We’re about a week into January and free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz is still without a home. The reasons are plentiful: he is tied to draft pick compensation, he has a history of involvement with performance-enhancing drugs, he has been prone to injuries, he is 33 years old, and he provides no value on the bases and with his defense.
As a result, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that some general managers think a one-year “pillow contract” would be a good idea for Cruz. If Cruz is able to stay out of trouble, stay healthy, and stay productive, he might have an easier time securing a multi-year deal next off-season despite being a year older.
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre exemplified how a pillow contract can benefit a player. After finishing up an injury-plagued 2009 season with the Mariners in which he posted a career-low 83 adjusted OPS, Beltre took a one-year, $9 million deal with the Red Sox which included a $5 million second-year player option. Beltre’s adjusted OPS went up to 141 and he finished with 7.8 WAR according to Baseball Reference. During the off-season, he signed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Rangers at the age of 32.
Taking a one-year deal would be a bit of a risk to Cruz. He can likely still get a three- or four-year deal but he will have to lower his price into the Curtis Granderson area ($60 million). He could get more next off-season with a productive 2014, but he could also further sink his value if he gets hurt or struggles. In such an event, he would torpedo any hope of getting one more big deal before his career is over.
Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.
Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.
Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.
The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.
ESPN’s Pedro Gomez provides a previously unreported detail of the new collective bargaining agreement, agreed to by the owners and the players’ union last week. Players’ meal money for road games is being reduced from $105 to $30 per day. Teams are providing pre- and post-game meals in the visitors’ clubhouse to offset some of the decrease in meal money.
Gomez quotes an unnamed player who said, “I doubt many guys know about the money going down, nor would they have agreed to it.” All of the players Gomez contacted said they were unaware of and unhappy about the change.
Clubhouse attendants are certainly unhappy about this change, too. As Gomez notes, the attendants previously provided food for visiting teams which earned them tips from the players.
EDIT: It’s worth clarifying that chefs are required in clubhouses now as part of the new CBA, so it’s not a complete loss for the players.