Nelson Cruz and Something to Prove

Cruz
“He gives off the vibe he’s got something to prove,” general manager Jon Daniels said.“We’ve seen what he’s capable of. This guy has all the ability and no one’s ever questioned his work ethic. Like any of us, you’ve just got to simplify things and focus.”
That quote came from Daniels prior to the start of the 2013 season. The general framework of that quote could be used on any number of players on the Rangers roster, and could be recycled on multiple occasions. In that particular instance, it was referring to Derek Holland. Holland has lived up to the billing, and has used the entire 2013 season to carry that vibe and prove himself.

It could be argued that the Rangers target acquiring players with something to prove. Certainly talent, contract, and health are a big part of the decision-making process that rosters a new member to the team, but makeup is a major factor too. Included in makeup is the hunger and fight a player possesses. Playing with a chip on his shoulder, with something to prove, is certainly a plus in the Rangers book.

Adrian Beltre, Joe Nathan, Mike Napoli, and even Josh Hamilton were all acquisitions of “something to prove” guys. They all worked out beautifully for Texas, each player exceeding the expectations of his contributions to the team during their tenure.

In 2013, besides Holland we have also seen the “something to prove” fight from Yu Darvish against multiple media criticisms, Neal Cotts from near retirement to a key late innings reliever, Martin Perez to avoid being a flamed out top prospect, and the list goes on. It’s an endearing quality, and in recent Rangers history, it has seemingly contributed to strong results.

This all makes the decision surrounding whether or not Nelson Cruz would be allowed to join the team in the postseason (should they make it) an even more interesting one.

There is precedent to this decision. Just last year, Melky Cabrera received a season-ending suspension, having played his last game on August 14th for San Francisco. Cruz’s last game played during the regular season this year was August 4th. The Giants elected to exclude Cabrera from their postseason roster for the entirety of their run to a World Series championship.

There was no concrete reason given by the Giants for leaving Cabrera off the playoff roster. It was more or less glossed over as a “don’t want to ruin a good thing we have going” decision. In the end, it clearly was the right decision for the team, but it doesn’t seem that will hold sway over the Rangers decision.

Ron Washington has already been quoted as saying

“I think the club has already expressed to Nelson that we would love to have him back. We have to do everything we can to make sure that he’s in the best shape he can possibly be in to help us when that time comes. So it’s a no-brainer. Yes we will have Nelson Cruz back — that’s my opinion.”

Cruz rejoining the team for the playoffs would be dependent on him being able to contribute to the team, and is not set in stone. However, Cruz has already began working out with the team again, taking some early batting practice last week, and is headed to Arizona to get some work in the Arizona Instructional League. That would suggest that he is going to do everything he can to be game ready, and if that is the case, he’ll join the team for the postseason.

Were Cruz to play in the playoffs this year, there would be no player with more to prove in such a short window.

As a free agent after this season, Cruz’s suspension as a part of his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal has already significantly damaged his value in the market. Prior to Cabrera’s suspension, he was rumored to be in line for a contract in the range of five years and $50 million. He settled for two years and $16 million. An extended run in the playoffs for Cruz would be his one window to try to increase his stock prior to signing his next contract. He could prove to the Rangers, their fans, and any future employers that he is still the same offensive weapon.

Cruz also has the ghosts of playoffs past to overcome and put to rest. His fatal missed catch in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series is the defining moment of his career. It glosses over the eight home runs he hit during the playoffs that year, with six of those coming in an ALCS that is in the conversation for best offensive series in postseason history.

The reaction to steroids and Performance Enhancing Drugs is typically vitriol. Cruz would be booed everywhere he played. Fans, and possibly opposing players and teammates feel betrayed, because they have been cheated on. But it isn’t impossible to recover from that response. Assuming Cruz would be playing clean, a good performance in the playoffs would cover many of his transgressions.

We have seen the kind of series-changing monster that Cruz can be at the plate when he is going right. The Rangers have essentially replaced his spot on the roster with Alex Rios, but Cruz would still be one of the strongest bats on the roster. His 27 home runs this season rank only behind Adrian Beltre’s 28 on the team, and Cruz hasn’t played in four weeks.

The only current members of the Rangers with a World Series ring are AJ Pierzynski, Neal Cotts, and Lance Berkman. The bulk of the roster, and the core of the team, has never reached that pinnacle of accomplishment. Beltre, Nathan, Darvish, Kinsler, Holland, Garza, and more are hungry players looking for that ring. Cruz would be one more name to add to that list. He might even be at the very top of it. 

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM
Peter Ellwood

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