the Orioles would have to forfeit their first round pick (17th overall) in the 2014 draft. And though executive vice president Dan Duquette isn’t as concerned about forfeiting a pick as he was last year – he said this offseason he’d look at it on a case-by-case basis instead of a blanket no – Cruz does not seem like the kind of player for whom Duquette would sacrifice a pick.
Oh, and one last thing: Cruz is still going to get big money. That’s the way this offseason has been. Now, if his market bottoms out, and the Orioles can sign him to a club-friendly deal, then sure, they may have more interest.
But, for now, it is really hard to see Cruz as a fit for this team.