The Great DH Debate

In light of yesterday's naming rights announcement in which we found out that the new name for the ballpark the Rangers will play their home games in is Globe Life Park in Arlington, Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News has a piece up in which he talks about Nelson Cruz.

Most notably, Sherrington says that the Rangers should use their newfound cash flow (expected to be around $5M annually) to bring Cruz back to Texas.

A multi-year deal for Cruz probably isn’t a good idea for the Rangers. But if Cruz can’t work out something with Seattle, he may be amenable to a one-year deal with his old team. He’d provide protection batting fifth that Alex Rios couldn’t.

That got me to thinking once again about the designated hitter position. As of right now, it appears that Mitch Moreland is the de facto DH, and I've outlined previously that I'm not exactly thrilled with the prospect of that actually coming to fruition.

It seems that the longer Cruz is on the market, the more likely it becomes that he will end up signing a one-year deal and try his hand again next year as, quite possibly, the top free agent slugger on the market.

For the past few weeks, the two teams that have been mentioned as possible destinations have been the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers. In Seattle, the long-standing thought was that the Mariners would either sign Cruz or resign Kendrys Morales to pair with big-money acquisition Robinson Cano. Lately, however, there have been rumblings that Morales might not be opposed to waiting until sometime during midseason to sign with a team, which would likely leave Seattle out of the mix, as the franchise isn't exactly expected to be competitive within the division in 2014.

To me, Cruz to Seattle never made much sense, as he would likely face the same issues Adrian Beltre did while playing his home games at Safeco Field. There's a reason it's been called the park where right-handed hitters go to die. Furthermore, Cruz has been a liability in the outfield since the beginning of 2011. After posting a defensive runs saved (DRS) of 3 in 2010, Cruz has come up on the negative side of things in each season since.

Also on the table is the fact that, were Seattle to sign Cruz, the club would lose a first-round pick to the Rangers due to the qualifying offer that was put on the table. In resigning Morales, Seattle would retain that pick. Sure, we could view that in the mindset of Seattle losing a pick by signing Cruz and gaining one by Morales signing elsewhere due to their own qualifying offer, for the sake of this exercise, I'm assuming that Seattle isn't playing a tit for tat type of game. (Note: I was reminded in the comments section that Seattle actually wouldn't lose a pick)

With that, I make my pitch for the Rangers being able to jump back in and bring back Cruz on what would most likely be a one-year deal. The Rangers, unlike Seattle, wouldn't require Nelson Cruz to primarily be an outfielder. As the organization signed Shin-Soo Choo and will be returning Leonys Martin and Alex Rios, Cruz would only be required to play the field on a fill-in basis, possibly in games in which one of the corner outfielders might need a day off, or in the case of injury. With Engel Beltre also in the mix, it's entirely possible that Cruz would only play the field in emergency situations.

Back in November, as expected, Cruz declined the Rangers qualifying offer of one year at $14.1M. Since then, it appears the market never materialized the way Cruz and his camp had anticipated. There's the looming question of how much PED use may have helped -- which I don't believe was much of a factor -- his power numbers in the past, and with a saturated market this offseason, we've just not seen much demand.

While I don't think the Rangers will be able to jump in and sign Cruz at or below the amount of the original qualifying offer, I do wonder if maybe a one-year deal in the range of $15-17M gets the job done. Even at age 33, most projections have Cruz approaching 30 home runs and 30 doubles. While Cruz hasn't approached 2 WAR in recent seasons, much of that has been due to his poor defense in right field. If Cruz were to post a 3 WAR season as the primary DH for the Rangers, that would slot him at about $15M according the Fangraphs WAR to Dollars calculations. Above that level of production, and a Cruz deal in the proposed range because a bargain.

Now, much of this is speculative. It could be that Seattle swoops in and signs Nelson Cruz to a multi-year deal and this type of conversation is moot. Perhaps another mystery team could jump into the mix and drive up the going rate. Until that happens, though, my mind is relegated to pondering a way in which we might see Nelson Cruz in a Rangers uniform this season. We're 10 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Surprise, AZ, and more than anything, I would be shocked if Cruz hasn't signed some sort of deal before most Major League camps open, even if it isn't the deal he thought he might receive as little as three months ago.