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.
Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.
While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.
Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”
He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”
Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.
According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”
Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.