A few weeks ago, we heard that the Baltimore Orioles were ready to jump in on some big name free agents. Those names included Ubaldo Jimenez, Shin-Soo Choo, and Nelson Cruz. To date, the only name that the O’s have actually been in on is Grant Balfour, and the two sides had come to an agreement before an apparent concern over his medicals led to the deal falling apart.
Other than that, it’s been virtual silence on the O’s front, despite their glaring need for pitching and the fact that they could use another bat in the mix. Looking specifically at those three names that the Orioles were rumored to have interest in, two are still available. Given the apparently limited market for the latter, being Nelson Cruz, it would appear that Cruz to the Orioles is as inevitable a signing as you’re going to find this winter.
There are no shortage of knocks on Cruz as he looks for that next deal. He’s coming off of a 50-game suspension stemming from the Biogenesis mess, doesn’t get on base nearly enough, and his defense is below average. He’s very likely going to sign with an American League team where he can serve some as a designated hitter, while fielding some starts in the outfield. Baltimore could afford him that very opportunity.
Health isn’t as big a concern with Cruz as it once was. He appeared in 159 games in 2012 before playing in 109 in 2013, with the absence of games there coming from the suspension, not from an injury. He’s been good for an average of 32 home runs over the course of his career, while getting on base at a .327 clip. That OBP isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but the power he brings to the table outweighs his inconsistency in getting on base. His defense isn’t quite as bad as advertised either. His UZR in 2013 was -0.3, not good, but also not terrible. He can provide serviceable defense with the glove.
The Orioles are currently set to roll with Nolan Reimold in left field. He’s not the worst option, but Cruz would be a sizable upgrade, particularly at the plate. Whether it’d be Nelson Cruz or Nolan Reimold getting the bulk of the starts remains to be seen. But with the Orioles having yet to make their big splash, and the fact that Cruz would be a nice touch of offensive power to an already potent lineup, this is something that could very well happen before the offseason is over. It may just be a matter of Cruz’s price coming down.