The Chicago White Sox’s flurry of moves right before the calendar turns to December has the hot stove turned up a tick and the rebuild moving off of cruise control. But ironically, it’s a different kind of “Cruz” that could shift the organization into acceleration.
With the trade of Omar Narvaez to the Seattle Mariners for high-powered relief option Alex Colome, Chicago swapped four years of team control for two. And no team does that unless they intend to be as efficient with that control as possible. To be fair, Narvaez was flawed defensively, coming off a career year offensively, and presumably on borrowed time with prospects like Zack Collins and Seby Zavala gunning for the backstop position, so any good executive would see the ingredients ripe for a sell-high scenario.
However, Rick Hahn also saw a way to upgrade the bullpen in a pinch, and according to Jeff Passan of MLB.com, incumbent 3B/DH Matt Davidson is going to be non-tendered, meaning Hahn may have designs on another upgrade.
Regardless of whatever the White Sox have planned at third base or in right field, Davidson’s exit means less clogging of the roster at the DH spot. Prior to the Davidson news, a potential platoon with Daniel Palka made a lot of sense (Davidson: .913 OPS vs. LHP, Palka: .847 OPS vs. RHP), but with his absence, Palka would likely be overexposed as a full-time DH.
So at the very least Palka needs a platoon partner. That answer could be Seby Zavala, who is now the odds-on favorite to compete for the backup catcher spot, but to stick with the theme of a club preferring to chase .500 or more in 2019 rather than a top ten draft pick, they may still go outside of the organization. And they may need to find more than a platoon partner, considering this tidbit from MLB.com’s Scott Merkin:
White Sox have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Leury Garcia and they will non-tender Matt Davidson and Avisial Garcia.
— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) November 30, 2018
If the White Sox have truly moved on from Avisail Garcia, then Palka could potentially be utilized in right field, although that is subject to what other moves Chicago makes. A certain man named Bryce Harper is still a free agent.
But this volatile roster shuffle means another bat or two is coming one way or another, and regardless of whether Chicago lands a big fish, Nelson Cruz could look awfully good in black and white come opening day.
Earlier this month, Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported the White Sox as one of the interested teams in Cruz, along with the Astros and Rays.
Teams on Nelson Cruz: astros, white sox, rays, more
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 6, 2018
The 37 year-old Cruz is coming off an All-Star season in which he swatted 37 bombs and got on base at a .342 clip in his fourth year with Seattle.
Ironically, Cruz has seen his power peak in contrast to the traditional aging curve, averaging 40 home runs across his age 33-37 seasons. All of this coming on the heels of a PED suspension, which precipitated his eventual one-year “prove-me” deal with Baltimore before signing with the Mariners on bigger money contract.
That contract is up now and Seattle is in massive retooling mode, so Cruz looks to be on his way out.
Many clubs are remiss to employ the pure DH in today’s day and age, with a premium placed on using the spot as a more flexible position that serves as a conduit to manage roster shuffling rather than power potency, meaning the modern designated hitter usually carries more versatility.
For the White Sox however, that’s not a luxury they need. They can very easily plug-and-play Nelson Cruz and his 35-40 home runs into the DH spot, without worrying about needing the position to house roster overflow. The two moves they made today already trimmed a lot of the fat that would have landed in the DH gut.
Instead that roster spot can carry a player who can lift all of the freight, and despite his age, Cruz is more than capable. His average of 40 home runs over the last five seasons are paired with an average .281/.356/.541 line, so there’s more than pop in his bat. His hard contact rates over the last two seasons have been the healthiest of his career (40.7% and 42.3% respectively per FanGraphs) and that goes along with a 9.6 percent walk rate in his time with the Mariners.
His 22.4 percent career strikeout rate is actually above his 20.6 percent mark last season, both of which are more than palatable when this much power is in play.
If this is what “father time” looks like for Cruz, then by all means, bring it on.
The only reason to hit the pause button would be if Chicago felt it would take more than a one-year commitment to lock him down, but given the traditional market for pure DH bats, the White Sox stand to pay a below market rate for wins in any deal for Cruz.
It would likely take $12-$15 million on a single year deal to land the slugger, and even if he merely replicated his 2.5 fWAR from last season, his true value provided would be more in the $20 million range – a paycheck typically reserved for those who can offer something in the field.
A Cruz signing wouldn’t preclude Chicago from backing up the Brinks truck for Harper or Machado either, as it would only make a small dent in the teeming payroll space they’re currently swimming in. He also would come at no draft pick cost as he was ineligible for a qualifying offer.
Rick Hahn saw a market opportunity with Alex Colome to make arguably the first win-now move since the start of the teardown, and there’s a tremendous opportunity here for him to make the second one. The rebuild is no longer in cruise control and fittingly Cruz may help Chicago officially switch gears.
You can follow Owen on Twitter for more White Sox analysis at @The_Xsport