After he agreed to terms with the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, Nelson Cruz had every right to assail Major League Baseball’s current free-agent system.
Three months after he rejected the Texas Rangers’ $14.1 million qualifying offer, Cruz settled with the Orioles for one year at a salary of $8 million.
Not exactly chump change, of course. But how do you explain to your spouse that your confidence in your market value has just cost the family $6 million?
Ouch. Counting the lost salary from his 50-game Biogenesis suspension last season — approximately $3.3 million — that turned out to be one expensive “doctor” visit to Tony Bosch’s anti-aging clinic.
When news of Cruz’s impending agreement reached Rangers spring training camp Saturday morning, manager Ron Washington wished his ex-slugger well.
“Good luck, Nelson,” Washington said with warm sincerity.
“They’re getting a guy that can drive in some big runs. And they’re getting a guy who loves to play baseball. And they’re getting him in that small park …”
Washington added a colorful punctuation to that last sentence. By rejecting a reported multiyear offer from the Mariners that may or may not actually have been extended, the power-hitting Cruz upgraded from the yonder outfield fences of Seattle’s Safeco Field to the inviting left-field porch at Camden Yards.
So it wasn’t all a disappointing day for Cruz.
The modest terms of his contract, however, sounded echoes throughout baseball, including the Rangers’ camp.
Now do you believe that Cruz isn’t coming back to the Rangers this year?
The front office at Rangers, Inc., contended, even as late as Saturday, that they still had a porch light on, just in case Cruz decided to return. But the interest had to be tepid, at best, if even a price-tag plummet to $8 million wasn’t enough to stir GM Jon Daniels into making an 11th-hour offer.
That was one echo. Another was the question of what the Rangers would have done over the winter if Cruz had accepted the $14.1 million qualifying offer.
No Prince Fielder? No Shin-Soo Choo?
Maybe, but the feeling here is that the Rangers would have found room for all three. Maybe right fielder Alex Rios would have been traded to assuage the balance sheet.
Washington called Cruz a “tremendous teammate, all the qualities you want in a winner; that’s Nelson.
“We viewed him as a fit. We just couldn’t pull off the deal.”
The echoes today will ring with condemnation from baseball’s rank and file. Draft choice compensation isn’t supposed to thwart the game’s free-agent system.
But it’s happening, not so much because teams cherish their first-round picks, but also because they covet the bonus pool money that comes with the pick.
Last year, free agents Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse were rewarded for their patience. This year Cruz, Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana and Stephen Drew seem destined to all be left holding the proverbial bag.
Without Cruz, finally, Washington was asked Saturday about his designated hitter plans for the coming season. He described a DH-by-committee of sorts.
“I’m going to swing Mitch Moreland through it,” the manager said. “I’m going to swing Rios through it, [Adrian] Beltre through it, Prince through it and Choo through it.”
He will use the DH duties, in other words, mostly as a way of getting his regulars off their feet for a day. Moreland likely will get the remaining two or three days.
In the absence of a viable trade offer for Moreland, the DH rotation is a sensible allocation of team dollars, if not necessarily a sexy one.
The Rangers avoided arbitration and settled two weeks ago on a $2.6 million contract with Moreland. On Saturday, they officially saved $14.1 million and walked away with bonus pool change in their pockets.
They played the system and won.
Nelson Cruz … ouch.