Cruz turns down Rangers' qualifying offer
Looking for multiyear deal, outfielder among top-tier free agents at position
ARLINGTON -- Free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz has turned down the Rangers qualifying offer of $14.1 million. Cruz, represented by agent Adam Katz, is looking for a multiyear offer.
General manager Jon Daniels said he has stayed in touch with Katz, and the Rangers still have interest in re-signing Cruz. The Rangers went into the offseason looking to add offense and are in need of an outfielder who can provide that.
Re-signing Cruz would not cost the Rangers a Draft pick, which Daniels said is an important consideration. Free-agent outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson were all tendered contracts by their former clubs and would cost the Rangers their first-round pick if they signed one of those four.
Those five and Marlon Byrd, who was not extended a qualifying offer by the Pirates, are the top six outfielders on the free-agent market and would represent a clear upgrade over David Murphy, who was the Rangers starting left fielder in 2013 and is not expected to return. Byrd and Cruz are the only right-handed hitters of the six, while Beltran is a switch-hitter.
Cruz hit .266 with 27 home runs and 76 RBIs in 109 games and 413 at-bats for the Rangers this past season. He had a .327 on-base percentage and a .506 slugging percentage before being suspended for 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Policy. He has a career .912 OPS at home and .734 on the road, which might scare off some teams concerned about Cruz's ability to hit away from the Ballpark in Arlington.
Cruz has played mostly right field for the Rangers because of his above-average throwing arm, but he can also play left. The 31-year-old was on the disabled list six times in three seasons between 2009-11 with a variety of leg issues, but he has stayed relatively healthy the past two seasons, although his defensive ability has diminished.
Ellsbury, who turned 30 in September, is the youngest of these six free-agent outfielders. He played in 134 games for the Red Sox in 2013 and hit .298 with 92 runs scored, nine home runs, 53 RBIs and a league-leading 52 stolen bases. He had a .355 on-base percentage and a .426 slugging percentage as the Red Sox's leadoff hitter while playing exclusively in center field. He is considered an excellent defensive player
Since 2008, Ellsbury has a .345 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter. That ranks 30th among 80 leadoff hitters with at least 520 plate appearances at that spot in the last six years. Ian Kinsler, who hit leadoff for the Rangers for much of this past season, is 31st with a .344 on base percentage. His .775 OPS ranks 24th, while Kinsler is 12th at .810. Ellsbury missed significant time in 2010 with fractured left ribs and again in 2012 with a shoulder injury.
Choo played center field for the Reds this season after four years in right field for the Indians. The 31-year-old grades out low as a defensive player and would likely need to play a corner spot, although his primary value is his high on-base percentage.
Choo had a .423 on-base percentage last season, fourth highest in the Major Leagues, and he was second with 112 walks while being used mainly in the leadoff spot. He also has a career .465 slugging percentage with an average of 37 doubles, 20 home runs and 81 RBIs for every 162 games. But he has hit just .207 with a .276 slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers the past two seasons.
Granderson, 32, was limited to 61 games last season because of a broken left forearm sustained during Spring Training after getting hit by a pitch, and then after he returned in May, a broken finger. He ended up hitting .229 with seven home runs, 15 RBIs, a .317 on-base percentage and a .407 slugging percentage in 214 at-bats.
In 2012, Granderson hit .232 with 43 home runs and 106 RBIs while striking out 195 times in 596 games. He hit .262 with 41 home runs, 119 RBIs and 169 strikeouts in 2011. During his four seasons with the Yankees, he had a .523 slugging percentage and an .865 OPS at Yankee Stadium and a .468 slugging percentage and a .796 OPS on the road.
Beltran turns 37 in April but has had two productive seasons with the Cardinals. In 2013, he hit .296 with 24 home runs, 84 RBIs, a .339 on-base percentage and a .491 slugging percentage. He has spent the past three seasons in right field after previously being one of the premier center fielders in the game.
Beltran is an eight-time All-Star who has won three Gold Gloves. He is looking for a three-year deal, and it would probably prolong his career by playing in the American League to take advantage of the designated-hitter rule. His defense has predictably dropped off as he has grown older.
Byrd, who turns 37 in August, has revived his career after a 50-game suspension in 2012 for also violating Major League Baseball's drug policy. He went to camp with the Mets on a Minor League contract, made the team and put up some of the best numbers of his career. The Mets ended up trading Byrd to the Pirates on Aug. 27, which enabled him to play in the postseason for the first time in his career.
Byrd, who was with the Rangers in 2007-09, finished with a .291 batting average, 24 home runs and 88 RBIs in 147 games and 532 at-bats. He hit .344 against left-handers. He also struck out 144 times. His .511 slugging percentage and .847 OPS were the highest of his career. Both teams used him almost exclusively in right field.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.