Looking at the Baltimore Orioles’ Lineup Without Cruz
By Scott Cahoon
Oct 15, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) reacts after lining out to end the top of the sixth inning against the Kansas City Royals in game four of the 2014 ALCS playoff baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
The Orioles lost a valuable piece today when left fielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz signed with the Seattle Mariners.
Cruz was second among designated hitters in wins above replacement (3.9), first in home runs (40), first in runners batted in (108), and third in batting average (.271).
He provided the Orioles with a consistent force in the lineup, playing in 159 games in the regular season and performing the best of any Oriole in the postseason, batting .357/.400/.607.
But the other way to measure value is why Cruz is moving on.
A four-year, $57 million contract was too rich for the Orioles’ taste and extended Cruz beyond years the team felt he would likely be productive.
With Cruz now 34, the Mariners have agreed to pay a 38-year-old a (average annual value) $14.5 million contract in 2019.
The Orioles offered Cruz the obligatory one-year $15.3 million qualifying offer for 2015, ensuring they would recoup a draft pick, but Cruz had earned far more than that as he was a driving force behind the Orioles’ first division title since 2014.
Subtracting Cruz’s production entirely, the Orioles would have still placed fourth in the major leagues in home runs with 171, but would have been tied for 27th in RBI.
If the Orioles don’t add a free agent to replace Cruz, retain Nick Markakis, and exercise Alejandro De Aza’s option, here’s my prediction of what the 2015 lineup looks like:
RF Nick Markakis (L)
3B Manny Machado (R)
CF Adam Jones (R)
1B Chris Davis (L)
C Matt Wieters (S)
DH Steve Pearce (R)
SS J.J. Hardy (R)
LF Alejandro De Aza (L)
2B Jonathan Schoop (R)
Not too shabby, but there are too many contingencies for the team to be guaranteed a contender. Steve Pearce must repeat a career year and hit right-handed pitching; Matt Wieters needs to come back from injury with little rust as he would be depended on as a run producer; Manny Machado would need to continue on his path to stardom with his first injury-free major league season; J.J. Hardy would need to regain some of the power he lost in 2014; and Jonathan Schoop would need to raise his .209 batting average for the lineup to be considered elite.
Now add another piece to the lineup using the $15.3 million (at least) the Orioles were prepared to spend on Cruz.
Melky Cabrera, projected to earn a five-year, $66.25 million contract by MLB Trade Rumors ($13.25 million average annual value), would fit the Orioles’ budget and need for a reliable offensive producer. At age 30, Cabrera’s projected contract would only take him to 35-years-old and give the Orioles a hitter with a career on-base percentage of .339, contrasting a long-seen shortcoming of Oriole batters.
Inserting Cabrera would also provide more balance to the Orioles lineup and give them a switch hitter to insert in place of Alejandro De Aza when facing a lefty, or Steve Pearce when facing a righty.
While the Red Sox and Yankees retool for 2015, the Orioles need to find an adequate replacement for Cruz. Relying too heavily on uncertainties like Davis, Wieters, and Pearce’s return to production is a risky proposition, but adding a proven commodity like Cabrera mitigates the risk.
Losing Cruz isn’t a death blow to the Orioles season in 2015, but another offensive piece must be added to assure the Orioles will be contender to repeat as division champs.