Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why Nelson Cruz?

In this morning's edition of the TGP Daily Poll, the question of Nelson Cruz reaching free agency was broached. It was unanimously voted that Cruz wouldn't be like JJ Hardy and sign an extension with the Orioles, thus reaching free agency. Many people would love for that to happen, as it would allow the Yankees to make a bid for the Dominican slugger.

But why would the Yankees want Cruz?

Besides having that great smile around?

While his 40 home runs this season may make you stand up and say "wow", keep in mind that it's the most homers he's hit in a season in his career. His next highest HR total was 33 in 2009. In the four years since that '09 season, Cruz hit an average of 26 bombs a year, which ranks 23rd in MLB over that time period (Miguel Cabrera hit the most home runs during those four seasons with 156).

Edit: I should have pointed out that Cruz did miss games in August of 2013 due to suffering a thigh contusion at the end of July that season, so he very well could have hit 4 or 5 more home runs that season, pushing his total above 30 that year. And he had problems with that same thigh in 2010, which likely suppressed his HR total that season too.

The point is... expecting him to hit 40, or even 30, home runs in 2015 is pretty optimistic.

Then there's the fact that Cruz had a line drive percentage this past season much higher than his career norm. Between 2009 and 2013 his line drive percentage was 18%, but he saw that number jump way up to 23% in 2014.

So I'll reiterate.. if you think Nelson Cruz is going to come to the Yankees next year and put up another 40 homers, or even 30 homers, then you're just as optimistic about him as myself and others are about CC Sabathia coming back as an effective pitcher.

But let's put the home run totals aside and look at the biggest issue with signing Mr. Cruz.

Where does he play?

The Yankees already have two guys on the roster to play right field, that being Carlos Beltran and Martin Prado. That's assuming we'd even want Cruz in right field. I mean, he's not exactly a gold glover in the outfield anymore. The current Orioles slugger hasn't posted a postive UZR in right field since 2010. So even if you argue that the reason Buck Showalter kept Cruz at DH most of the season was because they already had Nick Markakis in RF, it doesn't mean that Nelson would have been any good there anyway.

Now, I'm sure plenty of you are pointing out that having Carlos Beltran in right is hardly an improvement over Cruz. And you'd be right. Heck, I'd accept that Cruz is better in the field than Beltran. But there's a big difference between the two... Beltran is already under contract with the Yankees.

Not only is Beltran already around to (hopefully) play in RF most of the time in 2015, but the team also has Martin Prado, who played 60 innings out there last season. I suppose Prado could play 2B regularly, but what about giving youngsters like Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder a shot?

And don't even get me started with the designated hitter slot. I mean, the team is chock full of players that will need to see DH days fairly often (see Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Carlos Beltran himself).

Even if Nelson's bat was a perfect fit for the team, you can't ignore the fact that there's just no place for him to play.

One more thing... what do you have left with Nelson Cruz if he doesn't post 40 home runs? Not much. Cruz hit .271 with an on-base percentage of just .333, and both of those numbers are higher than he hit in his previous three seasons. So even continuing to bat that well overall is being optimistic.

Twenty-five or so home runs, a sub-.270 batting average, a sub-.330 on-base percentage, well below average defense when he does play in the field, and no room for another person that should see the majority of his time at DH. Why in the World should the Yankees make a play at Nelson Cruz?

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