Salisbury on Phillies' potential targets
Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran are two powerful corner outfielders who may not require long-term free-agent deals. (USA Today Images)
Over the next several weeks we’ll unveil a list of potential free agents and trade targets the Phillies could pursue this offseason, one in which they’ll need to plug holes behind the plate, in the corner outfield and, most importantly, on the pitching staff.
First up, we look at a pair of powerful free-agent corner outfielders.
Position: Right field
2011-13 stats: .263 BA, .319 OBP, 27 HR, 84 RBIs per season
Most recent contract: Two years, $16 million (Texas)
Had his name not been included in the Biogenesis scandal of 2013, Nelson Cruz would be in line for a huge payday. But the combination of his age, PED controversy and a history of injuries has lowered his free-agent price to the point where the Phillies should absolutely take a look.
Cruz hit 27 home runs in just 109 games last season. He was on a full-season pace for 40 homers, which would have bested his career high by seven.
From 2009-13, Cruz hit .272/.331/.511 with 162-game averages of 35 homers and 106 RBIs. The issue was that he came close to 162 games only once, in 2012. In the other four seasons he missed an average of 45 games because of hamstring and groin injuries.
The Phillies are in dire need of right-handed thump in the middle of the order to protect Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown. Darin Ruf provided some during the second half of 2013, but the Phils aren't convinced Ruf has the defensive skills to play right field over a full season, and it's looking more and more like Ruf will be a super-sub come 2014. Add Cruz and you might be looking at a 1-5 of: Ben Revere-Chase Utley-Brown-Cruz-Howard. Not bad. Another concern, though, is his defense. Cruz has been a below-average defender for three seasons and made several notable gaffes in the Rangers' 2011 World Series collapse.
Cruz's peak years are already behind him, but he still figures to be productive for about two more seasons. That is the key -- the Phils would have to avoid over-paying him in both dollars and years for this to make any sense.
Just like Cruz, Melky Cabrera was due big free-agent money last winter until a PED scandal tarnished his name and generated concerns over who he really was. Cabrera ended up settling for a two-year, $16 million deal and had a mediocre season with the Blue Jays.
Cruz is more of an impact player than Cabrera and will surely find more cash in the marketplace. If a team wants to protect itself with a two-year deal, you might be looking at $30 million total.
Would such a deal fit into the Phillies' payroll constraints? They have about $120 million already committed to seven players next season, so there won't be room for a ton of splurging. If they go out and get Cruz, it won't leave much room to fill several holes in the bullpen and in the rotation. Keep in mind, however, that Major League Baseball's luxury tax threshold increases in 2014 from $174 million to $189 million.
Avoiding large average annual values for the right-handed bat is a main reason Giancarlo Stanton remains on the Phillies' radar, and they'll continue to pursue him if the Marlins indeed make him available. On top of being a full 10 years younger than Cruz, Stanton is significantly less expensive at the moment. (But more on him Friday from Jim Salisbury.)
Position: Right field
2011-13 stats: .288 BA, .356 OBP, 26 HR, 88 RBIs per season
Most recent contract: Two years, $26 million (St. Louis)
The Cardinals' playoff hero is a free agent after two more dynamic years in his mid-30s. The Phillies could have pursued Beltran two offseasons ago when they had a hole in right field, but he wound up signing with the Cards for a deal that helped set the tone for the extension Utley signed this past summer.
In two years in St. Louis, Beltran hit .282/.343/.493 with 56 homers and 181 RBIs. He played in 296 of 324 games. At ages 35 and 36 he had a combined 116 extra-base hits; over that same span, Jimmy Rollins led the Phillies with 105.
Beltran is a complete player. He switch-hits for average and power, routinely solves good pitching, glides effortlessly in right field to get to most balls and has a strong arm that baserunners rarely test. On top of it all, he might be the greatest postseason hitter ever. He's batted .333 with 16 homers and 40 RBIs in 51 playoff games.
The Phillies should avoid getting older, but Beltran has proven to be an exception to the rule of decline usually experienced by aging players. He was hampered by injuries in 2009 and 2010 but has stayed on the field and been extremely productive in the three seasons since.
The Phils already missed out on two of those years ... will they willingly miss out on two more? Beltran is in line for a deal similar to the one he's coming off of. Despite all of his accolades it's tough to imagine a team signing him through his age-40 season.
Cruz and Beltran are in the second tier of free-agent outfielders. They won't be bargains by any stretch, but they will be cheaper than Shin-Soo and Jacoby Ellsbury, who will likely find four- or five-year deals.
Coming up tomorrow: Starting pitchers Matt Garza and Ervin Santana