1/8/2014 10:40 A.M. ET
Several factors leave free-agent slugger Cruz unsigned
Last year's suspension, production splits, required compensation play role
By Tracy Ringolsby / MLB.com
Slightly more than five weeks before Spring Training opens, Nelson Cruz is in baseball limbo.
The free-agent market hasn't shaken out for Cruz, even though his name was commonly included in early offseason talk regarding Kansas City, Colorado, Seattle, Baltimore and even Texas. And the fact he could fill power-hitting needs of those teams, nothing has materialized.
And time is running out.
Instead of Cruz, Colorado signed Justin Morneau. Seattle opted for Robinson Cano and Corey Hart. Texas traded for Prince Fielder and signed Shin-Soo Choo. Kansas City chose to address multiple needs, acquiring outfielder Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee and signing free agents Omar Infante and Jason Vargas, among others. And Baltimore ... well it's been working with fiscal constraints that don't lend themselves to the type of deal Cruz has sought.
So why so many flirtations without any relationship developing?
There's never been a question about Cruz being a wonderful teammate and an excellent representative of the team in public situations. That was underscored by the fact the Rangers were willing to tender him the $14.1 million arbitration offer that he turned down the first week of December amid indications he was looking for a four-year deal worth more than $70 million.
Cruz's 50-game PED suspension last season makes him a victim by association of the dramatic decline suffered by Melky Cabrera, who went from an All-Star in San Francisco two years ago to a bust in Toronto last year. Cabrera hit .322 with 29 home runs and 147 RBIs in 268 games with Kansas City and San Francisco in 2011-12 before his 50-game suspension in August 2012.
The Giants opted not to reactivate him for the 2012 postseason, but Toronto signed Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million deal that offseason, and he responded by hitting .279 with three home runs and 30 RBIs in 88 games last year.
And Cabrera's signing, along with St. Louis signing Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53 million deal this offseason, created such a backlash -- not only from the public but players themselves -- that teams could have second thoughts on how to handle such situations.
That's not all. The Rangers' offer of arbitration means any other team that signs Cruz will lose a top Draft pick.
Cruz is 33 and believed to be on the backside of his prime, which limits the length of commitment teams may make.
The only time in his career Cruz played in as many as 130 games was in 2012, the year prior to the offseason testing that led to his suspension.
For all his power and the talk of run production, and despite playing home games in hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Cruz has never driven in more than 90 runs in a season, and only once hit as many as 30 home runs (33 in 2009).
Cruz's defense is marginal at best, making him most likely more attractive to an American League team so he can DH, or a team with a small right field, limiting the demands he will face in the field.
For all the offensive numbers that are discussed in favor of Cruz, the teams that are stats oriented question the claims that he is an impact offensive player. They will tell you that his career .823 OPS is too heavily weighted by a .495 slugging percentage.
They will point to a career .327 on-base percentage, which is considered mediocre.
They express strong concern about his right-left splits, particularly a .317 career on-base percentage against right-handed pitchers -- and only .299 the past three seasons, the lowest among Rangers hitters who qualified for a batting title.
There's no single issue that would scare a team away from Cruz, given the person he is.
The chain of events, however, has left Cruz -- as respected as he is within the game -- still waiting to find a team to play for in 2014.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.