Over the past two weeks, I have read a number of posts from some of my blogging colleagues in which the focus has been on Luis Cruz not being the answer as the Dodgers everyday third baseman for 2013.
Luis Cruz was nothing short of sensational in his 78 games in 2012. He committed only 2 errors in 123 chances (.984 FPCT) in 51 games at third base, 2 errors in 104 chances in 24 games at shortstop (.981 FPCT) and zero errors in the two games that he played at second base (1.000 FPCT). And while these may not be Gold Glove numbers and the sample size somewhat small, they are well above average numbers at each of these three very difficult defensive positions.
And then there are his offensive numbers. Granted his OBP and SLG numbers are on the low side (.322 and .431 respectively), but his .297 batting average (84 for 283) is an attention-getter – or at least it should be. Heck, he even hit 6 home runs in his 283 at bats in 2012. That’s one every 47.1 at bats, which blows the doors off of the guy who was supposed to be the Dodgers best offensive third baseman – Juan Uribe with one every 81 at bats. Are these Silver Slugger numbers? Of course not; but they are definitely middle-of-the-pack numbers for an everyday MLB third baseman, with a batting average that is near the top of the scale.
One of the main criticisms that Luis Cruz is getting (and in my opinion is unwarranted) is that he is too aggressive at the plate and doesn’t walk enough, thus his low OBP; but he usually makes contact with the ball, having struck out only 34 times in 296 plate appearances, which is one in every 8.7 PA – again, not great, but not all that bad either. Even Adrian Beltre struck out every 7.97 PA and the pathetic Uribe every 4.8 PA. But what I think is being overlooked with Cruz’s low walk numbers (once every 32.88 PA) is that the 28-year-old Sonora, Mexico native is trying to make the very best out of his brief time in the Big Leagues and he has to be aggressive at the plate to show that he can make contact and help his team – which he did quite well during 2012. In fact, his 40 RBIs were the 6th best on the team in less than half of the 2012 season.
Being more patient at the plate comes with more experience, more plate appearances and more one-on-one coaching, which he is receiving from his father (who ironically had a career .297 batting average in 16 years in the Mexican League) and will receive from Dodgers new hitting coach Mark McGwire.
In my opinion the argument that the Dodgers should pursue Adrian Beltre is ludicrous and is nothing more than a grasp at nostalgia. Beltre is entering the third year of a 5-year/$80 million contract with the Texas Rangers (with an option for a 6th year). He is owed $16 million in 2013, $17 million in 2014, $18 million in 2015, with a $16 million voidable option in 2016. That’s $50 million still owed to him over the next three seasons not including the option year. (Imagine what that would do to the Dodgers already huge payroll, not to mention what it would cost them in prospects and current roster players). And while no one can or will dispute the fact that Beltre is a very good power-hitter (he has averaged 23 home runs per season during his 15-year MLB career) or that he is an excellent defensive third baseman, at 33 years old he is definitely past his prime and his numbers will undoubtedly begin to decline, while Luis Cruz’s numbers will most likely improve.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Adrian Beltre and will never forget his incredible MLB-leading 48 home runs during the 2004 season, but I will also never forget that he was pretty much a second-half hitter and struggled year after year during the first half of the season.
Now if we were talking about the Dodgers going after Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman or even David Wright, I would probably have an open ear, but each of these All-Star third basemen (who are considerably younger than Beltre) are locked up with enormous contracts that make them basically untouchable – and for a very long time. Granted, there may be several other young third basemen on the rise and probably several more third base prospects out there (Nick Castellanos in the Tigers system comes to mind, but it would take a king’s ransom to acquire him), but why not give Luis Cruz the benefit of the doubt – at least for one full season?
And while Dodgers GM Ned Colletti will undoubtedly keep an eye open in the event that a better third base option pops up on the radar, even he has confidence in Luis Cruz as the Dodgers everyday third baseman. When asked early in the off-season if Cruz is the likely candidate to be the Dodgers Opening Day third baseman, Colletti answered “Ya, and we’ll let spring training determine and the early part of the season determine if we’re accurate or not…”
So rather than dissing (and dismissing) Luis Cruz as a viable option as the Dodgers everyday third baseman in 2013, why not embrace him and support him and at least give him an opportunity to prove that what we witnessed him do in the second half of 2012 was not a fluke, but instead a preview of what’s to come?
I’m good with Luis Cruz. How about you?