Nelson Cruz, the free-agent outfielder formerly of the Texas Rangers has signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles. The deal comes at the end of a long offseason during which Cruz saw the demands for his services dwindle with each passing week. Much of the inactivity can be attributed to his 50-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs turning teams off and should be taken as a warning for future players who make the ill-informed decision to use drugs.
At the beginning of the offseason, Nelson Cruz was looking for a four-year deal worth around $75 million, according to Dallas News. While issues such as Cruz’s age, (33) or his high contract demands did not help his case for a more lucrative deal, teams were obviously quite wary of Cruz’s involvement in the Biogenesis scandal that saw numerous major leaguers busted for performance enhancing drugs.
Earlier in the offseason, former Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta inked a surprising four-year, $53 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. The deal set a record for largest contract ever given to a player busted for PED use and sent shockwaves through parts of MLB.
“Character and makeup are something we weigh into our decision-making,” claimed Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. “In (Peralta’s) case, he admitted what he did, he took responsibility for it. I feel like he has paid for his mistakes, and obviously if he were to make another one, then it would be a huge disappointment.”
Peralta’s case is one that should prove to be an outlier. In his defense, he is still in his prime and posted a career high .303 batting average as well as his best on-base percentage since 2005 at .358. Those are numbers typically unaffected by PEDs. Peralta has also had a very consistent career with little fluctuation in his overall statistics, further helping his case.
Cruz is a different animal. Front offices typically believe that where there’s smoke, there is fire. Cruz is a player who has hit 135 home runs the past five seasons and has truly blossomed at a later age in his career. When PEDs are tied to a player like that, it causes concern that his power numbers are strictly drug-induced.
Another example of a guy who was looking a possible nine-figure payday in the face prior to PEDs in recent years is Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera. Cabrera received a 50-game suspension as well in 2012, just like Cruz. At the time of his suspension, he was leading the National League in hits for the San Francisco Giants and had been coming off a career year with the Kansas City Royals.
As a 28-year-old just entering his prime after two breakout years, Cabrera still could not land more than a pedestrian two-year, $16 million deal with Toronto. His deal is much more along the lines with what a PED user will be expected to earn moving forward, regardless of how spectacular their potential is.
In an era of baseball where pitching is making a huge comeback after the steroid era is steadily being pushed out, power hitting is becoming much more coveted. Cruz had 27 homers last season even with the long suspension and still was unable to land more than $8 million on a free agent market that just saw an unproven Japanese pitcher named Masahiro Tanaka land $155 million from the New York Yankees.
Nelson Cruz’s enormous payday whisking away due to PED concerns will be a huge deterrent for both future and current PED users. MLB has done a noble job ridding the sport of drugs and Cruz’s contract is just another victory for them. The discrepancy between clean power hitters and tarnished ones has never been more prevalent than it is today.
Editorial by Justin Hussong