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When Jhonny Peralta signed a four-year, $52 million deal earlier this offseason with the St. Louis Cardinals, Nelson Cruz likely breathed a sigh of relief.

The two will forever be linked as part of the handful of players suspended 50 games during the 2013 MLB season for their use of performance-enhancing drugs. But once Peralta signed for that kind of money, Cruz must have figured that he could get even more, given that his offensive production has been better than Peralta’s the past few seasons.

Even with the suspension, if teams were willing to throw money at Peralta, why would they balk at that sort of contract for Cruz?

Cruz with former teammate Adrian Beltre
Photo by Keith Allison, used under creative commons license.
So rather than lay low and field offers, Cruz’s agent announced that the Cruz camp would be seeking a four-year deal in the neighborhood of $75 million. Well, that was back in late November and still there have been no takers.

Cruz might be wise just to settle on a one-year deal at this point with a higher base salary and incentives. It seems that teams want him to prove his worth before committing three or even four years to the slugger.

Peralta, 31, is two years younger than Cruz, 33, so maybe that had to do with the Cardinals’ willingness to go to four years. But even so, Cruz can be a primary designated hitter later in his career.

There is still some time left to this offseason, and it’s hard to believe that Cruz will only be offered a minor-league deal. He might be forced to look into the route once taken by his former teammate Adrian Beltre.

Coming off a 2009 season in which he hit just eight home runs and batted .265 for the Seattle Mariners, Beltre signed a one-year, $9 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. He went on to have a monster year in 2010, batting .321 with 28 home runs, 102 RBI and a league-leading 49 doubles. For his efforts, Beltre signed a five-year, $80 million contract, and it was the one-year deal that helped him earn his big payday.

Cruz’s old team, the Texas Rangers, are out of the bidding, as they’ve added Shin Soo-Choo and will have Alex Rios, Leonys Martin and Mitch Moreland rounding out the rest of the outfield and DH spots.

The Baltimore Orioles or Seattle Mariners could be a match. Baltimore though might be more concerned about its starting pitching staff, while the Mariners have already added a ton of payroll in Robinson Cano and Corey Hart and would like to make a strong push to sign Masahiro Tanaka.

Maybe a smaller market team like the Kansas City Royals or Houston Astros would be willing to give Cruz a two-year deal to be a veteran offensive presence for a young team. The Royals are only a few pieces away from being consistently competitive, so that seems like a logical fit.

Even if it had to be a one-year deal, Cruz may be interested in this, since he’d be able to increase his value in a lineup that includes newly-acquired Norichika Aoki, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez. It really would only work though if the Royals move DH Billy Butler, an idea that has been discussed all offseason.

Next year’s class of free-agent outfielders is highlighted by Nick Markakis and the aging Torii Hunter and Coco Crisp. There are a few other decent options available, but a big year from Cruz in 2014 may make him a more attractive target next offseason.

Frankly, the same scenario should have happened to Peralta this offseason in settling for a one-year deal, but the Cardinals had a need and were desperate to fill it for the next few seasons.