In the next couple of weeks as the Orioles’ season winds down, I will be going back and looking at some players from the 2012-2016 era and breaking down their contributions. Today’s player: Nelson Cruz.
Late into the offseason before the 2014 season, the Orioles made a surprising signing.
The @Orioles sign OF Nelson Cruz to a 1-year contract; designate LHP Chris Jones for assignment.
— MLBRosterMoves (@MLBRosterMoves) February 24, 2014
This one took me by surprise. After the Orioles voided the Grant Balfour deal due to his physical results, the 2014 season was looking bleak for the Orioles. Oh, how we were wrong and naive.
Signing for $8 million for one year, Nelson Cruz gave the Orioles probably the most bang for their buck in a long time. It still remains a point of debate today whether he should have been brought back after the ’14 season; the obvious answer being “yes”.
Originally I did not want the O’s to resign Cruz for the simple reason that he was an aging designated hitter who could barely play the field and I had concerns going forward that his production would fall off a cliff in terms of him not being able to repeat his 2014 campaign. Once again, wrong and naive.
After the 2014 season, Cruz signed with the Mariners for 4 years, $57 million which included a $1 million signing bonus, rounding out to $14,250,000 each year. Considering he has been worth 15.3 WAR since joining the Mariners, that deal turned out very well for all parties.
Side note: the only Orioles’ player that has a higher WAR from 2015-2018 is Manny Machado at 19.2. Nobody else is above 10 in that time frame.
But, let us not question what could have happened or what the future could have held; let us take a look at one of the more valuable Orioles during a winning span for the franchise that helped lead the team to their first division championship in over 17 years.
Right off the bat, Cruz’s Orioles career got off to a great start with a go ahead home run on Opening Day that led to the Orioles winning the game, 2-1.
From that point on, Cruz was a staple in the middle of the Orioles lineup. In 159 games, Cruz had a slash line of .271/.333/.525 with 40 home runs, which led the league, 108 RBI’s, 137 wRC+, and a 3.9 WAR.
His lore will forever be tied to the Orioles, even if he was only here for one season. The amount of impact he had in such a short time was amazing, honestly. Despite coming off a suspension for performance enhancing drugs the year before, the fans in Baltimore rallied around Cruz and embraced him quickly and still do to this day.
I am happy he is still finding success years later in Seattle. I liked Cruz from the jump as well here and even though he did not come back to the Orioles, seeing him be the premiere DH in the league has been fun as hell to watch. I just hope he can see the postseason one more time because he is easily one of the most clutch playoff performers of this era.