Nelson Cruz’s trade value has never been higher after a career season that included eye-popping power. The question for new Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto is whether Cruz is more valuable in the middle of the Mariners’ batting order.
For a month and half now, Jerry Dipoto has been picking at the Mariners’ roster like it was a prison cell at Shawshank. The moves have been mild yet material — prudent yet productive.
But what if, to truly make the M’s better, the first-year general manager needs to set aside the pickax and break out the sledgehammer? What if Dipoto needs to trade Nelson Cruz?
Obviously, from a PR standpoint, this would be akin to removing microbrews from Portland. Cruz is the only player in the majors to have hit 40 home runs in each of the past two seasons.
If the Mariners were to ship him, fans would go ballistic. But the public feeling wronged wouldn’t mean the trade was wrong.
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The truth is, Cruz’s value is never going to be as high as it is right now. The outfielder had a career year for Seattle in 2015, hitting .302 while blasting 44 home runs.
Power may be the most coveted commodity in baseball, and Cruz is brimming with it. Which, of course, begs the question — why would Seattle give him up?
Well, for one, the man is 35, which is bingo-and-shuffleboard age for ballplayers. To expect Cruz to perform at the level he has for the past two years may be more optimistic than it is realistic.
Sure, you have guys such as David Ortiz or Albert Pujols, who had brilliant seasons at three-and-a-half decades old. But as FanGraphs pointed out, star players — when compared to their peak years — tend to produce about 30 fewer runs per season once they hit the big 3-5.
Also, Cruz is one of baseball’s more, uh, generous outfielders. Last year, his defensive-runs-saved mark was minus-8 despite being involved in just 107 plays. In fact, his defensive decline has been so prominent, that the highest wins above replacement (WAR, a statistical measure of worth over a replacement-level player at the same position) of his career came in 2010, when he hit half as many homers as he did last season.
Dipoto has emphasized that he wants a speedy outfield and a defensive-oriented roster. Cruz doesn’t fit that mold, and has struggled as a designated hitter. Advanced statistics show that Cruz has been less of an offensive threat as a DH throughout his career, and was substantially less efficient in that role last season.
So would trading him make sense?
Advocates for a deal would say that the $42.7 million the M’s owe Cruz over the next three years actually make him pretty tradeable. His production far exceeded his paycheck last season, and you know a team in need of some muscle would unload talent for the chance to snag him.
Oh, and if you haven’t noticed, the Mariners still have holes. With Mark Trumbo off to Baltimore, a true, power-hitting first baseman is still a need. One more outfielder is necessary, too, as are quality arms in the starting rotation and still-tenuous bullpen.
Baseball isn’t like basketball, where you can lean on your star while he carries you to the playoffs. The M’s won just 76 games last season despite Cruz’s MVP-caliber year.
So once more, with feeling — should Seattle trade Nelson Ramon Cruz?
Eh, probably not.
If the Mariners were rebuilding, dealing Cruz would be the obvious move, but Dipoto has made clear that he thinks this team can contend. It’s a valid thought — the Houston Astros went from 70 wins in 2014 to 86 in 2015.
So far, Seattle’s transactions have been about complementing its current core, not blowing that core to smithereens. And while Cruz’s contract makes him far easier to deal than, say, Robinson Cano, it also makes him a tremendous value to the Mariners.
If the M’s are as close as Dipoto thinks they are, Cruz could very well be the difference between the team reaching game No. 163 and extending its postseason drought. It’s awfully tough to toss away an All-Star after the best season of his life.
But the idea of dealing Cruz isn’t as ridiculous as you might think. It’s a tough trade to condone, but not impossible to consider.