MLB Hot Stove Analysis: Where will Cruz, Ubaldo and Santana Land in 2014?
Usually when the calendar flips over to January there are a few bargains to be had for shoppers. Not so much in the world of baseball free agency however. Even with spring training closing in, there are a few players still waiting for both big dollars and years. Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana have plenty in common; all are 30 years of age or older, looking for contracts that may well exceed their primes, and frustratingly stuck with draft pick compensation. Not to mention all of these guys have their respective warts that may keep them from delivering the goods. Here are some possible destinations for each player:
Nelson Cruz's free agency seems to be dragging out. Part of the reason is the big numbers and years that he is looking for is upwards of five years for 75 million dollars. There has been talk of Colorado being interested, but that means that Cruz would have to be an everyday outfielder, which I don’t see possible at this point with his durability issues. In fact, throughout his career, Cruz has only played one full season due to injury and the recent PED suspension. The Mariners seem bent on throwing money at one of the remaining free agents and that could possibly be the aging outfielder. However, Seattle has a logjam of players that are DH/1st base type and one of them (Logan Morrison or Corey Hart) may need to play some right field. Add in the fact that Safeco has been hard on right -handed power hitters, so while it's possible that Cruz lands in Seattle because of money and need, it is not the ideal fit.
The best fit for player and club is Baltimore. The Orioles have not made any noise to this point and could benefit by putting another productive bat in the middle of an already potent lineup. Cruz can DH and when he's used as an outfielder, the small dimensions of Camden Yards should help him. If he was able to hit 27 HR in his PED suspension shortened season, one could expect 32-34 in a favorable hitters park next year if he passes 500 ABs. Here is a quick look at some of his career statistics at Safeco and Camden Yards, keep in mind that he has more at bats at Safeco because Seattle was a divisional opponent.
AB AVG OBP OPS
Safeco 172 .238 .299 .741
Camden 81 .333 .368 .849
Cruz would be dynamite in Baltimore and would give the Os one of the scariest 3-4-5 combos with Davis and Jones.
Inconsistency has plagued the unorthodox right-hander for the last few years, but in 2013 Cleveland finally started to get the Jimenez they thought they were trading for from Colorado. With the coaching change that brought Terry Francona along with pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Jimenez made progress in repeating his delivery which would enable him to find a consistent release point. His 1st and 2nd half splits are eye popping. Walks (53 pre/27 post), Whip (1.49/1.14) ERA (4.56/1.82) and HR's allowed (13/3) all these numbers trending in his favor give the indication that something has clicked. Its possible that Ubaldo has figured it out, but history tells us you’re probably going to get a lot of punch-outs along with a lot of walks. Investing in starting pitching is dicey to begin with and Jimenez’s track record will not help his cause for a big deal. A possible alternative fit would be Arizona because of Jimenez’s ability to throw heavy, sinking pitches. However, most signs point back to Cleveland, where Jiminez can continue to build on the progress he made last year. This would be a solid move for the Tribe, especially if the Indians want to be in the mix in the AL Central in 2014 with Detroit still being the favorite and Kansas City coming on in a hurry.
With the signing of Jason Vargas, it seems that Kansas City may have shifted its attention away from Santana. There are some things to like about the slender right-hander that his agent has dutifully attempted to point out to potential suitors. After posting 5 seasons of at least 200 innings, Santana is obviously durable. His fastball sits around 92-93 mph and touches mid to high 90's. That is solid velocity for a veteran that has piled up a lot of innings over his career. To compliment the heater, he also possesses a top-shelf diving slider that regularly hits 85 which he uses to put away hitters. However, the positives do not erase the fact that he hasn't been able to put together two consecutive solid seasons, he gives up a lot of long balls, and he's had three seasons in which his ERA has soared above 5.00. Even with these negatives, there are still teams in need of a 3rd or 4th starter that can eat up innings.
The Mariners are in play here and even more so if they lose out on Tanaka. Slotting in behind "King" Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, Santana wouldn't be counted on as much more than an innings eater. Could Santana be a match with Pittsburgh with A J Burnett’s status in limbo? Unlikely. The Toronto Blue Jays want pitching, and after getting sub-par performances from Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey last year, they may dip into free agency to solidify the rotation. There is no denying that the Jays have talent and would love to push their way toward the top of the AL East, so they're a a leading candidate for the services of Santana.