A young, lanky man sat in his corner of the world, surrounded by electronics. PlayStation Portable in hand, cell phone on the desk, at an arms reach, and MLB.com displayed on the computer monitor. Also at arm’s reach was a Styrofoam cup of powdered Swiss Miss.
It was a November evening, and the bitter absence of heat was creeping all around his 8 by 20, space heated, room. The young man was content with his quiet surroundings, ready to spend the next few hours engrossed in the technology at his fingertips.
Then without warning, a large, limo-tinted SUV swung past his quiet corner. He jumped up attentively, out of his box and to the idling vehicle, resting in front of “The Gate” that protected a cavernous tunnel.
The passenger’s side window rolled down slowly, for the driver to state his purpose for coming to “The Gate” at such an irregular hour. The man was large and intimidating, yet friendly. His soft words were spoken through metal braces, that he seemed embarrassed to have at age 28.
The driver, stated, while leaning over his significant other in the passenger’s seat, the correct words or phrase and the young man raised “The Gate“, allowing the oversized SUV to rumble into the tunnel.
“The Gate” was then lowered, and the young man retreated to his confines. And the large, friendly man went to work.
I was the young man. The large, friendly man was Nelson Cruz. “The Gate”, was the east gate leading to the tunnel at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and the November, was 2008.
I was a year-round security guard at the ballpark at that time. This was the first time I crossed paths with Cruz. What I remember most was about that encounter was, that I couldn’t help thinking Cruz wouldn’t be playing his games in Arlington next summer, but rather in Japan, for the Hanshin Tigers.
Cruz finally started showing signs that he was busting through his “AAAA” label. He hit .330 and had a 1.030 OPS in his 31 games at the end of the 2008 season. Luckily Hanshin didn’t call after 2007, when Cruz had hit just .235 in 96 games. Jon Daniel’s decision might have been different.
In 2009, Cruz had passed through “The Gate” and into the Rangers’ everyday lineup, setting career-highs with 33 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Cruz has two more years under Rangers control, through the arbitration process. Since Cruz took so long, to emerge as a everyday player, he will be 33 going into his first free agent season.
Cruz is also a very fragile player, only averaging 120 games a season since 2009. That’s 26% of games he been missing due to his hamstrings and other various injuries. Two seasons from now, two years older, will Nellie still have two good hammies? Then why should the Rangers take on a risk that he’ll be healthy and productive, when the odds are against him being healthy then.
There’s a comparable player to Cruz who similarly had to shake the “AAAA” label, and did so at age 28. He got his first free agent pay-day at age 32, and has ceremoniously fallen on his face- he is Jayson Werth.
I don’t want the Rangers to have anything to do with a “Werthian”, mid 30’s, ball-player. Cruz will not get $120+ million, from the Rangers (I hope), like Werth conned the Nationals out of. But the common theme is “We gotta lock up all these Rangers”. It simply is not true, sure you look into keeping your core together, but keep in mind that the Rangers core today was not the same as it was five years ago, and it won’t look the same five years from now either. In 2007, the Rangers core consisted of Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Brandon McCarthy. Some of them worked out, some didn’t, some are still with us, some are not. In 2016, the Rangers core will not be what it is today. The Rangers certainly should explore extensions with Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli and Elvis Andrus, but players like Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton warrant a pause of consideration before locking them up. Personally I say yes to Ian, Mike and Elvis and look into the trade market with Josh and Nelson, they’re not long-term keepers.
It’s understandable that Cruz would want to capitalize monetarily on his historic playoff run. But, now that the season’s over, lets have some perspective, and just enjoy the large man at work, within “The Gate”
The large man returned to “The Gate”. He had finished his work, punched the clock and collected his personal items from his locker, including his name plate, leaving it bare and nameless. A young man, wheeled around the guard shack on his patrol bicycle, to find the large SUV with it’s lights shining dimly through “The Gate”. The large man was alone in his spacious SUV, tapping away at his phone, unaware the young man had already had “The Gate” open for him for several moments. The large man, then acknowledged “The Gate” was open for his departure. He slowly maneuvered his SUV half-way out “The Gate”, stopped, and slid down his limo-tinted window, showed his face and uttered, “Thank you”, through a now confident, vibrant smile. The young man greeted him with a nod and a farewell salute. He closed “The Gate” and went to the 8 by 20 guard shack. He made himself some Swiss Miss, and pondered, that Nelson Cruz will likely never play another home game in Arlington, possibly for the rival Angels, but definitely not for the Hanshin Tigers. Nelson Cruz has already passed through “The Gate”.