At this moment, Texas Rangers fans don't know when or if Nelson Cruz will face his former team in a three-game series set to start tonight in Arlington. Blame another former Ranger: Scott Feldman. The right-hander hit Cruz on the hand and while X-rays were negative, it's uncertain whether he'll play in Tuesday's game.
But it's difficult not to imagine what the Rangers' lineup would be like with Cruz in it. Of all the moves the Rangers didn't make this offseason, that's the one I hear the most about from fans.
It was a crazy offseason for Cruz, who entered the marketplace amid reports that he was seeking something in the four-year, $75 million range. That came after Texas made a one-year qualifying offer of $14.3 million, which Cruz rejected as expected. Texas wasn't ever going to enter the fray in the four-year range. Turns out, no other team would, either. The waiting went from weeks to months for Cruz, who ended up having to look at one-year deals in an effort to increase his value for next offseason.
Jon Daniels, in a recent interview on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM, said the club offered Cruz a multi-year deal at the Winter Meetings, but that at spring training there were "other factors at play." The decision to sign Shin-Soo Choo this offseason was a considerable financial commitment. And it signaled the club was looking in other directions. They gave Choo No. 17, which Cruz wore while in Texas, and they revamped the lineup. The signing meant the team lost a first-round pick in this week's draft, but they would gain one with Cruz's departure.
"We made the decision that we did to give our own guys an opportunity and keep the draft pick," Daniels said on 103.3 FM. "Nellie got a deal in Baltimore and is having a nice year."
It's June 3, but so far Cruz has accomplished his mission of increasing his value. The Rangers were still in on Cruz once the price dropped, but the Orioles made the one-year, $8 million offer and Cruz liked the idea of playing in Camden Yards, a park that clearly suits him. The Rangers made a last-minute offer, but envisioned Cruz as a DH. So he went to Baltimore, where the park and the playing time intrigued him.
In the process, it's Baltimore that has one of the best bargains of the offseason. Would things have been different had the Rangers offered more money on a one-year deal? Or would it have taken a more lucrative multi-year offer for a player who would have had to be willing to play DH? It's difficult to know. But there would have been more teams willing to take the chance on more than a one-year offer had they expected Cruz to hit like this. He leads the big leagues with 20 homers and 52 RBIs and is sporting a .314 average.
What's interesting is that Cruz has more homers on the road (13 in 32 games) than at home (seven in 22 games), despite the advantage of Camden Yards. He's hitting, it seems, no matter where the Orioles are playing.
It's likely that when the season started, Cruz would have hit fifth or sixth in this lineup (depending on where manager Ron Washington slotted Alex Rios). Cruz's home run total is more than that of Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios -- the top-5 in the order to start the season -- combined. As a team, the Rangers are second-to-last in the AL in home runs, so Cruz's power alone would help. Would he have hit 20 homers so far this season playing for the Rangers? Maybe not. But he likely hits a bunch.
He's driven in 52 runs. The highest run producer on the Rangers is at 29. For a team averaging just over four runs per game, Cruz's power and productivity would certainly be a boost. With Mitch Moreland at first base in Fielder's absence, you'd be talking about Cruz as the primary DH rather than rotating the spot.
Second-guessing is easy to do after the fact and on a club with so many injuries. Add in that this offense, until the last few weeks, hasn't shown an ability to score runs consistently, and not signing Cruz takes on even more meaning. That has to be the biggest "what if" of the offseason, doesn't it?