Orioles: Nelson Cruz or Andrew Miller – A $32-Million Question


Oct 15, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) reacts after lining out to end the top of the sixth inning against the Kansas City Royals in game four of the 2014 ALCS playoff baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

You are Dan Duquette and you have to choose between two scenarios as you put together the Baltimore Orioles roster for the next season and beyond. You have $32-million to spend on either two years for Nelson Cruz or four years for Andrew Miller.

If this was put out to a poll of Orioles fans, I would speculate that some 70-80% would see getting Cruz as the no-brainer choice. O’s fans fell in love with Cruuuuuuz, and he seems to truly be, by all accounts of beat reporters, the most genuine and likeable guy.

And why would anyone not want to have the top home run hitter secured for two years?

I am not going to suggest that it would be a bad deal or anything stupid at all. Cruz might well provide enough pop to justify the expense. I just think those $32-million would be better spent on Andrew Miller for four years.

For one thing, Cruz will be turning age 35 next July. Miller could be retained for his age 30-31-32-33 years of his career.

Andrew Miller has become established now as one of the premier relievers in the game of baseball. At 6’7” he throws a fastball in the mid to upper 90s. His slider is as dirty as they come, getting out right-handers (.145) as well as lefties (.163). Only Arnoldis Chapman had a higher strike-outs-per-nine-innings number than the 14.9 of Miller. His WHIP for the season was 0.802 and 0.600 with the Orioles.

Andrew Miller does not need his defense for more than half of the batters he faces!

Someone is going to spend this money on Miller as a closer, so why not the Orioles? My thought is that Zach Britton, with his starter’s background, could serve the O’s better by pitching more innings in a season, going multiple frames in many appearances. He could bring that nasty sinker for a couple of innings here and then, and along with Darren O’Day, and Miller as closer, the Orioles could have indeed a shut-down bullpen.

The question will be asked: “What do you propose to do about the loss of production, especially in home runs, from Nelson Cruz?”  Well, remember that Cruz is not the only one on the Orioles who hits the ball a long way on this team that led the majors for the second consecutive year.

And another fact that gets forgotten in the Cruz euphoria that has swept over Baltimore is that Cruz disappeared to some extent for three solid months of the season from June through August. During that time he only hit .214 with 37 RBIs … though he did hit 15 home runs. But what if that extends to four months instead of three? His final batting average was .271 … while I would guess that many Orioles fans would believe it to have been higher than that.

How are 40 home runs replaced? Well, first of all, can it be expected that he would do that again? A number in the lower 30s might be more likely.

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Think of it this way: who will pick up the 159 games that he played, and how many home runs might that be combined?  We can expect about 75 more games from Manny Machado, and in that he hit 12 in 82 games, project about 10 more from him. Steve Pearce could probably pick up 60 more games, and on pace of this past year, there would be maybe another 12 homers. Chris Davis would likely play about 30 more games, so there are 5 more home runs. And with Matt Wieters hitting more than his replacements did this past season, the total lost by not retaining Cruz could be made up in these varied ways.

Certainly there are a lot of moving parts, and beyond that, there are no guarantees. Cruz might never again come close to matching 2014, and Andrew Miller could blow his arm out just as have hundreds of others before him.

But I’d spend the bucks on Miller. What would you do?