Nelson Cruz: He Won't Return to Rangers

Last week in my blog on the Texas Rangers' positional player needs this off season, I said that I was assuming that Nelson Cruz would not be back with the Rangers next season. Texas needs to operate this winter under the assumption that he will indeed be gone.  I never explained my thinking on the Cruz situation in that blog, so I'll do that here.

Cruz just came out of a two-year/$16 million deal that he signed in the 2011 off season.  For that money he was a great value.  2012 was his healthiest season by far, as he saw 585 at bats in 159 games.  His .260 batting average and .319 on base percentage are a little low for an $8 million/year everyday player.  But his 24 home runs and 90 RBI exceeded the expectations of that contract.  Defensively Cruz was average in right field.  His single greatest contribution to the Rangers in 2012 was his durability, playing in all but two games.  His bat was always in the lineup, and the Rangers' offense has been noticeably better over the years with him producing.

2013? What a different season it was for Cruz.  His 50-game suspension had a plethora of negative implications for he and the Rangers.  But don't make the mistake of throwing away his production in spite of it.  If anything, he had a better year in 2013.  Even with 50 fewer games, Cruz belted three more homers and was only 14 RBI shy of his 2012 mark.  He batted nine points higher in his 109 games - which is reasonably expected because of 172 fewer at bats - and his on base percentage finished at .327.  His slugging percentage leaped 46 points.  He was easily on pace for 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI, which would have been a career-best year.

Cruz also made game-saving plays on several occasions.  Given that the Rangers' just barely squeaked into the wild card playoff game this year, every one of those plays from Cruz were huge.

Now the pressing question - will Cruz return to the Rangers?

It's a tough one....but the answer has to be......


But Jon Daniels has already said that the club expects to extend Cruz a qualifying offer. This means that the Rangers will offer him a one year deal in the range of $13.5 -$14 million.  In terms of average annual value, that is more a fair deal.  After all, Cruz missed almost a third of the year, and this offense limped badly without him.  His value to this team was proven by his absence.  But Cruz knows this and is seeking multi-year deal.  Even if he wants to return to the Rangers - and he has said that he does - he is still only 33 and would be short changing himself by taking the Rangers' qualifying offer.  As a power hitter at that age, he still has a lot to offer a contending team - if not in right field, at DH.

If Cruz doesn't take the Rangers' offer, the team will be awarded a first round draft pick from whichever team picks him up, as compensation.  Daniels and the rest of the front office certainly wouldn't mind that.

Cruz has earned a qualifying offer by his healthy reputation as a producer for this team over the last six years.  He had an ALCS for the ages in 2011 against the Detroit Tigers (.364 batting average with six home runs and 13 RBI) and many Ranger fans awarded him much of the credit for winning that series.  That same reputation was virtually destroyed just a week and a half later, when his dropped fly ball in game six of the World Series cost the Rangers their first ever title.

Until his suspension, Cruz was the most potent offensive producer for Texas this season.  His run-in with PED's all but vanquished any of his reputation that he had rebuilt since his World Series debacle two years ago.

But the fact of the matter is that the Rangers are looking for a more viable option to replace Cruz.  That's why they traded for Alex Rios from the Chicago White Sox in late July.  Rios is under contract for next season at $14 million, with a team option for the following year.  He is slightly younger than Cruz and provides many things that Cruz does not - more effective hitting for average (.278 career batting average - ten points lower for Cruz) speed (he had 42 stolen bases this season) and all around better athleticism.  I believe his acquisition essentially sealed Cruz' fate.

Through the off season acquisitions I've suggested (Brian McCann and Kendrys Morales) the Rangers can bring in the same, if not greater value for a better price than what Cruz' could provide for nearly $14 million per year.

If Cruz did return to Texas, you have to think that he would be a full time DH, with Rios having played so well in right field after his acquisition.  Rios should be a lock in right field. Inside the diamond, Adrian Beltre will turn 35 in the first two weeks of next season.  His defense is still really above average but may no longer be gold glove quality.  There was a noticeable difference between his defense from this year and over the last two years.  The plan in the works seems to be to transition him into a full-time DH as he winds down his illustrious career.

So then, what do you do with Cruz?  That's the point - the Rangers, while they need to bring in more offense during the winter, can replace Cruz with in house transitions that have already taken place, or are will take place in the near future.

It's a tough move for the Rangers, but it's one that needs to be made.

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