Earlier today I was reading about the Mariners ill-advised interest in both Carlos Beltran – and even worse, Nelson Cruz. I tweeted, and here I’m going to quote my own tweet, because that’s what all the great writers do.
You see, Nelson Cruz does very few things well. He hits for power, and he hits lefties well. He has hit righties fine, but his terrible defense isn’t expunged by his offensive prowess. He’s a bad baserunner, strikes out more than average, and walks at a rate that is about league average. He’s played most of his career in a hitter’s park, and has been implicated in the Biogenesis ordeal.
All things natural and organic, we’d expect Cruz to be on the back side of his career arc this year. He’s entering his age 33 season (though he’ll be 34 on July 1, missing the “age 34” deadline by one day), and has a history of being injured somewhat often.
WAR/600PA for last two years
Career wRC+ vs. Lefties
Davis’ value is hurt by his defensive metrics, believe it or not. He’s passable in all three outfield positions, but he doesn’t have the best arm on the market. That’s the one defensive attribute that Cruz has that is better than that of Davis’, but how many outfield assists do outfielders with awful range need to make up for their awful range? Balls that fall in lead to assists too, but the difference between a runner testing an outfielder’s arm on an out rather than a base hit has a lot of value.
Davis is an interesting case. He’s been basically a league average defensive outfielder for his whole career, but his value runs counter to logic when broken down by position. As a right fielder, Davis has been worth -0.7 runs in 670.1 innings. In center he’s basically dead-even with average spanning 3,200.2 innings. But in 1621.2 innings in left field – often regarded as the easiest defensive outfield position from a skill standpoint – he’s been worth -12.3 runs.
The truth probably falls closer to average, and Davis’ continued success as a base stealer serves as some indication that he hasn’t “lost a step,” or whatever.
By signing a player like Cruz to a long-term and/or a high salary contract, they assume a ton of risk relative to his production without PEDs, lose a draft pick, and get a guy that is worse than average. Fangraphs has his expected contract at three years, $31.8 million. MLBTR has him at three years, $39 million.
Rajai Davis won’t be free, but he’ll be much cheaper than either projected contract.
Last year we saw two things:
The Blue Jays signed Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million contract coming off a PED suspension in the offseason before Cabrera plummeted to a level of production below his pre-PED averages. Cabrera was terrible, and worth nearly a full negative win.
We also saw the Mariners acquire a bunch of homerun-only players that were bad defenders.
Neither strategy was successful, and in signing Cruz the Mariners would be employing both, all while leaving a quality platoon outfielder in Davis, who is a certainty to sign for less money, on the market.