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Nelson Cruz

Update [2006-12-13 11:33:54 by Eric Hz]: The Globe & Mail is reporting the Jays have made an opening offer of 7YR/$126MM to CF Vernon Wells. The deal exceeds the AAV of the 8YR deal signed by Alphonso Soriano.

ESPN's Buster Olney speculates Wells could go as high as $200MM if he hits the market:

If Wells hits the market next fall, when he's eligible to become a free agent, he'll get offered a deal of $150 million. At least...The White Sox don't have a center field solution...The Red Sox would definitely bid on him. Tom Hicks, as impetuous an owner as there is when it comes to free agents, would bid on Wells...The Yankees, freed by a lot of contracts set to expire after next season, might bid on him, to at least drive up the price...The Mets want to trade for him now...The Dodgers would bid on him. With those financial monsters involved, Wells' deal, as a free agent next fall, might be closer to $200 million than $100 million.

The Texas Rangers recently signed 39-year-old OF Kenny Lofton to play centerfield in 2007 and keep the spot warm in hopes one of next year's $140MM men, Andruw Jones or Vernon Wells, will take Tom Hicks money and move to Texas for the majority of their 30s life.

This use of $6MM is a wise move.  The use of at least that much to allow closer Eric Gagne to prove he's recovered from years of injuries is a different story.  But I digress.

What Lofton's presence does is push OF Brad Wilkerson to a corner spot where he should garner all the ABs.  Lofton hits left-handed and has been used in a platoon-like situation for much of the past two seasons.  When he sits against lefties, the Rangers will have the chance to get ABs for righty-hitting back-ups like Marlon Byrd or Freddie Guzman.

While the fantasy enthusiast in me wants Freddie Guzman's SB potential (despite the former manager's inability to allow the use of that skill), I can't see the Rangers allowing Byrd's significant major league experience to rot in AAA.

LF will be the source of ABs for Nelson Cruz, $13MM-man Frank Catalonotto and AAA 1B/OF/DH Jason Botts.  Right now, most believe 2nd-year man, Nelson Cruz, will start most games there.  I'm not so sure.

The Rangers forked over a king's ransom for the single-digit power of lefty-hitting Frank Catalonotto.  Those same believers have Li'l Cat penciled in as the DH.  After appearing in 102 games as an outfielder in 2006, I believe his miniscule power and gargantuan contract will compel the Rangers to play him in the OF in order to give DH ABs to more powerful players.

If this plays out, then righty-hitting Nelson Cruz moves into a competition for ABs with switch-hitting Jason Botts whose minor league power says he takes ABs from the light-hitting Li'l Cat.

If Botts gets DH ABs against lefties and the Rangers are forced to play  the $13MM man in the OF versus righties, then Cruz is sqeezed out of regular ABs, and his .223 AVG from 2006, albeit in just 130 ABs, will work against him.

With a solid everyday IF of Teixeira, Kinsler, Young and Blalock, the Rangers need only carry one back-up infielder who can play three positions (Ramon Vasquez).  Add in two catchers and the Rangers can carry seven OFs with Wilkerson and Botts capable of filling-in at 1B if, God forbid, something serious happens to Teixeira.

A factor that may help improve Cruz's opportunities would be the weak rotation of the Rangers.  With very serious questions beyond Kevin Millwood and vincente Padilla, the team may be forced to carry 12 pitchers.  If so, then one of the OFers, hopefully Byrd or Guzman, may begin in Oklahoma.

One less competitor for ABs in the OF and DH would only serve to help Cruz get enough ABs (300+) to make him a legitimate AL-only OF.  He is not draftable in mixed leagues right now.