FA Comparison: Nelson Cruz vs. Mike Morse

Dilip Vishwanat

Most reports have the Phillies going after an outfielder this offseason, but with a decent sized pool of free agents from which to choose, who should Ruben and the front office focus on most?

No matter the website, publication, or news medium, most Phillies fans and writers think that the team needs to focus on finding a starting pitcher, some relief help, and an outfielder this offseason. Whether by trade or free agency, the rumors, thoughts, and tons of free advice have begun to drop from the sky like the home runs Ryan Howard used to hit. As far trades go, names like Giancarlo Stanton and David Price get thrown around in every discussion, whether of a Phillies nature or not. Those are the big fish (especially in Stanton's case), and while some similar catches also exist in the free agency market, the talent and youth of a Stanton or Price do not.

In that vein, I felt no sense of surprise when reading a piece on Yahoo! Sports by Bob Whalon concerning which outfielder, amongst the numerous free agents, the Phillies should target. He makes the case that the Phillies should offer a deal to free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz. Cruz has spent the majority of his career with the Texas Rangers. He's a right-handed batter, which the majority of Phillies people consider a priority, and has shown he can hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching, and while his numbers drop when not playing in hitter-friendly Ballpark in Arlington, he doesn't become Brendan Ryan-like on the road.

Whalon makes quick work of Cruz's stats, or essentially the proof that he makes a good fit for the team, as well as an example of a contract he, Whalon, would float, was he the Phillies GM.

Cruz, 33, has averaged 27 home runs per season since 2009 and, besides the 50-game suspension, has remained healthy the last two seasons after battling injuries earlier in his career. His 2013 stat line: .266/.327/.506, 27 HR, 49 R, 76 RBIs, 5 SB in 413 AB. I'd give a 3-year, $45 million contract for those numbers, especially considering he is a right-handed bat who would provide much-needed protection to all the lefties in the Phillies lineup

While Cruz's recent health hasn't been a big issue for the Rangers, it wasn't long ago that the 33-year-old was marred by a number of hamstring injuries that aided in a major decline in his base running and defense, and kept him out of over 60 games between 2010 and 2011. Possibly due to the performance enhancing substances Cruz was recently suspended for taking, he has remained healthier since 2011. In addition, as Cruz begins to fade away from his prime as a player, he will only become slower, and more prone to re-injuring his hamstrings or having other, possibly more severe, injuries pop up. On the bright side, the Phillies medical and training staff usually ranks near the top of MLB teams, which could provide some cover was the team to go after Cruz. Still, the fact remains that we cannot discount Cruz's injury past or his age going forward when considering spending money that could be spent elsewhere on him.

At three years and $45 million, the Phillies would be shelling out $15 million AAV on Cruz. $15 million roughly shakes out to a 2.5 to 3.0 win player per season, something Cruz hasn't accomplished since 2010. Usually free agents make a bit more than they are worth, so a little of an overpay can be expected, Cruz has averaged 1.2 rWAR and 1.3 fWAR over each of the last three seasons. While Cruz may end up with a contract that high due to bidding wars and numerous other factors, unless he drinks some fountain of youth potion (preferably something legal) procured by Ponce de León, I don't exactly see this becoming a responsible or efficient signing.

Moving on from Whalon for a minute, let's consider another option, also a free agent right-handed hitting outfielder, to compare to Cruz. Enter, Michael Morse. Phillies fans know Morse well, as he patrolled the outfield and a played a bit of first base for the Washington Nationals before the Nats decided to go with Adam LaRoche, making Morse expendable, and traded Morse to Seattle. He finished the 2013 season in Baltimore, and did so with some pretty paltry numbers.

So, in the spirit of the hot stove and free agency, let's compare Morse's last three seasons with Cruz's. When looking at some conventional stats we see that Cruz has the advantage in most categories, remembering that while Cruz had a spot locked up in the Rangers' outfield, Morse spent time trying to play well enough to budge his way in.

Team

PA

HR

R

RBI

SB

Nelson Cruz

Rangers

1611

80

199

253

22

Michael Morse

- - -

1342

62

160

184

2

When delving a bit deeper, we see that while Morse hasn't had exactly the same plate discipline as Cruz, both hitters come out similarly when isolating their power numbers and on-base abilities. Sure, Morse's BABIP must have something to do with the differences, but BABIP isn't completely a luck-stat. It's quite possible that Morse hits the ball harder, or doesn't provide opposing defenses with easier shifting models, thus causing more balls to fall in as hits than outs.

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

Nelson Cruz

7.20%

22.70%

0.226

0.295

0.263

0.319

0.489

Michael Morse

5.40%

23.10%

0.205

0.32

0.277

0.325

0.481

Neither player provides much from a base running perspective, coming in with negative UBR and wSB totals while simultaneously adding little defensively. Both DRS and UZR show Morse and Cruz as subpar outfielders, but neither player would attract a contract from any time based on his defense and base running. Frankly, if the Phillies thought Ben Revere's speed and athleticism in centerfield could cover up even a little bit of the defense, or lack thereof, provided by Delmon Young, the same could easily be said for Morse or Cruz.

Finally, let's consider age. Morse will enter the 2014 season having just turned 32 while Cruz will turn 34 in June of 2014. Age, especially in this range matters a lot, and could tip the scale one way or another. Cruz seems to have a slight edge by the stats, but age curves for hitters show a decline right around 33 or 34 years old. This means that while a 3-year contract for Morse would capture the end of his prime, a similar contract for Cruz would capture the very end of his prime and mostly post-prime years. Remembering Raul Ibanez for a second, we know that some older outfielders who can't run or play defense can provide some production, but these players tend to follow age curves pretty efficiently. Ibanez's production went from solid to awful quickly, and he soon found himself in the lineup mostly due to his average annual salary. The same could go for Nelson Cruz, and while spending a little less money on a hitter like Morse, who might not provide as high a ceiling of quality hitting as Cruz, he might be the better investment on which to bank.

Overall, the Phillies may decide to sign neither player. The fact remains that righty or lefty doesn't always trump production, and if the Phillies find themselves close to signing a better hitter, he might constitute the right choice. At the moment all of this is speculation, but it shouldn't be Nelson Cruz's recent issues with PED's or the suspension that followed that should make him less of a candidate, it's his age, injury history, and the price he could cost. Maybe it's worth it to look at a similar, younger model, in Michael Morse, or possibly the best decision could be to look elsewhere all together.

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