The Nelson Cruz Dilemma

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The Texas Rangers have multiple decisions to make this winter regarding their own free agents, arbitration eligible players and open market players like Brian McCann. While every decision is gone over with a fine tooth comb, none may be more difficult than the future of Nelson Cruz, as a Texas Ranger.
Cruz (33 years old) is coming off of maybe his worst and yet, maybe one of his best full seasons in Major League Baseball. Despite missing 50 games due to a Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) suspension, that will forever place him in the category of a cheater, Cruz hit 27 home runs and drove in 76 runs in 109 games in 2013. After he sat for the 50 games, the Rangers desperately missed the power that the he provided earlier in the season.

Nelson made $10.5 million in salary last year and has been reported to have asked for a contract extension from the Rangers in the neighborhood of 4 years/$56 million according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Cruz came asking Texas last offseason for that extension, before the BioGenesis scandal hit the front pages. Now a free agent, “Nellie” is a power hitter whose market value may have diminished due to his suspension, but that remains to be seen.

The qualifying offer (to receive a compensatory draft pick) for a free agent going into 2014 is in the neighborhood of $14 million, which is what Nelson asked for over a four-year extension. At 33 years of age, Cruz may be a nice fit at Designated Hitter for Texas for the next couple of years. However, signing him to a four-year contract is not something the Rangers will likely do, which would pay Cruz until he is 37.

The problem that Jon Daniels and the front office face is that they need a productive left fielder that can play everyday, a designated hitter, possibly a catcher and a first baseman. Two of those roles Cruz fits into, especially DH, but he can also play left field. Cruz will always be synonymous with being a butcher in the outfield for the “game that shall not be named”, but statistically he isn’t quite as bad as people make him out to be. He’s not great, with a -4.3 UZR in 2013, but it’s much better than Carlos Beltran’s -15.3 UZR this past season.

The Rangers have Craig Gentry who is a terrific defensive outfielder and has tremendous speed on the bases as well. However, at this point, many people believe Gentry is not an everyday outfielder due to his hit tool. “Kitten Face” was on fire towards the end of the year, but lest we forget he hit .216 over the first three months of the season. Can the Rangers live with Gentry in left everday? Yes. But they’ll have to get a power source at first base, DH and/or catcher.

With several attractive free agents on the market like Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury as possibilities, the likelihood of Cruz being back in Texas seems to be pretty slim, based on the quotes of Jon Daniels regarding the payroll. That is, unless Cruz will settle for a contract below his 2013 asking price. Cruz is probably going to want a multi-year deal as mentioned and with Hunter Pence getting 5/$90 million, it seems less likely that Nellie will sign a short term contract.

Nelson is well liked in the clubhouse and the fans have gravitated towards him, since he has the ability to hit the ball a country mile. He has the ability to carry a team on his back as he did in the 2011 ALCS with six home runs one of which was a game winning Grand Slam.

The Rangers need power and Nelson Cruz provides that. The Rangers don’t want to overspend on an aging player, which Cruz is becoming. The Rangers have needs in multiple positions and plenty of options on the market. This is where being a GM in baseball is a tough business. It’s a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces changing constantly. Does Nelson Cruz fit the Rangers puzzle? At this point, it seems very unlikely, but the puzzle changes everyday.

Patrick Despain is the CEO and Co-Founder of ShutDown Inning. He can be reached at Patrick.Despain@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @ShutDownInning
Patrick Despain
Patrick is a member of the IBWAA and creator of Shutdown Inning. He was raised him Arlington, Texas and grew up watching games on HSE and listening to Eric Nadel and Mark Holtz on the radio. He is a long time Rangers fan and never achieved his dream of being a bat boy. He know lives in Georgia with dreams of a Texas return.

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