Now comes word, or rumor, that the Mets are interested in former Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz. According to Kristie Ackert in the Daily News, "the Mets are going hard after (and may be the early leader for) Nelson Cruz." Jon Heyman at CBSSports also thinks the Mets are "in on" Cruz. However, Adam Rubin at ESPNNY wrote that "a team insider severely downplayed to ESPNNewYork.com the likelihood of signing either [Nelson or Cruz]."
As with a lengthy contract for Granderson, a three-year deal for Cruz would be a similar mistake. At ESPN, Jim Bowden predicted that Cruz would earn a three year contract for $48 million, for an average annual value of $16 million. The crowd-sourced project at Fangraphs saw him as signing for 3 years/$31.8 million or $10.6 annually.
Here are the most relevant facts:
1. Cruz is 33 years old. Most 33 year old baseball players decline rapidly.
2. He is not special. His baseball reference WAR the last three years: 1.3, 0.4, 2.0. He has one season above 2.3 in his career, his age 28 season in 2010 with Texas (4.3). Fangraphs WAR from the last three years: 1.3, 1.1, 1.5.
3. In his career away from Texas, he has hit .242/.299/.435 in 1590 PA. No, this is not a small sample.
4. Since turning 30, he has hit .263/.319/.489 in 392 games over three years in 129 games a year.
5. As the recipient of a qualifying offer, he will cost the Mets a second round pick.
Less relevant to me, but germane to many: he was suspended 50 games in 2013 for his ties to the Biogenesis clinic. Mets fans should recognize that players with PED suspensions can come back and hit (ahem: Marlon Byrd).
We played this game yesterday with Curtis Granderson, but lets take a look at Cruz's top 10 most similar hitters and how they have aged in their age 33 seasons and beyond. Again, the WAR listed is bWAR and accounts for all of the value these players provided in their year XX seasons and every one after. Again, I have eliminated players whose careers ended in 1970 and earlier.
[sny-table rowheader=true columnheader=true]
Uhhhhhh. [runs away screaming]
Starting in their age 33 seasons, these eight players totaled 14 WAR, an average of two per player. However, to be fair to Cruz, five of these guys, Hawpe, Willingham, Werth, Ross and Ludwick have not completed their age-35 seasons, the potential third year of Cruz's deal. On the other hand, they have not aged well.
However, in their recently completed age-34 seasons, they accumulated the following bWAR:
Cody Ross was worth 2.5 wins in Arizona in his age 32 season.
Jayson Werth's 2013 was better than any single one of Nelson Cruz's seasons. Werth has three seasons - 2009, 2010, 2013 - that are as good as Cruz's best in 2010, which itself was an aberration in Cruz's career. There is no reason to think that Cruz will magically get dramatically better in his age 33 and 34 seasons, like to peak Werth level.
If the price of a win on the free agent market is really $7 million, signing Cruz for two years at $10-12 million per year for a total of $20-24 could give a team some short-term right-handed power assuming he can average 1.5-1.7 wins the next two years. Anything else is just throwing good money after bad for the decline years of a player who is not that good to begin with.
Do the Mets need outfield help? Oh, yes. Do they need Nelson Cruz at anything longer than a two year commitment? Oh, no.
See, the secret to contention is not actually signing corner outfielders in their mid-30s to lengthy deals. Shhhhhh.....