The qualifying offer in Major League Baseball has become one of the most-controversial elements of the collective bargaining agreement due to its effects on many prominent free agents. When a player turns down a qualifying offer from his previous team and becomes an unrestricted free agent, there is compensation attached to him if he were to sign with another team. That team would have to forfeit a high draft pick to the previous team if they are to sign the player to a free agent contract. Among the more-prominent players that have been affected by the qualifying offer recently include Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew, and Nelson Cruz.
Despite being one of the more-productive power hitters in baseball over recent years, Nelson Cruz found his free agent market less than robust when he started shopping his services over the winter. Cruz initially had lofty expectations for his contact, but those hopes were dashed as the market started to take shape and it became clear that there weren’t as many suitors as Cruz and his agent had hoped. Without a doubt, the qualifying offer and associated draft pick had done some measure of damage to the kind of contract that Cruz could receive.
However, that was not the only issue. Cruz had a suspension for performance enhancing drugs in his past, and doesn’t offer much in the way of defense to go along with his power at the plate. Those elements, when added together, made for a small market and fewer dollars than many expected. In the end, Cruz would take a one year contract from the Baltimore Orioles for just $8 million. His hope was that he could use the one year deal to build his value and make a larger splash next off-season. So far, that plan is working out beautifully.
Through the first six or seven weeks of the 2014 season, Nelson Cruz has been powering the Orioles offense with an OPS north of .900 and a league leading home run total. As far as $8 million contacts go, Nelson Cruz is giving the Orioles about as much value as possibly could be expected. At the moment, he is playing more like an All-Star than a one year contract recipient.
Of course, that begs the question – can this kind of performance continue? The answer to that question likely has everything to do with health. If Cruz can stay healthy, he has a long track record of solid performance at the plate which would lead one to believe that he can remain highly productive all season long. At age 33 however, there is always the possibility that Cruz will break down at some point over the summer and have to miss part of the schedule. The Orioles, and Cruz himself, obviously hope that won’t happen.