Nelson Cruz has hit 135 home runs over the past five seasons with the Texas Rangers, but like Jhonny Peralta, Cruz will hit the free agent market after serving a 50 game suspension last season. He still may accept his qualifying offer from the Rangers -- which would make this article obsolete -- but will the Tigers show interest if he declines?
Who is he?
Cruz was signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent back in 1998, but broke into the big leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005 after spending four years with the Oakland Athletics. Cruz was shipped to Texas as part of the Carlos Lee at the 2006 trade deadline, but didn't make his mark until 2009. He played in a then-career high 128 games and hit .260/.332/.524 with 33 home runs, 76 RBI, and 20 stolen bases. Since then, he has hit 102 home runs with an .838 OPS in the past four seasons.
Why should we care?
Power, power, and more power. Cruz's bat would add even more thump to the middle of the Tigers' order, including the "home run power" that can change games in a heartbeat. Cruz has hit at least 24 home runs and slugged at least .506 in four of the past five seasons. Let's put that into perspective: his .460 slugging average in 2012 -- the lowest figure he has posted since 2007 -- would have been third on this year's Tigers club behind Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter.
Another plus working in Cruz's favor is his tie-in with the Biogenesis suspensions from last season. Some teams and fans view that as a black mark on Cruz's record, which will lower his contract demands considerably. In addition, Cruz was given a qualifying offer by the Texas Rangers. If he declines the $14.1 million offer to become a free agent, the team that signs him will forfeit their first round draft pick. Few teams will make it over both of these obstacles, limiting the amount of competition that the Tigers could face if they have their eyes set on the Dominican slugger.
Why should we stay away?
Cruz burst onto the scene with the Texas Rangers in 2009, so it's easy for people to overlook the fact that he's 33 years old. Power is typically one of the first tools to decline as a player ages, but Cruz has the type of natural strength that should prolong his productivity for a couple seasons. However, there's always the risk that Cruz will drop off quickly as he gets older. He is a career .268 hitter with a 22.3% strikeout rate, so his fall from grace could be fairly swift.
Anyone who has watched Fox's playoff coverage over the past few seasons has seen Cruz's attempt at a David Freese fly ball in the 2011 World Series. If Cruz catches that ball, the Rangers are World Series champions. As we saw, however, Cruz's range in the outfield is lacking. This deficiency can be masked in a smaller park, but would likely be exposed in Comerica's expansive outfield.
Will he end up in Detroit?
It's hard to see the Tigers showing interest in Cruz after Dave Dombrowski's comments that the Tigers would not look to re-sign Jhonny Peralta. This has nothing to do with either player being suspended last year -- at least, not in my eyes -- but rather because they are similar players. Sure, Cruz is a natural outfielder who hits for more power than Peralta, but it would seem odd if the Tigers were to give him a contract when they have another slow, plodding right-handed hitter who has expressed interest into returning to the club in 2014.
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