Hot Stove Talk: The case for Nelson Cruz
December, 17, 2013
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com
John Rhodes/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCTNelson Cruz has had some impressive hot streaks, but will he be able to stay healthy?
On Monday, we profiled the case for Shin-Soo Choo, one of the two biggest outfield bats left on the market. Today, we'll look at the case for Nelson Cruz.
Cruz is 33 years old and coming off a season in which he missed the final 50 games because of a PED suspension. Cruz returned for Game 163 and was held without a hit in the Rangers' loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. One win in the second half of the season would have made the difference between the Rangers having to play in that game or qualifying for the AL wild-card game without having to worry about it. It's tough to convince anyone that had Cruz been in the lineup for those games that he wouldn't have helped this team to at least one more win.
But Cruz made the decision he felt he had to make and his teammates were supportive of him when he returned. This wasn't a case of the club not wanting Cruz's bat back in the lineup, albeit for one, winner-take-all game. Part of the reason: Cruz was productive when he did play. He hit .266 with 27 homers and 76 RBIs. He led the team in homers and RBIs when he was suspended and for a team that did not have Mike Napoli or Josh Hamilton's, Cruz's power and production was important in the middle of the lineup.
In talking with a few folks in the lobby last week, the sense is that the Rangers don't want to go any more than two years or maybe two years and an option year. Why? I think it's more Cruz's injury history than anything else. He stayed healthy in 2012, but missed the 50 games with a suspension last year. Before that, he was on the disabled list six times from 2009 to 2011, mainly with hamstring issues. As he gets older, what's the guarantee that he'll be able to stay in the lineup? I think that's a legitimate concern.
Of course, when Cruz has played, he's shown some crazy good streaks. No one will forget his 2011 ALCS performance against the Detroit Tigers and he has the ability to carry an offense. He would give this team another power bat in the middle of the lineup to add to the production that Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre provide.
In his career, Cruz's home and road splits are vastly different. He's a .294 hitter in Arlington and a .242 hitter everywhere else. But last year, the numbers were nearly identical: Cruz hit .266 at home and .267 on the road. He had 14 home runs on the road and 13 at home, despite playing five more games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. So the talk about the home/road splits may be a big overstated.
Defensively, Cruz has struggled in right field. But perhaps it makes more sense that he rotate between outfield and DH. That may be more dependent on how Michael Choice and Engel Beltre look in spring training and if they can handle left field, allowing Leonys Martin to play center and Alex Rios to play right.
The Rangers know Cruz and he knows them. There's a comfort level. Cruz is also more affordable than Choo and since he was the Rangers' property, they wouldn't have to give up a draft pick to sign him (though they won't get one in return, obviously, if he stays with Texas). But he won't help the club with a bat at the top of the order and he won't give them a truly viable defensive option in the outfield.
It comes down to how much do you think Cruz has left and how many games do you think he'll play in the next few years. Perhaps, there's another way to put it: Do you give Cruz a third guaranteed year or Choo a sixth?
I like the idea of Choo at the top of the order, but not at a Jacoby Ellsbury price. If Choo's price doesn't come down, Cruz would still give this club a bat that it needs. I agree with the two-year idea, but would probably do a vesting option for a third year based on Cruz's health. Waiting now isn't a bad move for the Rangers. They can see whether the price drops on either player and then make a call.
How many years would you give Cruz?